Imagine the first day of school.
That’s what Friday amounted to for the 33 players in attendance at the Buffalo Bills’ rookie minicamp.
“Our goal as coaches was to come out here and get with these players, start teaching them the playbook – the offense, defense and special teams,” said coach Doug Marrone. “Really just trying to get a chance to know them, how they learn, what they do and really teach them our tempo of practice and what our expectations are out of them. That was the main goal going into today.”
In a setting best described as “crawl before you can walk,” Marrone said he was looking to see which players arrived in shape and were ready to “try to make good first impressions.”
The Bills conducted a two-hour practice inside their fieldhouse as thunderstorms boomed outside. Marrone, though, said work in the classroom will be just as important as what they do on the field this weekend for the rookie class.
“Every one of them learns a little bit differently,” the coach said. “We’re trying to make sure that we can get them better by understanding what is the best way they learn.”
While the eyes of media members were focused on quarterback EJ Manuel, the team’s first-round draft pick, Marrone said he was particularly focused on who he was throwing to.
“I was interested in looking at the wide receivers,” the coach said. “I think you guys have seen me enough that I do rotate around [to different positions] quite a bit. People are going to be looking at that [the quarterbacks]. I don’t doubt that. But I was excited by those groups of receivers. I thought they did a nice job.”
But their chemistry between Manuel and fellow quarterback Jeff Tuel understandably was a bit off at times.
“One of the things you see is just kind of how they have a feel for each other. I’ve been in places sometimes where it’s natural. Guys go out there and throw the ball around like they did [Friday]. I thought they did a good job,” Marrone said. “Sometimes you go out there and you have to get to a better feel of where they’re going to be and where they’re going.”
The collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players prohibits full contact at the minicamp, so there is no live blocking, tackling, pass rushing or bump-and-run coverage. Players are in helmets, but not shoulder pads.
The 33 players in attendance included the Bills’ eight draft picks, 16 undrafted free agents and nine players on the roster without a pension-accredited NFL season.
The Bills announced contracts with four more of their draft picks Friday: receiver Marquise Goodwin (third round), defensive backs Duke Williams (fourth round) and Jonathan Meeks (fifth round) and kicker Dustin Hopkins (sixth round). Seventh-round tight end Chris Gragg signed Thursday.
All players drafted outside of the first round get four-year contracts. Terms of the deals were not released, but given the rookie wage scale in place in the NFL, it’s expected that Goodwin’s deal will be worth about $2.7 million.
The Bills now have five of their eight members of the 2013 draft class under contract. Manuel and second-round picks Robert Woods and Kiko Alonso have yet to sign contracts.
Highlights from the practice included a leaping, one-handed grab from Brandon Kaufman, an undrafted free agent receiver out of Eastern Washington. Kaufman earlier pulled in a deep ball over the middle from Manuel that covered about 35 yards.
Goodwin also got free down the left sideline on a go route and hauled in a deep pass from Manuel.
Defensive back Dominique Ellis picked off a Manuel pass that sailed over the middle on the final play of 7-on-7 drills.
The Bills will hold two more rookie minicamps today and Sunday before the entire team joins Monday for the first of 10 voluntary organized team activities.
A three-day mandatory minicamp follows from June 11-13.