PITTSFORD — The Buffalo Bills have thrown a little more at quarterback Kevin Kolb through the first two practices of training camp, by design.
“I think Kevin is seeing more of the exotic stuff from our defense,” coach Doug Marrone said after Monday afternoon’s practice at St. John Fisher College. “We throw Kevin out there and … he’s seeing everything for the first time.”
That has allowed rookie first-round draft pick EJ Manuel to evaluate what the defense is doing, but Marrone said the time will come soon for Manuel to start facing some of those pressure situations.
“We’ve got to start stepping him up,” the coach said.
Pressure was indeed a focus for the Bills’ defense on Monday. Practicing without pads, the Bills sent defenders at all angles after Kolb in particular. The result was several would-be sacks, forced throwaways or incompletions.
“I’m not paying attention to who gets what. It’s just a learning curve for all of us,” Kolb said of the workload between he and Manuel. “They bring a lot of different looks. They got us a few times today in that third-down period; got me a few times I should say. They mix it up well, so it’s a lot of stuff to look at. But it helps you down the road and I’m glad I get to see it now rather than being surprised by it in the season.”
Kolb is no stranger to a competition for playing time.
“You’re continually competing, so it’s just something we get used to,” he said. “I think really in this day and age because it’s a ‘now’ business, you have one bad year, you have one bad preseason, whatever it is, things start to happen. So everybody is competing every day. You can ask anybody, even midseason practice you’re still competing. So, it’s nothing new for me, nothing new for this position or in the NFL.”
Manuel, meanwhile, said his comfort level has increased greatly between spring practices and the start of training camp.
“I understand my protections,” said Manuel, who studied them during the offseason and goes over them in camp with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. “Just going over all the playbook, I feel that I have a better grasp on than I did in the OTAs.”
As for whether any part of the process of competing for a starting job in the NFL has been overwhelming, he responded with a confident: “No sir.”
Manuel’s performance improved from Sunday night’s first practice. He did not throw an interception Monday. His long completion to rookie tight end Chris Gragg during 11-on-11 drills was the best play of the day.
“That’s my main goal: try to get better every day,” Manuel said.
Heading into his eighth NFL season, Kyle Williams became the most experienced (with the Bills) on the team has when Chris Kelsay retired in the offseason.
“Well it’s obviously different. You get really close with those guys, but they were there, they were kind of in that position at one point,” Williams said of the retirement of Kelsay and Aaron Schobel. “You always kind of adapt when you have new people coming in. You tend to gravitate to a guy and develop other relationships. I think we have special relationships. I hate to see them gone, but at the same time that’s the nature of this deal. You bond with your teammates, especially through getting out here and working.”
Williams said the leadership role on defense is nothing new for him.
“I think I’ve been there for a while. I don’t think I’ve slid in to it,” he said. “Early in my career, guys watched me and they saw how I worked and how I conducted my business. That earned respect and I was able to do it on the field. It’s just kind of been a natural progression that everyone has to go through. I feel like I’ve been there for a while.”
Marrone indicated that Brad Smith is being utilized solely as a wide receiver on offense for right now, a hint that the Wildcat could be put to sleep. Marrone, though, said Smith’s value to the team goes beyond just a pass-catching role.
“He’s a core special teams player and does it very well,” the coach said.
As for Dorin Dickerson, who’s listed on the roster as a wide receiver, Marrone indicated he’s a tight end.
“He was in that hybrid situation and he can really run well. … He’s big, strong and can run,” he said. “We had him out there and then he actually came to us. I think it was a problem of trying to get the weight down and that he needed to be able to be faster to play the position or get in and out of cuts.
“He said, ‘I really want to play tight end.’ I think you’re trying to give the players the best chance to make the team. He feels – and I don’t disagree with him after seeing him at wide receiver – that the best position for him to be at is the tight end position.”