Doug Marrone has frequently borrowed a baseball phrase during his first training camp as coach of the Buffalo Bills.
Marrone keeps his players returning from injury on a “pitch count,” limiting the number of repetitions they take in practice or a preseason game.
In sticking with that analogy, today’s third exhibition contest against the Washington Redskins (4:30 p.m., Ch. 7, WGR 550) is typically the game in which the starters eat up most of the innings.
“They have to be ready to play the whole game. I tell that to them all the time,” Marrone said this week, talking about his starting players, before admitting that he’ll probably stick with the status quo. “I think there will be a point where players that are coming back ... we’ll put on a pitch count and then look to see where we are with the starters and how far we want to take them.
“I don’t think it’s a secret. I think most teams play them a little more. I won’t look at it as a unit, I’ll look at it player to player.”
Veteran defensive end Mario Williams – who sat out last week’s game against Minnesota – will be one of those players on a pitch count.
“He feels pretty good,” Marrone said. “I think it’s one of those things where we just keep going. We know we want him 110 percent healthy for the season. So we’re just being smart.”
Williams’ “pitches” so far this season have been limited to just eight in the preseason opener against Indianapolis. He did have a sack in that time.
“The coach and the team, they’re doing everything they can to keep everybody healthy and make the right decision,” Williams said.
When he returned to practice after missing two days early in camp to get a second opinion on a sore foot, Williams said he was directed by the team to avoid talking about injuries.
So when he was asked how he’s feeling after having his work limited most of the summer, Williams’ response of “I’m cool” fit right in.
“It’s not even in the back of my mind,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me.”
Williams said he’s starting to feel more comfortable in new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system.
“It’s getting better. The more and more you go out and get reps, the more and more we practice it, I think we’ll fine-tune our communication,” he said. “Because we’ve got a lot of communication, a lot of verbiage that goes in, we’ve got to be on that.”
Williams didn’t necessarily agree with the notion of the third preseason game being the “most important,” saying that they all have value for a team with a new coaching staff trying to end a streak of eight straight losing seasons.
“Each time you go out on the field and there’s points on that board it’s important, so I think the only thing that varies is just how many plays you play,” he said. “You want to get the mentality of winning, you want to get the feeling of winning. Especially here, we need that.”
A healthy, hungry Williams would go a long way toward helping the Bills achieve that goal. Even in what could be considered a “down” year in his first season with Buffalo, he finished with a team-high 10.5 sacks.
With 63.5 career sacks at the age of 28, he is by far the Bills’ most accomplished pass rusher. While additions to the roster like Jerry Hughes, Jamie Blatnick and Marcus Dowtin have flashed potential as edge rusher, it’s understandable why the Bills would take things cautiously with Williams.
Marrone said after the first preseason game against the Colts, Williams told him he wanted to stay in the game.
“I took him out of the game. I just think we need to keep building upon that,” the coach said at the time. “You saw that we were moving him around a little bit to create some flexibility, to be in that position to make some plays.”
Since the injury at the start of camp, Williams has kept a low profile.
That’s not a bad thing considering he was in the news during the offseason for things that had nothing to do with football. Those things – a public spat with his ex-fiancé, an ill-advised joke about the murder charge former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is facing and a questionable graduation from a law enforcement academy in Texas – are what Williams was trying to get away from at St. John Fisher College.
“Any time you can be around the guys, the coaches, just to be able to get into the mode of football – it’s good,” Williams said. “It’s still business. We still know what our goal is and what we’re looking forward to. Just keep it going in that aspect. Just focus on each day we’ve got in front of us and just get better.”