Buffalo Bills: Early impressions from training camp

With the Bills set to compete in the Hall of Fame Game already on Sunday in Canton, the Bills were the first to get to work for training camp on July 20. With a week under their belt, a few story lines have popped up thus far:

Injuries/Conditioning

Scott Chandler

A timetable has not been set for TE Scott Chandler’s return from a groin injury

By now for Bills fans, it is old news that budding star linebacker, Kiko Alonso, will miss the 2014 season with an ACL injury. Aside from that, Buffalo has made it to this point fairly scot-free. The exception to this would be at the tight end position. The ex-Iowa Hawkeye duo of Scott Chandler (groin) and Tony Moeaki (hamstring) as well as Chris Gragg (cramps) are all currently out. In an Associated Press article, head coach Doug Marrone said that Moeaki will miss a “significant” amount of time, but likely not the duration of training camp. No timetable has been set for Chandler, the projected starter, or Gragg’s return, but neither injury appears to have them sidelined for the regular season.

Other starters that have missed time: According to Buffalo Rumblings, Cordy Glenn has been sidelined due to illness and Marrone has yet to reveal details on his condition or expected return. Rookie Seantrel Henderson has been taking first-team reps in Glenn’s absence. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin has been held out of full-contact team drills as he recovers from back surgery, but appears ready to return soon.

Lastly, starting defensive tackle Marcell Darius missed the first five days of training camp after failing a conditioning test, but returned to team drills on Friday, July 25. His poor conditioning does not appear to jeopardize his spot in the starting lineup.

[Related: Buffalo Bills: Why to watch Marcell Dareus in training camp] 

The Manuel/Watkins connection has room to improve

EJ Manuel/Sammy Watkins Instagram

Quarterback EJ Manuel and wide receiver Sammy Watkins are working on building chemistry in training camp

Last week, rookie Sammy Watkins already made his first highlight-reel play of the year, hauling in an incredible one-handed catch after nearly falling down. The play was can be seen on Vine, thanks to Sal Capaccio of WGR Sports Radio 550.

Despite Watkins’ freakish play, and the high likelihood that he cracks the starting lineup right out of the gate, his connection with starting quarterback EJ Manuel still has a ways to go.

“It’s not fully there. I mean, we’ve been connecting at minicamp, and OTAs,” Watkins told the NFL Network. “But at the same time, I could be wide open, and if he don’t feel it, or if I run it a different type of way, he won’t throw the ball.

“So it really just got to come with him believing in me. I believe in him. He can throw just about any ball. So it just comes down to … we just need a lot of reps.”

If the Bills’ tight ends wind up missing any time, taking away Manuel’s safety valve, it will become incredibly important for the Manuel/Watkins connection to strengthen. I like how Watkins did express some optimism, but is also not afraid to call it how he sees it and acknowledges that things are not perfect, nor should anyone expect them to be. Given how early it is in training camp, I would not advise Bills fans to hit the panic button quite yet: Let’s see how the duo looks in the preseason games before casting too much judgement or doubt.

Rookies

Russ Cockrell

Russ Cockrell has showed aggressiveness and explosion thus far in Bills camp

Upon review of the 2014 NFL Draft, it appears that the Bills, almost more than any team, drafted players who could contribute right away. Excitement is already building in terms of what Watkins can accomplish and as noted above, Henderson could get starter’s reps for as long as Cordy Glenn is sidelined. I also could see second-round pick and offensive tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio, getting plenty of reps this season, whether it be in the starting lineup or in a backup role. Matthew Fairburn of Syracuse.com has observed Kouandjio struggling thus far in camp, but I believe the ex-Alabama star will find his niche sooner rather than later. The man’s already got NFL size and talent, it could just be a matter of time before he gets accustomed to Buffalo’s scheme.

Fairburn also mentioned fourth-round cornerback, Russ Cockrell, and undrafted weak-side linebacker Jimmy Gaines (a New York native) as having impressive camps. Gaines has gotten first-team reps in what is a wide-open weak-side linebacker battle, and Cockrell has shown great aggressiveness, especially when playing the ball, a hallmark of his career at Duke.

The Bills first preseason game, the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, will be on Sunday, August 5 at 8 p.m. on NBC versus the New York Giants.