Bills Practice Under The Lights
A first hand look at the Bills first primetime practice.
by Jay Rosen
July 31, 2001
What took place last night at Buffalo Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford was little more than a glorified pre-game warm-up, but the change of pace from a regular practice session made it fun for the players as well as those in attendance.
There was a very different feel to this session. It was held down on the artificial turf at Growley Stadium rather than on the grass practice fields. A sizeable and enthusiastic crowd, many of whom were young kids and teens, helped keep the energy level up. The organized autograph session before the practice was a big hit with players and fans, and the fact that this portion of the event was televised on Channel 13 WOKR TV in Rochester made this seem more like a real game. Bills GM Tom Donahoe was on the stadium PA system giving an explanation of each drill, as well as some play-by-play.
If autograph seekers are any indication, Rob Johnson is winning his war against the ghost of Doug Flutie. His was by far the longest line for autographs, and 11 jerseys seemed to outnumber 7 jerseys. There were a couple of Chargers 7 jerseys in the crowd, too.
The night session came on the heels of the first full-contact practice of the year, and the staff was giving the players a chance to recover. There wasn't much contact last night, and the emphasis was more on speed, timing, and rhythm. There were two special teams drills, for the field goal and punting units. It was hard to tell which kickers or punters had a better night. Other than the unit instruction, the main work was on blitzing and blitz pickup. The defense had the upper hand on the offense on this night, with Erik Flowers particularly impressive coming off the edge. The running backs were the main targets, although the short crossing routes were also there. Johnson started off slowly but zinged a bullet to Eric Moulds in the flat.
Coach Gregg Williams was deeply involved in almost every play, giving instruction as each was completed. Practices are run at a much crisper pace than I have seen in the past, which keeps the players alert and focused even when they are waiting for their reps. Phil Hansen was the only player to 'earn' an opportunity lap, having been drawn offside by Johnson. He barely looked to the coaches before starting a slow jog around the sidelines, and was greeted by good-natured cheers from the crowd as he approached the bleachers.
How the team responds to this, and next Monday's sessions, will probably determine if the practice is continued. From a fan standpoint this was just one more fun way to get close to the players and for the team to cater to the people who can't get to practices during the week. The front office seems to have hit yet another home run, to borrow a cliche from a different sport.
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