Bills built for speed with young receivers

It’s no coincidence, receiver T.J. Graham points out, that the
Buffalo Bills opened training camp by putting on an aerial display
featuring one deep completion after another.

The Bills’ intention during a two-minute session that finished
after 10 consecutive long bombs into the end zone was to create an
early buzz by showing off their young and speedy stable of
receivers.

”Coming out as an offense with a bunch of newly acquired
weapons, coming out and showing what we can do with it was the
point of that,” Graham said, recalling the camp-opening practice
in suburban Rochester. ”It’s just showing what we could do. The
quarterbacks love it, and the receivers love it, too. The deep ball
is touchdown. It’s money.”

Some 10 days later, very little has changed in the practice
repertoire, with the offense continuing to find time to put an
emphasis on its newfound ability to spread the field.

Whether it was rookie quarterback EJ Manuel hooking up with
Graham twice on that first day of camp, or Manuel hitting rookie
Marquise Goodwin on a 63-yard touchdown pass to end practice
Friday. Even third-string quarterback Jeff Tuel got involved by
completing a 45-yard throw to Goodwin during a scrimmage
Monday.

These new-look Bills are showing signs of being built for speed
with a revamped group of receivers.

It’s a new approach for a team that was previously knocked for
its dink-and-dunk, popgun attack under former coach Chan Gailey,
who was fired after three losing seasons.

And it comes with the arrival of first-time coach Doug Marrone
who, along with first-time coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, are
installing an up-tempo, no-huddle and aggressive style of
offense.

”You always heard the saying, `Luck follows speed,”’ Marrone
said, noting he first heard the saying from Dick MacPherson, his
college coach at Syracuse. ”I just believe in that. I think when
you have speed, it opens some things up.”

The Bills’ rookie draft class reflects Marrone’s philosophy.

Buffalo used a second-round pick to draft Robert Woods out of
Southern California, and followed by selecting Goodwin, a Texas
speedster and Olympic-caliber long-jumper, in the third round.

They join Graham, a second-year player, who was both a receiver
and track star at North Carolina State. And the group is rounded
out by returning starter Stevie Johnson, who will miss about two
weeks after pulling his hamstring on Friday.

Johnson’s injury turns the focus to the Bills’ young receivers
heading into the team’s preseason opener at Indianapolis on
Sunday.

That’s fine with Goodwin.

”It’s an opportunity to show what we’re capable of,” Goodwin
said. ”(The Bills) know what we’re capable of, or else they
wouldn’t have hired us for the job. It’s all about just proving it
to everybody else out here.”

Aside from speed, the youngsters have also shown signs of having
good hands and being versatile.

Woods is capable of playing both the slot and wideout spots
alongside Johnson.

Quarterback Kevin Kolb has been particularly impressed with
Woods.

”Stud. Legitimately a stud,” Kolb said last week, before he
hurt his left knee. ”Not just talent, the kid can run better than
I think anyone gives him credit for.”

Goodwin has proven to be a better receiver than the Bills
initially expected. On Monday, he made two acrobatic catches on
deep passes, both times coming down with the ball.

”I think you’re always excited about a guy like that,” Hackett
said of Goodwin. ”I think what he’s done out here up to this
point, I don’t think really anybody expected. … I’m really
excited to see how he’s going to be able to help us out.”

The speed among his receivers makes it easy on Hackett when it
comes to designing deep passes.

”It’s hard to out-throw them,” Hackett said. ”We just say
when those fast guys are out there, `Just drop back and throw it as
far as you can.”’

NOTES: Kolb, who is excused to attend a death in his family, is
expected to return for practice Friday, Marrone said. It won’t be
determined until after practice whether Kolb will play at
Indianapolis. … CB Leodis McKelvin was held out of practice due
to soreness. … Former NFL center Kevin Mawae was one of five
selected to be the team’s Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship
participants and serve as coaching interns during training
camp.

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