Marcell Dareus passes physical

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
5:59
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus passed his physical and was removed from the non-football injury list Thursday, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates.

The move means that Dareus has passed the team's conditioning test, which he failed upon reporting to training camp last week.

Dareus likely will rejoin the Bills at their next practice Friday evening.

Bills defensive tackle Alan Branch also passed his physical, a league source told Yates. Branch has failed his conditioning test and was on the non-football illness list.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak contributed to this report.


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Report: Sites explored in Toronto

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
4:23
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A Buffalo Bills prospective ownership group that includes rocker Jon Bon Jovi has conducted a feasibility study into buying the NFL franchise and building a stadium in Toronto, a person close to the situation told The Associated Press.

The study identified at least three potential stadium sites, two in Toronto, including one on the waterfront, and another in the suburb of Mississauga, the person told The Associated Press on Thursday. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Bon Jovi and his partners, Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family, have not publicly revealed details of their plans to purchase the team.

Andy Bergmann, responsible for overseeing the Bon Jovi group's stadium plans, confirmed Thursday in an email to the AP that his company has conducted stadium studies, "but nothing related to any specific site."

"We have undertaken engineering and design studies," wrote Bergmann, co-founder of Toronto-based Wessex Capital Partners, a growth equity investment firm that specializes in architecture, design and engineering services. "All of our work has been about a generic site and whether it was more rural or urban. We are aware of potential sites in the western NY and southern Ontario region, and are in fact meeting with two Buffalo area developers next week.

"No feasibility studies have been undertaken on any site to date."

Tanenbaum is chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which controls the NBA's Raptors and NHL's Maple Leafs. The Rogers family includes Edward Rogers, deputy chairman of Rogers Communications, the Toronto-based communications giant.

The Bills are being sold following the death of Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson in March.

Under terms of the team's lease with the state and county, the Bills -- including Wilson's estate -- are not allowed to negotiate with anyone, who to their knowledge, has an intention of relocating the team before the end of the 2022 season, when the lease ends.

The feasibility study was commissioned about 18 months ago and overseen by an investment bank, the person said, adding that one of the stadium construction costs was between $800 million and $900 million.

The Bon Jovi group has not said it would relocate the team, and the Toronto Sun reported Saturday


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Spiller Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesC.J. Spiller and the Bills are an NFL anomaly: a run-heavy offense that likes to push the tempo.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Last season, the Buffalo Bills' offense only hurried up to get off the field faster.

Preaching an up-tempo pace, the Bills had the NFL's second-quickest offense, averaging 24.7 seconds of possession per play. Only the Philadelphia Eagles were faster.

Yet the Bills' speed didn't translate into points. They had the NFL's most offensive drives (214) but ranked 25th in points per drive. Moreover, the Bills had the NFL's seventh-highest percentage of drives that ended without a first down or touchdown.

It's a problem that put stress on the defense. The Bills' defense played the seventh-most snaps in the NFL, while opposing offenses possessed the ball for an average of 31 minutes, 59 seconds per game, fourth-most in the league.

The sputtering offense and overworked defense were two key ingredients in the Bills' 6-10 record and fourth-place finish in the AFC East.

Despite their issues last season, the Bills still intend on pushing the tempo this summer -- but will also stick with their run-first philosophy. In doing so, the team risks the same fate.

Teams found success at either extreme of offensive pace last season. Six of the eight clubs that advanced to the divisional playoffs were either in the top five or bottom five in seconds of possession per offensive play, a measure of the speed at which offenses operate.

At one fringe were the NFL's up-tempo, no huddle attacks: the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, who squared off in the AFC Championship Game. At the other end of the spectrum were the ground-and-pound styles of the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and San Diego Chargers.

The Seahawks and 49ers met in the NFC Championship Game, with the Seahawks then knocking off the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Both offensive approaches, then, have been proven to work in the modern NFL.

What didn't work last season was the Bills' offense. Much of its inability to convert drives into points traced back to failures on third down. Only three teams had a worse conversion rate on third down than the Bills last season, while only one NFL quarterback -- Oakland's Matt McGloin -- had a lower third-down completion percentage than Buffalo's EJ Manuel (47.5 percent).

The Bills' hope is that a second year in the system for Manuel, plus the additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams at wide receiver, will allow for an offense that can move the ball through the air and put up points.

"[Watkins] is a dynamic playmaker. That's what this game is all about," general manager Doug Whaley told ESPN in May. "We got to score touchdowns."

The Bills aren't backing down from their vow to hasten their offensive pace, either. Coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett brought a no-huddle system from Syracuse, and they are sticking with it this season.

"It needs to be moving a lot faster," Marrone said Wednesday of the offense's pace. "Obviously we’re installing again, so we’re reinstalling, and in the back of my mind that might tend to slow things down a little bit, but my expectation is to be right on the money with it, so we need to be faster."

In an ideal world, the Bills' 2014 offense would be a carbon copy of their early 1990s attack: a quick pace with both explosive receivers (e.g., Andre Reed, James Lofton) and a more than capable running game (Thurman Thomas).

Last season, however, showed the danger of falling short of that goal: the offense was efficient -- but efficiently bad. The Bills gained the NFL's second most rushing yards, but the offensive pace only served to negate the ball-controlling effects of a good ground game.

Whaley comes from a run-first background with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has brought in maulers across his offensive line in Buffalo. When we gathered data in May, the Bills' offensive line had an average weight of 325 pounds, by far the heaviest in the NFL.

This offseason, Whaley added two running backs to his backfield: Bryce Brown, who he long coveted in Philadelphia, and Anthony Dixon, who was lost in the 49ers' crowded backfield. Added to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, the Bills have stocked their shelves to ground-and-pound their way through opposing defenses.

"The sky is the limit for that group. You have four true guys who I think can start or play for any other team in the league," Manuel said Tuesday. "When you have great talent like that on the backfield, it’s always a huge friend to the quarterback. If the running game is great, the passing game should open up as well."

Yes, the enhanced backfield should benefit the passing game. But there is no requirement that the Bills must try to maintain their breakneck offensive pace.

In fact, the Bills were a somewhat of an anomaly last season among teams that ran an up-tempo offense. They gained 42.6 percent of their offensive yards by running, the highest percentage in the NFL. The 49ers (42.5 percent), Seahawks (40.3 percent), and Panthers (40 percent) ranked second, fourth, and fifth, respectively.

Yet those three NFC juggernauts were among the four slowest offenses in the NFL last season. They didn't try to be the high-flying Broncos. Instead, all three of those teams controlled the ball, shortened games, played quality defense, and advanced deep into the playoffs.

That is not to say the Bills' up-tempo, run-first offense can't work this season. If everything clicks, it will be a thing of beauty.

But is that realistic, and are the two approaches truly compatible? Or will the Bills simply run into the same problems their offense created last season?

Jim Kelly to handle HOF coin toss

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
1:57
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[+] EnlargeJim Kelly
AP Photo/The Buffalo News/Harry Scull Jr.Jim Kelly, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, completed radiation and chemotherapy sessions to treat sinus cancer in May.

CANTON, Ohio -- Former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, who is recovering from cancer treatments, will participate in the coin toss at the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 3.

The Hall of Famer will represent Buffalo as an honorary captain, while former linebacker Harry Carson will be the New York Giants' honorary captain when the teams face off in the first NFL preseason game.

Kelly, inducted into the hall in 2002, in May completed radiation and chemotherapy sessions to treat sinus cancer, which spread from his jaw.

"I have always said that God willing, I will be back in Canton every summer," Kelly said. "This year especially, I am so thankful that I can be on hand to share in a great weekend that shines the spotlight on the Buffalo Bills. There isn't a person more deserving of joining the Hall of Fame than my teammate and friend Andre Reed.

"It is also a great honor for me to represent the Bills organization at the coin toss to kick off the season. The entire experience will bring back many great memories from 2002 when so many of the Bills family -- fans, players, and staff -- joined me in Canton for one of the most memorable times of my life."


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John Clayton says the Bills see Sammy Watkins as a difference-maker in Buffalo.

Bills Camp Report: Day 4

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus worked with strength coaches for the duration of practice. Coach Doug Marrone had no indication of when Dareus may re-take his conditioning test -- that's up to the strength coaches, he said -- but the Bills have a large gap between practices this week. They aren't back on the field until 6 p.m. Friday, which could give Dareus time to pass the running test. Another player who didn't pass the test? Defensive tackle Alan Branch, who is on the active/non-football illness list. We're told that Branch needed to be put on that list because of a technicality. Branch and Dareus worked out together on the sideline Wednesday.
  • Is the Bills' starting right guard spot up for grabs? Asked that question Wednesday, Marrone simply said, "Yes it is." Incumbent Kraig Urbik struggled in Tuesday's practice, leading Chris Hairston to get more reps with the first team Wednesday. Hairston has been plugged in along the line -- including both at left tackle and right tackle -- since returning this spring from a year-long absence. Urbik has cap numbers of $3.375 million, $3.675 million and $4 million in the remaining three years of his deal, which the Bills extended in 2012. While former general manager Buddy Nix inked the deal with Urbik, it would be a disappointment for the team if he lost his starting job.
  • How about right tackle? At the beginning of OTAs, Marrone said he wanted to throw second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio into the mix with the first team, leading to reps with the top unit. Those dwindled by the end of spring practices and we've seen Erik Pears exclusively with the first team so far in camp. Asked if that was a reflection more on Pears or Kouandjio, Marrone said it was a "little bit of both," adding that "Cyrus is coming along. Again, the closer you are to the ball, the tougher it is to play in this league." Pears started 16 games last season but dealt with an injury. At 32, his job appeared to be in jeopardy this summer but he's been holding off Kouandjio to this point.
  • Safety Aaron Williams stepped away from an early portion of practice and met with the team's medical staff on the sideline. Williams, who is coming off shoulder surgery and was eased back into action during spring practices, had his shoulder/arm area examined by a team doctor. He returned to the rest of practice and didn't appear to have any issues with that arm, but it's something that bears watching as the Bills progress through several more padded practices and preseason games. The team gave Williams a large extension this offseason and if he misses time, they have a drop-off on their safety depth chart. Besides starter Da'Norris Searcy, none of the other six safeties have playing experience on defense at the NFL level.
  • Sammy Watkins continues to show off his eye-opening talent and Wednesday was no exception. He made an impressive catch in a routes-versus-air drill that was captured by WGR 550's Sal Capaccio. You should check it out.
Brett Carlsen/Getty Imagesnull

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Two Buffalo Bills players were hospitalized this week after suffering from heat-related symptoms during training camp.

Tight end Chris Gragg remains in the hospital, and while fullback Evan Rodriguez was back with the team Wednesday, he did not participate in practice, coach Doug Marrone said.

Both players practiced with the team Monday afternoon at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, before missing practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

Gragg was a seventh-round draft choice last season who played in nine games last season. Rodriguez, whom the Bills signed last November, played in seven games.

They haven't been the only Bills players dealing with the heat thus far in training camp. Linebacker Brandon Spikes was brought into a cooling tent during Monday's practice, while offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson headed for the tent with trainers after Tuesday's practice.


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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills struggled mightily in the red zone last season, ranking 29th in scoring efficiency.

Manuel
In Wednesday's practice, the Bills' second padded session of training camp, there was a heavy emphasis on the red zone. The results were mixed for the offense.

Robert Woods made the play of the practice, snagging a touchdown pass with one hand in an 11-on-11 drill. Fellow receiver Sammy Watkins also had a leaping touchdown that drew cheers from the smaller crowd in attendance.

There were problems on third downs, however. Here is our log of third-down results from the first-team offense, led by EJ Manuel:

11-on-11, first series: Sack; defense blitzed a safety.
11-on-11, second series: Incompletion to C.J. Spiller; throw hit the ground in front of receiver.
11-on-11, third series: Spiller run.
11-on-11, fourth series: Manuel scramble and throw away.
7-on-7, first series: Incompletion to Woods; pass deflected off Woods' hands in end zone.

Third downs were also an issue in regular 11-on-11 work, outside of the red zone. Here is our log of those first-team plays:

11-on-11, first series: False start
11-on-11, first series: Completion to Mike Williams, but throw came in behind receiver.
11-on-11, second series: Botched play in backfield; hand-off attempt to Anthony Dixon resulted in fumble.

The Bills had the NFL's 29th-ranked third-down conversion rate last season, gaining first downs on just 34 percent of plays. Manuel's 47.5 percent completion percentage on third downs ranked 38th in the NFL, ahead of only Oakland's Matt McGloin.

Luckily for the Bills, this was only their second day of third-down work and their first day practicing red zone drills. But the results will need to get better.

Bills must mull Marcell Dareus' future

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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ESPN.com Buffalo Bills reporter Mike Rodak says that after failing his conditioning test upon reporting to training camp, the Bills must give Marcell Dareus his final warning: one more slip-up and they should cut ties after this season.

Marcell Dareus rejoins Bills in camp

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:21
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus returned to training camp Wednesday hoping to earn his teammates', coaches' and fans' trust after a troubled offseason.

"Right now, my focus is on earning the trust of my teammates, coaches and the fans while continuing to improve as a football player. I have a passion for this game and I want to be here to help this organization achieve its goals," Dareus said in a statement released by the team.

"There are things I need to work on professionally and personally to make sure I can be accountable to myself, my family, this team and this community."

The first step is getting in shape, which is why Dareus made his camp debut by heading directly to a stationary bike on the sideline at the start of practice in suburban Rochester.

Dareus is on the team's active/non-football injury list after he failed a conditioning test Saturday. He must pass that before he can be cleared to practice.

The Bills have a day off Thursday, so Friday is the earliest Dareus might begin practicing. The 2011 first-round draft pick has now missed four days of workouts since camp opened Sunday.

Coach Doug Marrone was pleased to have Dareus back. He wasn't sure when the player might be ready to hit the practice field.

"We're going day by day,'' Marrone said. "I don't want to get ahead of myself.''

He was excused for the first three days to attend a court hearing in his native Alabama on two felony drug charges. Dareus was arrested May 5 and charged with possession of synthetic marijuana and drug paraphernalia (a glass pipe).


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Statement from Marcell Dareus

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
7:54
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Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who was in court Monday in Alabama, issued a statement as he prepares to join his teammates for training camp.

Dareus
"After dealing with a personal matter in Alabama, I am excited to return to training camp to rejoin my teammates in our preparations for the 2014 season. Right now, my focus is on earning the trust of my teammates, coaches and the fans while continuing to improve as a football player. I have a passion for this game and I want to be here to help this organization achieve its goals. There are things I need to work on professionally and personally to make sure I can be accountable to myself, my family, this team and this community. My focus will remain on achieving that goal one day at a time. I want to thank the Bills organization, Coach Marrone and the coaching staff, my teammates and our fans for their continued support."

Dareus isn't expected to re-take the team's conditioning test until Thursday at the earliest, a team source told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio.

Bills Camp Report: Day 3

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • After weather-related delays kept him in Alabama through Monday night, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus returned to St. John Fisher College on Tuesday afternoon. Coach Doug Marrone said earlier in the day that Dareus would immediately begin working with the strength and conditioning staff. It's unclear when Dareus will re-take his conditioning test. The Bills practice at 8 a.m. Wednesday, and it's highly unlikely Dareus will join his teammates on the field at that time. They have a day off Thursday before returning to practice Friday evening.
  • Tuesday was the Bills' first padded practice, and it proved problematic for the offensive line. They allowed at least five sacks, while EJ Manuel had several other throw-aways and scrambles. Moreover, Manuel struggled with his accuracy as the Bills transitioned into third-down situations during team drills. Manuel was first to the podium after practice and was immediately asked to sum up what a reporter called a "rough" day. "No, it was a good day," Manuel responded. "I thought we had a good day." Minutes later, Marrone came to the podium and was asked a similar question. "Yeah in the beginning [it was sloppy]," he said. "They finished strong, but it was not what we wanted." I don't think the difference in assessments represents as much a disconnect between head coach and quarterback as much as it does a difference in approaches. Manuel has been even-keeled with the media since arriving last season and tends to present hiccups as part of a process in getting better. Marrone, especially after some losses last season, typically expresses a greater sense of urgency. It's better if both are on the same page, but both leadership philosophies have their benefits.
  • We've seen both Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel take reps with the second team in team drills through the first few days of training camp. Lewis was the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback last season, but his status his now in doubt. "We have a battle for the second team quarterback," Marrone said Tuesday. "We’re trying to find out who it’s going to be, and Jeff did a nice job in OTAs and he’s earned himself some more reps." This could be more important than the backup battle on most teams. Manuel missed six games last season, allowing Lewis to start five games and Tuel to start one. The Bills decided not to bring in another experienced quarterback to compete this offseason, so it will be either Lewis or Tuel again this season if Manuel suffers another injury.
  • Rookie offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson left the field with trainers following practice and looked to be dealing with heat-related issues. Alone that's not a major problem; several players have cramped up over the past few days. But Henderson is under increased scrutiny given his issues at the University of Miami. He cut short his pro day because he was "overheated," while he also had some issues with the heat at one point during OTAs. He passed the conditioning test, but is Henderson in his best possible shape? If the Bills offense wants to up the tempo, they'll need their offensive linemen to be mobile. Any long-term absence from Cordy Glenn could thrust Henderson into the starting lineup and bring his physical condition into further focus.
  • The Bills made a pair of minor roster moves Tuesday. They signed undrafted rookie linebacker Xavius Boyd out of Western Kentucky, who was in spring camps with the Baltimore Ravens. To make room for Boyd on the 90-man roster they waived/injured rookie linebacker Darrin Kitchens, who was carted off the field Monday with a "lower body" injury.
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- In his prime, Randy Moss made it look easy.

With long arms, big strides and blazing speed, Moss both towered over defenders and blew past them. He had a way of making downfield catches seem effortless, the football equivalent of Yao Ming grabbing a rebound.

Through three training camp practices, I can't help but think of Moss when I watch Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Physically, Moss had the edge. He's 6-foot-4, while Watkins is 6-foot-1. Moss ran a 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds; Watkins checked in at 4.46 seconds.

But when Watkins cut through three defenders with the stride of a gazelle during Monday's practice, I saw Moss. When Watkins had three steps on cornerback Leodis McKelvin on a fly pattern Monday -- and again Tuesday -- and reached out, snagged the ball and walked into the end zone, I saw Moss.

If Watkins keeps that up, it will be a much-needed shot in the arm for an offense that scored just 16 passing touchdowns last season, tied for second-worst in the NFL.

One of many culprits of the offense's ineptitude last season, quarterback EJ Manuel has looked his best when throwing to Watkins this week. It's not quite Moss catching passes from Daunte Culpepper, but the potential is there.

The rookie receiver and second-year quarterback were shaky at the end of spring practices, but Manuel has been nearly perfect on passes intended for Watkins this week, whether they've been short, deep or anywhere in between.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Bill WippertThrough three training camp practices, Buffalo Bills first-round pick Sammy Watkins has excelled on the field.
That's been a high point of Watkins' performance thus far. He doesn't just excel at catching flashy deep balls. The Bills have sent Watkins across the middle and he's executed in that part of the field, using his long arms and soft hands to reel in one pass over a linebacker on Monday.

"He's made a very good career for himself, in college, being able to go over the middle. That's always a big test when you get to this level to make sure you can come over the middle," coach Doug Marrone said. "He’s a fearless player and, again, at the same time you have to be smart when you do that."

Later on Monday, Watkins came over the middle again, leaping to grab a tipped pass and coming down hard. He was slow to get up, and teammates quickly surrounded him. He came off the field with a trainer and was down on one knee on the sideline.

As it turned out, he was poked in the eye. Crisis averted.

But for those few minutes, the crowd at St. John Fisher College was silent. Twitter was buzzing. Marrone walked over to check on his first-round pick.

That's the impact Watkins has brought to the Bills. Losing him to an injury would be catastrophic.

"He's made plays in this camp," Marrone said Monday. "I think a lot of people are excited."

While Watkins' play early in camp has been reminiscent of Moss, his persona off the field hasn't. Moss was one of the more quotable players in recent NFL history, drawing attention for often the wrong reasons.

Watkins' approach has been different.

"There's a gentleman on that (Clemson) staff that I worked with that I have a great amount of respect for," Marrone said Monday. "He said to me that, '[Watkins] is one of the most humble superstars that I've been around.' "

There is a long way to go -- most teams haven't even started training camp yet -- but the early returns on Watkins have been decidedly positive.

He's been making it look easy.
Dareus
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was delayed in returning to Bills camp Tuesday.

The Pro Bowl lineman, who was in court Monday in Alabama, was unable to travel back to Rochester, New York because of bad weather. He is due back to St. John Fisher College on Tuesday.

"He’ll be with our weight room staff working out as soon as he gets here," coach Doug Marrone said Tuesday morning.

Dareus isn't expected to re-take the team's conditioning test until Thursday at the earliest, a team source told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio. He remains on the active/non-football injury list and has missed the first three practices of Bills camp.

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