By JOHN WAWROW The Associated Press
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — PITTSFORD — 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.