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Pitoniak: An Encouraging Start

I’ve written ad nauseam that I put little stock in exhibition games. Often the best outcome from these practice games is that you escape them without any injuries.
I’ve written ad nauseam that I put little stock in exhibition games. Often the best outcome from these practice games is that you escape them without any injuries.

That said, there were some positives to be gleaned from the Bills rout of Indianapolis Sunday afternoon.

Rookie EJ Manuel had a solid NFL debut. He appeared poised out there, especially during that impressive two-minute drill just before the half when he completed all nine of his pass attempts and marched the Bills 92 yards in 96 seconds. Manuel capped the drive with a 17-yard bullet to Dorin Dickerson for the touchdown. I realize the drive was engineered against mostly second- and third-string defenders, but it was encouraging to see Manuel keep his cool and operate with such efficiency.

It’s obviously going to become more challenging for him during the next two exhibition games, but this was a promising first step.

I like the quickened pace of the Bills offense. There were times last season under Chan Gailey when Buffalo moved maddingly slow, even when clock and scoreboard screamed for a sense of urgency. Manuel and a bunch of his young teammates handled the fast-breaking offense well. It’s a great approach because it gives the offense the opportunity to dictate to the defense and prevent all those personnel groupings from being thrown at you.

Dick MacPherson, who coached Doug Marrone at Syracuse, often preached that “luck follows speed.” And Coach Mac’s protégé clearly adheres to that axiom. The increased speed and quickness on both sides of the ball is already evident. It’s obviously something you can’t teach, and it’s a tremendous weapon.

Rookie wide receiver/kick returner Marquise Goodwin wasted little time showing us the importance of speed during his two long kickoff returns. The former Texas sprint champion and Olympic long jumper has a gear that others don’t. That 107-yard kickoff return for touchdown was something to behold. “I just ran for my life,’’ Goodwin said. He also had a 53-yard return. And during Monday’s practice, he left the Bills secondary in his wake on a fly pattern that resulted in a touchdown. It was a scene we’ve seen repeated often during camp.

With Goodwin, Robert Woods and T.J. Graham and Da’Rick Rogers, the Bills have some guys who can stretch a defense. In Sunday’s win, Manuel didn’t air it out. That’s something I’d like to see a little more of in the coming exhibition games. Take some shots down field.

Speaking of fast guys, it took all of two carries to show us that C.J. Spiller is ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

Defensively, rookie linebacker Kiko Alonzo continues to wreak havoc from sideline to sideline. He got sucked in a few times - as rookies are prone to do - but he also had a great breakup in the end zone, in which he closed fast and knocked the ball out of the tight end’s hands at the last second. It was a big-league play that captured the attention of Marrone and his staff.

Again, I don’t want to get carried away with one practice game. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck didn’t play long enough to work up a sweat, and when the starters from both sides were in there, the play-calling was pretty vanilla.

But the road to redemption has to start somewhere and the Bills clearly took some baby steps in the right direction Sunday.

Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the late 1960s and covered them since 1985. He has written six books about the team’s history, including “My Life on a Special Team,” with Bills special teams great Steve Tasker that is available in bookstores and at amazon.com.


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