PITTSFORD — You could see it in practice ... players mentally counting down the minutes until it was over.
Nothing against St. John Fisher, mind you, but after 26 days of training camp, coach Doug Marrone’s Buffalo Bills had enough.
The weather was kind — very few days of high temperature and humidity — but the work was hard.
A squad of nearly 90 is down to 81 with a cut to 75 coming next Tuesday.
The Bills’ roster has 34 rookies or first-year players (those having previously been in an NFL training camp or on a practice squad) and over 60 percent of Buffalo’s hopefuls have been in the league two years or less.
Hence, there was a lot of tough competition for jobs.
BEFORE the final practice, Marrone talked about his first training camp as a head coach.
“The fans that have come to watch us practice, the sponsors ... it’s truly been a great experience,” he said. “I’m excited about it ... it’s a first class operation.”
Of course, Marrone got the best possible going-away gift as Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd signed his one-year tender as the team’s franchise player. He’ll be paid a mandated $6.9 million this season and, since there wasn’t a “no-tag” provision for 2014, Buffalo could franchise him again, though with the required 20 percent raise, meaning the Bills would pay him $8.3 million.
But that’s nearly a year away.
Meanwhile, the 26-year-old former Oregon star will join the team on Friday, the day before an exhibition game with the Redskins at Washington.
“I’m really looking forward to him coming in,” Marrone said, indicating Byrd likely wouldn’t play Saturday. “ I haven’t seen him, so it’s hard for me to answer (that).
“We’ll transition him back in and see what kind of shape he’s in ... knowing he’s a pro and probably in great shape. Everyone is ready to play (except quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive end Kourtnei Brown and tackle Chris Hairston). Players are going in looking to play a full game. That’s the type of mentality we want them to have.”
He added, “At the same time, we’re looking at some of the players that are in competition for roster spots. Three days afterward, we have to get down to 75, so (those cuts are) not set in my mind at least right now who it’s going to be.”
As for when Byrd will be up to speed on the new coaching staff and playbook, Marrone admitted, “I think it just happens. He’s coming back ready to go (and) we’re ready to get him out there on the field. I don’t think it’s as big of an issue as people might make it out to be.
“You can see the great things he’s done on film. He’s a competitor. I’m sure he was in communication with some of his teammates and that helps. He’s trying to accomplish the same things as we are as a team ... he knows our goal is to try and get back to the playoffs.”
Clearly, Marrone is relieved to have such a quality defender back on the squad, especially since Da’Norris Searcy seemed to struggle in Byrd’s absence.
“ It’s encouraging to me because I haven’t been around to see him,” the former Syracuse coach admitted. “I’ve just seen him on tape. (But) it’s always encouraging when you get a good player back.”
AND FOR Marrone, having his star defender signed was a perfect ending to what he feels was an outstanding camp.
“ It hasn’t been a secret, I’ve been happy with the way the players have gone out and worked,” he said. “I haven’t been here in the past, so I can’t really say whether they’re different or have worked better than they have (in the past).
“From my standpoint, the camps that I’ve been to have been pretty consistent and I think we haven’t wasted a day out here. At times you can do that when you hit those long periods.”
Marrone admitted, “The players know we’re progressing ... you can see that on film. (But) they understand we still have a lot of work ahead of us. I’m sure everyone here knows that they have to keep pushing themselves.
“When we arrive at camp we all know what it is ... you’re going to work hard; you’re going to practice. There’s less outside distractions ... less people pulling you away from what your objective is, to make this team.”
He concluded of leaving training camp, “Now we’re going to change the whole environment ... change it for players, change it for coaches, change it for staff. So we have to do a heckuva job of making sure that we find a way to change the environment where we can say, ‘Hey we’re still in camp mode and we’re still working.’ If we can do that, we’ll be ready to go when the season starts.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)