The Buffalo Bills’ players have high hopes that some strategic changes implemented by new coach Doug Marrone will put them in better positions to succeed this season.
The defensive players think more multiple fronts and more frequent pre-snap disguises will work better than the all-vanilla, all-the-time approach of last year’s defensive coordinator, Dave Wannstedt.
On offense, the players are excited about running a more up-tempo, no-huddle attack under new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
“I understand there’s questions at the quarterback position, and that’s the most important position on the field,” said center Eric Wood. “But we got a lot of guys coming back on defense with a pretty exciting defensive coordinator coming in. We’re gonna be a little more aggressive offensively and try to use some of our youth up front, move around a little bit more and do some exciting things. From my standpoint I don’t see why we would need to rebuild.”
“It was refreshing,” receiver Stevie Johnson said of the first team meeting this week with Marrone. “I like the energy. He could have been the same blah, blah, blah. But it was up-tempo. It felt good to me. I am pretty sure the vibes were throughout the room as well. We are going to be up-tempo and have attitude.”
It’s a common refrain for players in any sport when a coaching change happens: Better coaching will help make us better. Bills fans have heard it before.
Gregg Williams had been waiting his whole career to run a West Coast offense upon being hired in Buffalo. (He ditched it after one year.)
Mike Mularkey’s commitment to power running was going to turn around Buffalo’s offense. (It did for one year.)
Dick Jauron’s two-deep zone defense was going to overwhelm offenses with speed. (It was terrible against the run.)
Chan Gailey hoped the 3-4 front was the defensive solution. (He ditched it after two seasons.)
Nevertheless, the Bills are embracing some distinctive schematic changes this spring.
On defense, at least, it’s not too hard to imagine improvement happening. The Bills ranked 31st in the NFL against the run last season and 26th in points allowed.
The players have some familiarity with the 3-4 scheme new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine used the past four years with the New York Jets, and they like what they saw from the opposing sideline.
The Jets employed a wide variety of defensive fronts and blitzes.
Conversely, the Bills’ defense played spread passing offenses last season like it was 1999. They blitzed on just 15 percent of opponents’ pass plays, according to News figures, the lowest rate in the league. They relied on a straight, four-man pass rush with their down linemen.
Said edge rusher Mario Williams of Pettine: “Looking at what’s happened with him when he was with the Ravens and the Jets is definitely something that everybody should be excited about, including myself. I mean, he definitely has a very outstanding resume ... to put us in the right positions and get us out there playing – just change the mentality of the defense as a group. It’s 11 guys on the field, so we all have to have a more upbeat positive mentality.”
“I like how he’s going to come in and mix it up a little bit for us,” said defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. “We’re going to play multiple fronts, not just zeroing in on one thing. I think it is a great new look for the Bills. We’ve got a great new system that I think they are implementing. I really cannot wait to get on in it.”
Dareus also liked the Jets’ pre-snap shifts.
“Watching the Jets, they like to blitz and bring different guys in and give you different looks,” he said. “He didn’t like to give the first look off the pre looks. He’s gonna disguise a lot more this year. We’re going to learn how to disguise a lot more this year a lot better. He just did a lot of things with the Jets I know will be a real big plus for us.”
Offensively, any improvement is going to depend a lot on what kind of play the Bills get out of their quarterback. Furthermore, offenses adopting a new scheme, with a new coaching staff and a new quarterback do not usually get off to flying starts.
However, judging from what Hackett did as Marrone’s offensive coordinator at Syracuse and what the Bills say so far, the tempo will be faster.
The Bills want to include more no-huddle pace to the offense. It’s something newly acquired veteran quarterback Kevin Kolb has done in the past in his career. It’s something a rookie might be comfortable with doing, especially if the Bills draft Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib.
“I’m excited about that,” Wood said of the no-huddle. “I watched them beat the dog out of Louisville, and they looked really good then. That’s kind of the way the league’s going. New England runs a lot of up-tempo. .... I’m sure we won’t be exclusively no-huddle. We’re gonna try to keep people on heir heels, and I think that’ll put guys in more successful situations.”
“They have pretty much just took down all of the stuff that they have ran over the years and put together their own little different offense,” said quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. “Up-tempo offense and no-huddle offense. I have done that before, so right now just trying to learn as much as possible.”
Hope springs eternal in the NFL offseason.
“I think he’s going to energize some people on offense, really hold people accountable and I’m expecting some bigger plays and more points,” Wood said. “But any time there’s a change of philosophy you always get excited about it.