Chris Kelsay walked into an empty locker room Monday and assumed the position, which in his case meant standing up and facing the masses with a clear message. It must have been uncomfortable for the Bills defensive end, but he knew it was about time somebody spoke the truth.
Kelsay couldn’t fully unload, of course. At times during his eight-minute interview, he appeared to be holding back, for the sake of harmony, while still making his point. He made sure his sharp tongue was first pointed toward himself. And yet he knew that people would read between the lines and identify the real culprits.
He’s been around long enough to handle softball questions with ease. Rather than take a half-swing with rehearsed answers, he pounded them over Abbott Road and into the parking lot. Once he started getting things off his chest, he couldn’t stop. He didn’t want to stop what sounded like a liberating experience.
Question: What do you need to do during the bye week? Is it just a matter of regrouping?
“I think so,’’ he said. “We need to refocus and stress consistency. We’ve played really well at times and we played really poorly at times – a lot of the time. It’s more of what we’re not doing than what other teams are doing to us. I know you guys are tired of hearing that, and we’re tired of saying it, obviously.
“Some way, somehow, we gotta understand what accountability means across the board and playing hard every play. You watch the film, and not everybody was playing hard every snap. And that’s unacceptable.”
Not playing hard?
Yes. He was accusing his teammates of a felony in professional sports, but first consider the source. Kelsay isn’t some freak athlete. Anyone who has watched him play understands his 10-year career with the Bills was built mostly on effort. Not playing hard isn’t merely unacceptable, as he suggested, but everything he stands against.
I’m sure some of his comments didn’t go over well with certain teammates, but they might help. Sometimes, a little shake-up can work wonders.
His approach was, if nothing else, refreshing. He didn’t bother claiming he needed to examine game films before commenting on the game, a common refrain during interviews after losses. He checked the film. What he found were players lollygagging during the 35-34 loss to the Titans.
“You see a change of speed on the field [while] chasing the football,” he said. “There shouldn’t be a change of speed. You should be 110 miles an hour from whistle to whistle. I’m not singling out anybody. If I’m going to single anybody out, I’m going to single myself out. You’re only as good as the effort you put forth.”
Kelsay didn’t stop there after he was asked what conclusion he drew when players weren’t hustling or giving maximum effort.
“If you’re not going to [play hard], you shouldn’t play. I don’t care who you are,” he said. “I’m not the one who makes those decisions, and I’m in that mix. I’m not pointing the finger. I’m looking in the mirror, first and foremost. But if you’re not going to give everything you got, you shouldn’t be on the field.”
Kelsay wasn’t alone in his assessment, by the way. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who hasn’t played well, talked about players challenging one another. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who also has struggled, had a similar message about accountability. It sounded like an orchestrated effort to get the Bills to finally snap to attention.
“We have to be on each other,” Dareus said. “Somebody’s got to say something. You can’t be quiet. I don’t care what your ego is. Do your job. Be accountable to yourself. I’m not the loudest guy, but I’ll speak to any player. I don’t care who you are.”
Mario Williams, listen up.
Kelsay and his teammates insisted they weren’t talking about anyone in particular, but the overall message sounded like a description of the defensive end.
The Bills made Williams the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history with the idea he would be a key player in their ascension. Through seven games, he hasn’t been worth two nickels. If anything, he’s dragging down this team. After all, as Kelsay said, they didn’t have an effort problem before this season.
Hey, you never know, maybe it’s just a coincidence.
And maybe it’s not.
Whispers around the locker room are growing louder about Williams, how he’s the only player who has a refrigerator in his stall, how he only speaks to the media on Wednesdays while leaving teammates to answer for him, how he has refused to take ownership in a team after ownership made $100 million commitment to him.
Players tolerate the massive egos that come with professional sports, but it’s much tougher to stomach when a guy isn’t producing. Williams has 13 tackles and 3½ sacks in seven games. Two sacks came in Arizona against a rookie who was playing his sixth NFL game. Williams’ next big play this season will be his first.
It would have been nice to see him stand up Monday, just once, and assume a leadership role. He should be demanding more from himself and his teammates. Instead, he’s complained about a sore wrist. What, did it become inflamed while he handled the heavy pen required to sign his contract?
Williams doesn’t realize how soft he sounds or how his wrist is a long way from his heart. He clearly doesn’t understand that his act isn’t going over well in Buffalo, half of which has been on his case. It usually takes a player a few seasons to wear out his welcome, but Williams is well on his way after a few months.
He was nowhere to be found Monday, keeping with his performance Sunday. Chan Gailey was left trying to keep the peace. Gailey sounded as if he was losing his grip on reality, if not his own team, while answering questions about Kelsay’s comments. He also appeared to be in denial about Williams, who hardly looks like a franchise player.
“You’re entitled to your opinion," Gailey said.
Does he look like one to you?
“We’ve got to put together a defense that works," Gailey said. “Everybody has got to do their very best. I think he’s working hard. I think he’s playing hard. We have to get more production out of everybody. We want everybody to be more productive. And you know I’m not going to answer that question."
Actually, Chan, you just did.