Anthony Weaver coaches the best-performing, most experienced unit on the Buffalo Bills’ team.
What is he doing besides making sure his guys don’t miss the team bus? Relating well to his players, for one, according to Bills players and coaches.
Weaver, 33, is the Bills’ first-year defensive line coach. He is only five seasons removed from a distinguished NFL playing career. Weaver started 98 games for the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans from 2002 to 2008. If a knee injury hadn’t cut his career short, he might still be playing.
“I think the good thing about him is there’s nothing that he hasn’t seen, because he played the game for awhile,” said Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “He understands there’s things that happen in a game that you just have to work through. Sometimes if you get a guy who never played or hasn’t been around it a long time, maybe there’s not that understanding.”
Williams called Weaver “a good sounding board. What do you want to do here? What would you do? What do you think about this? It’s not black and white. There’s gray in every play. He knows that, and he coaches it.”
“I think there’s a certain amount of credibility that comes with what I say,” Weaver said after Friday’s practice. “Some of these teams we play, some of their linemen, I’ve actually played against. So not being that far removed from the game is definitely an asset.”
Indeed, when the New York Jets take the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, they will start three offensive linemen – Nick Mangold, Willie Colon and D’Brickashaw Ferguson – who lined up across from Weaver early in their careers.
“A lot of the trials and tribulations these guys go through, I’ve experienced,” Weaver said. “I know what they’re putting their bodies through. I know the pain mentally. I’ve been through losing seasons. I can help them get through that. So aside from the football side of things, I think I can help a lot more off the field with what they’re dealing with because of my experience.”
Weaver knew early on he was bound for athletics.
“I want to say I was 11 or 12 years old and my parents wanted me to save money or earn a little money,” Weaver said. “I told them, ‘I don’t need money. I’m going to get a scholarship to college.’ It was a thing where you know young.”
Weaver starred at Notre Dame and was drafted in the second round in 2002 by the Ravens. Jets coach Rex Ryan was Weaver’s first defensive line coach. Bills aides Mike Pettine and Donnie Henderson also were on the Ravens’ staff.
“One thing we knew about Weaver when we drafted him is he’s very smart, very technique sound, really could get guys lined up,” Henderson said. “Those guys who are mature and smart when they come out, they can do just about anything they want when their career is over.”
Weaver left Baltimore for Houston as a free agent in 2006. It was about then he knew he was destined for coaching.
“Probably after my third or fourth year in the league I started thinking about it,” he said. “I knew my passion and love for this game was too great to have it end.”
The end came after the ’08 season when he was forced to have serious microfracture surgery on his knee.
“I knew it was going to be a tough rehab,” Weaver said. “I was at a point where I was financially secure. But it was difficult. I think at the time a lot of it might have been ego driven. I didn’t think I had the ability to be a starter anymore, knew I could probably still play and back up somewhere, but I hadn’t backed up my entire football career. I didn’t know if I was ready to accept that role.”
Weaver had been viewed as a leader and a mentor with the Texans. In fact, he helped show the Bills’ Mario Williams the ropes during Williams’ first three seasons.
Transitioning to coaching wasn’t a big leap. Weaver had seen leadership modeled his whole life. His father, Ralph, had a 21-year career in the Army and retired as a first sergeant.
“It was strict for awhile growing up, but my dad is my hero,” Weaver said. “When I was coaching at North Texas a few years ago, I brought my dad in to speak. I told the guys on the team, ‘My dad has been coaching for a long time. He might not have the label as coach. But he’s been doing it a long time, leading people whose jobs lay a lot more on the line than we do. So a lot of things you see from me, I learned by watching my dad.’ ”
Weaver has been a positive presence for Mario Williams, who leads the Bills with 11 sacks.
“It’s a different relationship as far as player-coach,” Mario Williams said. “It’s a family feeling with him. He’s somebody who can relate and who you can relate to.”
“You gotta love the production,” Weaver said. “But all the production he’s had is truly the result of hard work. I mean, he gets there on game day, I don’t know what time, 8 o’clock in the morning, starting to work on his body and make sure he’s in the right mind-frame physically and mentally.
“He’s coming to work every day with the right mind-set. He doesn’t think it’s about Mario Williams. All he cares about is winning. That’s huge. We have a bunch of guys in that room, and that’s all they care about.”
Weaver would care a lot about a win over the Jets.
After serving just two years in the college ranks, Weaver was hired by Ryan to serve as assistant D-line coach with the Jets last season. Weaver left in January to take a promotion onto Doug Marrone’s staff.
“Rex has been a mentor to me,” Weaver said. “I admit initially when I got into coaching, a lot of it was in the hopes to one day work with Rex again, which I did. He’s a tremendous football mind. But I still want to whip him this weekend. Let’s not get that twisted.”