Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone used the word “like” eight times this week when answering a question about defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Marrone wasn’t doing his best Valley Girl impression, though. He was explaining all the reasons he’s excited about the way his defense is taking shape under Schwartz, the former Detroit Lions’ coach.
“I like our defense. I like what we’re installing and I like what we’re doing,” Marrone said.
Schwartz became one of the Bills’ most important — and unexpected — offseason additions. Defensive coordinator didn’t become a need until Mike Pettine left the post in January to accept the Cleveland Browns’ head coaching job.
Marrone acted quickly to bring in Schwartz, who was fired by the Lions after going 29-51 in five seasons in Detroit. He becomes the Bills’ fourth different defensive coordinator in four seasons.
Schwartz on Wednesday downplayed concerns over whether that much turnover could have a negative effect on the team. “We’ve worked to try to have some continuity, particularly with some terminology and some of the schemes,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to put a percentage on it, but that has been on our radar and that’s something we’ve talked about as coaches.” Schwartz said defenses change at least some terminology every year, regardless of coaching changes. “You don’t want to sit with the same system and the same terminology,” he said. “Tom Brady has heard calls on the field. You want to stay fresh and change some things from year to year. … Right now we have a very big playbook. By the end of training camp, that playbook will be pared down to the things that we’re good at, the things that we can execute. The things that fit our personnel.” Schwartz said transitioning back to defensive coordinator — a job he held for eight seasons with the Tennessee Titans before joining the Lions — hasn’t been difficult because he never strayed far from that side of the ball in Detroit.
“It’s exciting to go back to work and it’s exciting to get on the field and be able put our hands on these players. Each step along the way we’ve done a little bit more,” he said. “We can see the progress from the guys.”
Schwartz seems comfortable in his role as the leader of the defense. When asked about not having troubled defensive tackle Marcell Dareus for the remainder of organized team activities, the coach deferred to Marrone. “I’ve worn that hat for five years and I understand the chain of command when it comes to that,” he said. “I’ll just say this, I’m really excited to work with these guys and once we get to mandatory minicamp, I’ll be really excited to work with the full group of guys.”
Schwartz’s first couple of months in Buffalo were spent in the dark. He was huddled up in the film room with his positional assistants, reviewing last year’s game tape.
“We spent an awful lot of time together,” Schwartz said. “That’s one of the good things about being here in Buffalo. The weather was so bad, we had plenty of time as coaches to stay together. When that snow was rolling and it was 5 degrees outside, we were holed up in the room, watching all their stuff from last year.”
Schwartz believes he’s inheriting a defense with talent at all three levels – defensive line, linebacker and defensive back – but is careful not to let any preconceived notions slip into his current evaluations.
“One thing I would say is that players do have a clean slate. They come back, and whether they had a really good year or a really bad year last year, they have a chance to prove themselves all over again. There’s no doghouse from last year, and there’s no penthouse from last year,” he said. “They have to prove themselves every year in this league. That’s this business. …
The Bills’ most glaring defensive deficiency in recent seasons has been an inability to stop the run. Schwartz’s defenses in Tennessee were particularly strong in that aspect.
“I think when you’re good against the run, it affects all other areas of your defense. If you’re good against the run, you’re going to generally be better on third down, because they’re going to have longer third-down distances to get. You’re good in the red zone. The best teams in the red zone every year are the teams that can run the ball and stop the run,” he said. “If you can make a team one-dimensional, you can set up turnovers — and this defense was very good at creating turnovers last year.”
“We can’t ignore where we play. The AFC East, we’re going to have some games like that. Our ability to stop the run will set up the other things. But then when it’s all said and done, the hallmark of any defense is not how many rush yards you give up, how many pass yards you give up, it’s your ability to limit points. If we can limit points, then we’ve done our job.”
Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes was at the scene of a crash last week involving teammate Marcell Dareus that Hamburg police say was the result of street racing.
Hughes confirmed that to reporters Wednesday following the team’s spring practice, but offered few details. Hughes cited the ongoing police investigation as the reason he couldn’t say more.
Hughes so far has not been charged in the incident. Dareus faces three misdemeanor charges and multiple traffic violations after his car skidded off the road and struck a tree outside a restaurant along Milestrip Road.
Hughes was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice. Dareus did not attend. He’s expected to be away from the team until a three-day mandatory minicamp later this month.