In our Camp Countdown on Buffalobills.com we profiled how offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will take advantage of the team’s running back depth with Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon now lined up behind Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller on the depth chart. Spiller senses that after a year of experience in the system for most of the offensive unit that season two under Hackett will lead to even more production in the run game.
“For us to be second in the league in rushing with a new system and us trying to get comfortable with what was going on – Now we have that year up under us and you can see the difference,” said Spiller. “Everybody is confident in what we’re doing and hopefully that will bring better things. But there’s a ton of work to be done before September 7th against the Bears. We’ve got to be willing to put in all the hard work necessary to put ourselves in the best situation to win.”
Buffalo averaged over 144 yards on the ground a game last season and that was without a lot of passing success as the offense was 28th in that category. So even when opposing defenses largely knew what was coming the Bills were still pretty productive running the ball.
What is most encouraging from the standpoint of Spiller is how he’ll fare in the offense in his second season running it. Some might recall that in his first season under Chan Gailey as a starter (2011) Spiller struggled at times to be productive. Then in his second season he had a breakout season. The dynamic Pro Bowl back is now in a similar situation going into his second year in Nathaniel Hackett’s system. One wonders if similar production to that of 2012 is on the horizon this fall.
Tags: Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Nathaniel Hackett
Posted in Inside the Bills
We’re in the quiet period of the offseason, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues about the team to discuss. Here now are your latest questions from email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.
1 - Hey Chris,
My question is about the defense and new DC Jim Schwartz. I know Marrone has said that they will keep the terminology the same for the players, but what does that exactly mean? I know Schwartz and Pettine have different philosophies but do you foresee Schwartz maybe trying to become more innovative with his D? In my opinion I think that Rex Ryan and Mike Pettines defense is spreading into the league and can be a new look for NFL defenses. I know the Chiefs acquired Bob Sutton who has a Jets backround and the Saints have Rob Ryan. I really like the way Pettine disguised plays and also the way he looked for players that can be versatile. It just seems like it’s a defense that is spreading into the league and it is very aggressive style, something that needs to match the explosive offenses that are continuing to evolve. So I guess my question is do you think that Schwartz watched film and talked with Marrone about keeping some of the same looks and ideas that Pettine installed last year and maybe just putting his flavor on it? What are your thoughts about it?
CB: I think coaches inherently trust the elements of their schemes that made them successful coordinators or coaches in this league. Jim Schwartz was a coveted head coaching candidates a half dozen years ago because of the way he ran his defense. It’s a scheme that has a long running track of success on third down and against the run, two of the chief problem areas for Buffalo’s defense.
In speaking with Schwartz on a couple of occasions it’s my belief that he’s been in the league long enough to know that you have to adapt to changing trends in the NFL or you’ll be left behind. I do believe some of his defensive scheme has adopted some of the language from Pettine’s scheme for the sake of continuity, but Schwartz believes in his system and he should. The Lions finished sixth against the run and first in third down defense last season.
So while I think there is a healthy respect for the schemes run by Pettine and the Ryans, there are other ways to be successful on the defensive side of the ball. Knowing Schwartz’s scheme is likely to address the two most glaring problems of Buffalo’s defense leaves me feeling encouraged that the team’s new defensive coordinator will have the right answers, they may just be different from what you witnessed here last season.
2 - Hey Chris,
I love your work. Everyday I look forward to the latest Bills news. Thanks for keeping us updated. Living in Dallas, all I get is Dallas Cowboys news.
Here is my question for you, “Can you give any insight on exactly what and how players are graded during the OTA practices?”
CB: Happy to help Shawn and thanks for the compliments. I’m going to turn this one over to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who I believe effectively explained what’s evaluated in the spring practices when there are no pads.
“The only thing we’re really evaluating with players now is their ability to grasp scheme and things like that,” said Schwartz. “The stuff that you’re seeing on the practice field, we’re not judging players on how they finish plays. It’s a non competitive situation. We want to learn, we want to learn their role in the defense. We want to learn how everything fits together, and they are being judged on that and their work ethic. But the on field stuff, it’s all about technique right now. When we get to training camp, we’ll start judging them more on wins and losses. Wins-whether it comes to a coverage or a pass rush or things like that—you have to be careful about judging too much on that stuff out there. It’s non-contact; it’s not really football.”
3 - Chris
Thanks for your coverage of the Bills. Is Buddy Nix still affiliated with the Bills? What is his role and did he have any input in the recent draft?
CB: Yes, Buddy is still affiliated with the Bills. He no longer works in the office, but is a special assistant to the personnel department. I know that GM Doug Whaley called on him a few times in the pre-draft process to scout a few prospects near his region where he lives in Tennessee.
He was also present in the draft room for all three days of the 2014 draft, sitting in the first row. Having been in the draft room for the whole weekend, Doug Whaley and Russ Brandon went to speak to him on about a dozen occasions.
Many of them appeared to deal with the conversations that Whaley and Brandon had with other NFL clubs concerning trade talks, and as you know Whaley made a handful on draft weekend. It’s clear to me that Nix is still a respected veteran voice in Buffalo’s personnel department.
4 – Chris,
Given the new additions on offense do you see the Bills being run heavy or pass heavy? With Dixon and Brown there won’t be enough carries to go around. Getting 4 RB’s the ball seems like a tough task. Given the league is pass heavy and Watkins is in the fold how is the ball going to go around. It’s a pass heavy league and EJ will need to throw 300 yards often. How do you see this shaking out?
CB: Here are the things you need to consider when weighing this question. Will the Bills simply have EJ Manuel carry the offense and throw it all over the field? It’s unlikely. Doug Marrone is a head coach who believes in a run game. Unless he’s got an all-world quarterback that will be his approach. The only difference is Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett will run it at a pace that no one can keep up with.
The pace of the offense last season was compromised by inexperience when injuries struck at quarterback and a new signal caller was starting seemingly every week. All three quarterbacks are a year invested in the system so that is no longer an issue.
So provided they gain the yardage they believe they on the ground consistently, it’ll translate into more first downs, more plays, more yardage and ultimately more points. With more plays there are more carries to go around.
Running as much as Buffalo did last season (they had more total rushes than any team in the NFL in 2013) they’d like to run more this year, as they only ran the ball 48 percent of the time. Keeping the injury factor in mind (See: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson in 2013), Buffalo now has the depth at running back to carry on should one or two of their backs suffer injuries.
The offensive line has also been beefed up with size and strength not only among the starting unit (Chris Williams), but among the reserves (Seantrel Henderson, Cyril Richardson, Chris Hairston, Cyrus Kouandjio). Pass protection is part of it knowing the Bills gave up the fourth-most (48) in the league last year, but it’s about being able to run the ball even when the opponent knows it’s coming.
C.J. and Fred will be the principal players in the run game, but Spiller and Jackson are both versatile talents and will be utilized in the passing game as well. With the depth at running back as well it wouldn’t surprise me if there are multiple backs on the field at the same time.
Hackett always talks about putting the five best skill position players on the field with the five linemen and the QB. One would think that Spiller and Jackson more often than not would be among that group with Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon not far behind.
5 - @ChrisBrownBills
What is the competition for RT looking like right now between Pears and Cyrus?#bills
CB: It’s hard to really make a call on it before the pads are on in training camp. I will say that early in the OTAs, the coaches rotated Kouandjio in with the first unit for a bit less than half the snaps. By the close of OTAs, Kouandjio spent most of his time with the second unit outside of a day when he spent a practice at left tackle due to a lack of numbers on hand.
Kouandjio has to adjust to the speed of NFL pass rushers. He found going against the likes of Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes challenging as you might understand. Pears held his own in the spring practice setting.
For me it’s a competition that’s going to have to wait until St. John Fisher when the pads are on and perhaps well into the preseason.
Tags: Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, Buddy Nix, C.J. Spiller, Cyrus Kouandjio, Erik Pears, Fan Friday, Fred Jackson, Jim Schwartz
Posted in Inside the Bills
1 - @ChrisBrownBills
What do you think about Buffalo going after Jason Babin possibly? They did show interest in 2012 #LetsGoBuffalo
CB: While their depth at defensive end is not ideal I don’t know that they could make that kind of a veteran investment in the position. Buffalo has a lot of money tied up in their defensive line and adding another player who would not come cheap might be a bit unrealistic.
2 – Hey Chris,
Thanks for the great coverage this off-season. I always look forward to Fan Friday. My question is in regards to the #3 QB spot. What have Jeff Tuel and Dennis Dixon been up to this off-season? Tuel showed a lot of promise last preseason but, clearly wasn’t ready when thrust into the spotlight. I still hold out hope for him. Living in Western Pa. I got to see Dixon play some as a Steeler. The guy has a motor for sure. Do you think Tuel’s spot is safe or does Dixon have a legit chance to overtake him? Maybe try to stash Tuel on the PS?
Thanks again, I look forward to your insight on this.
CB: I’ll have a story up on Buffalobills.com Saturday morning on Jeff Tuel. In my opinion he’s raised his game a peg or two. It’s clear to me he worked on his body in the offseason. He’s leaner and looks quicker on read option play keepers. Where he’s raised his game the most is his decisiveness in the pocket. He senses pressure and knows when to step up and he has shown a willingness to stick the ball into tight windows to make plays. There were times during the OTAs where he had the most impressive looking throws of the day.
I think he’s not only got a lock on the number three job going into camp, I believe he will provide healthy competition to Thad Lewis for the backup job.
3 – Hi Chris,
The recent comparison you made between Moeaki and Gragg today was interesting.
Gragg ran a 4.35 shuttle at pro day. Athletically Gragg seems superior in just about every test if you now include the pro day shuttle in his draft class and with Moeaki. Sub 4.5 40 at 244, 37.5 vertical, 4.35 shuttle…. great results.
However, Moeaki comments are encouraging. From a test comparison, the statement that Moeaki is the most athletic is surprising. Would be interesting to see a square out drill with both of them to see how they do. Shuttle or 3 cone is about closest to that.
CB: I’m not sure there’s a question here, but I can tell you while Gragg is better on the stopwatch when it comes to football Moeaki is the smoother route runner. He transitions better from catch to turning up field. He also adjusts to the ball more effectively when it’s not on target.
That’s not a knock on Gragg, who is an athlete, but Moeaki’s body type, which isn’t as long-limbed as Gragg lends itself to being a more fluid athlete.
4 – Chris,
Thanks for all of the great reporting for “Bills Nation” out here in southern Nevada. Observations from OTA’s have indicated that E.J. is experiencing the same footwork and inaccuracy issues that have plagued him throughout his career. I believe he has had his own personal quarterbacks coach for a number of years. Why would he hire an offseason coach/mentor that has not been able to correct these problems?
CB: Thanks for the kind words. During OTAs EJ and the receivers were still working on getting their footwork lined up. With the precision needed in this passing game under coach Hackett, the quarterback’s footwork has to be in lockstep with that of the receivers. I intend to ask coach Hackett how much margin for error there is with that approach, but watching it on the field there doesn’t appear to be much. Unfortunately that’s how fine you have to cut things to be consistently successful in the NFL Sunday after Sunday.
In spring practices with new receiving targets on the field (Watkins, M. Williams, Moeaki) there’s going to be an adjustment period and I think we witnessed that in the OTAs. In minicamp the precision was improving. Hopefully that continues going into camp.
And to be clear it’s not a technique thing with EJ as much as it is a timing thing concerning the footwork. Yes, occasionally Manuel’s footwork will suffer in a pressure situation as it would for any QB, but on the whole the disconnect comes when the footwork of the QB and receivers are not timed up from the snap as it’s been explained to me.
5 – Hey Chris,
Love your insight and love for the Bills keep up the great work. I’ve a proposal I think the Bills should really consider about trading Fred Jackson or releasing him. They need to go with CJ Spiller and Bryce Brown. With the addition of Bryce Brown and also Anthony Dixon they have two power backs that are younger and faster than Fred Jackson. I’m a big fan of Fred Jackson as a football talent and as a leader, but why get Brown and Dixon and still keep Jackson.
Virginia’s biggest Bills fan.
CB: I’m going to disagree with your proposal. First, Jackson is still a more than capable back in this league. Some might not see him as a bell cow type back anymore, but his value is undeniable. He’s still the best pass blocking back on the roster, he’s an offensive spark for the team and he’s more than a respected leader. He’s the pulse of the locker room.
The additions of Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown are to improve their short yardage success and to have a viable back in reserve should C.J. Spiller or Jackson get hurt, as was the case last year when both had to gut out games on one bad wheel last season. With as much running as this team intends to do they’ll need all four of them.
Tags: Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, C.J. Spiller, Chris Gragg, Dennis Dixon, EJ Manuel, Fan Friday, Fred Jackson, Jason Babin, Jeff Tuel, Tony Moeaki
Posted in Inside the Bills
OTAs are coming up next week. In the meantime enjoy the holiday weekend and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Here now are your latest questions from email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.
1 – Chris,
Thanks for all the great draft coverage! I personally loved the way the Bills really focused on beefing up the offensive line this year, in addition to the Watkins pick of course! It seems like some great picks at truly great value. I was wondering, if Seantrel Henderson pans out – and he has 1st round talent at LT, could he eventually start there, with Glenn moving to LG? Don’t get me wrong, Glenn is a really good LT, but I imagine a starting line of Henderson, Glenn, Wood, Richardson/Urbik, Kouandjio being among the most dominant lines in the entire league. Thoughts on this?
CB: While you certainly have every reason to be optimistic I think you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself. I think all of the linemen drafted this year have talent, but it’s hard to project their immediate future until the pads go on in training camp. There are some proud veterans on this roster so the influx of young talent will ramp up the competition. Henderson most definitely has the skill set to play in the NFL. What he needs to demonstrate is consistency not only in his play, but in his commitment as a pro. Kouandjio might need a little time on the job before he’s challenging Erik Pears for a starting role and we’ll see what Richardson can do.
The picture you’re painting might be more realistic for 2015, and with the way Cordy Glenn played last year, I’m not sure he’ll be on the move even then if that level of play continues.
2 - @ChrisBrownBills
Why would @buffalobills ever pick Bon Jovi’s Lawyer to help sell the team?
CB: I think you need to understand that the Bills organization was seeking one of the most renowned firms when it came to managing estates and trusts. Proskauer was named “Law Firm of the Year” for Litigation–Trusts & Estates in U.S. News-Best Lawyers 2014 “Best Law Firms,” the only firm to receive this prestigious designation in that category. So this is more of what led to the decision to retain them.
It just so happens that Proskauer Rose, which has a gigantic client base in their entertainment department, also has represented Bon Jovi. It’s not clear if they still do at this time. I would think that relationship no longer exists otherwise it could be construed as a conflict of interest.
3 – Hey Chris,
There has been a lot of varying reports trying to explain the compensation the Eagles will be receiving for the Bryce Brown trade. Most of those reports are very confusing to read and have people scratching their heads. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but didn’t we basically trade Stevie Johnson for Bryce Brown straight up?
Whatever we get for Stevie is what we give to Eagles?…right? Only exception to this line of thinking or simplification is if we end up getting a 3rd for Stevie because he performs and Bryce underperforms we only are on hook for a 4th….right??
BTW…loved our draft. Loved the aggressiveness of Whaley. It was very refreshing and sent a jolt of excitement in the fan base. Even if it doesn’t pan out I’m still glad he was aggressive. When u r 6-10 forever and u keep the same draft approach its by definition insane. Everyone is saying playoffs or bust. Honestly if we go 9-7 and EJ looks like he takes steps fwd…I will see this season as a success. Looking fwd to getting out of this 6-10 rut!
Thanks for your time and go Bills!
CB: Here’s the easiest way to look at it. If the compensation from the 49ers remains a fourth in 2015, it goes to the Eagles. If Stevie Johnson hits undisclosed performance benchmarks and improves Buffalo’s conditional pick from San Francisco to a third, then the fourth-round pick the Bills owe the Eagles would push forward to the 2016 draft, since they would not have a fourth-round pick to give Philadelphia in 2015.
Bills fans should root for Stevie to do well in San Francisco this season. If he excels Buffalo will have seven picks in 2015 (a 2nd, two 3rds, two 5ths, a 6th and a 7th).
4 – Chris,
Thanks for all your news that you provide to Bills fans outside of the Buffalo area.
My question is regarding the off-season training of EJ, while not at the Bills facility. Knowing that OC Hackett, scaled back the offense last year; is there anything that EJ is doing during the off-season to get a much better understanding of the playbook?? or is EJ just working on his mechanic’s ?? Seems like a little waste of time, if EJ is not in some way learning a bit more of the playbook during this down time.
CB: EJ has been diligently working on every aspect of his game. That includes mechanics (footwork, deep throws), playbook and working with teammates having worked with some out in California this offseason on their own. I’m confident people are going to see a different EJ on the field this year.
5 – Hi Chris,
Russ Brandon and Doug Whaley are always quoted as saying that they will “do whatever it takes to make the Buffalo Bills a better football team.”
With that understanding, how does trading away Stevie Johnson (1,000 yard/season, 26 TDs, veteran WR, one more weapon for EJ Manuel) make the Buffalo Bills a better football team?
At the very least, Stevie would draw coverage away from Sammy Watkins!
This is such a typical move for the Bills–make progress with the drafting of Sammy Watkins, trade away good talent in Stevie. It’s similar to the Marshawn Lynch trade. Draft CJ Spiller, trade away pro-bowler Marshawn. I just don’t understand. What are the Bills not telling us? On paper these moves make no sense.
Please help me, and many Bills fans, have a better understanding. PLEASE no “company line” answer.
Discouraged Season Ticket Holder
CB: On the field here’s is why the move was made. Buffalo acquired Mike Williams by trade, a true outside receiving threat with proven touchdown production. They traded up to get the best receiver in the draft in Sammy Watkins, another true outside threat. Williams will draw attention from Watkins.
Perhaps even more important Robert Woods is a receiver this coaching staff believes in a lot. There was more than one assistant who believed by the end of last season that he would be the best receiver on the roster. That dynamic changed with Williams and Watkins added to the roster. In order to help Woods flourish in the current corps of receivers Stevie had to be moved from the slot receiver role so Woods could fill it.
It’s believed that Woods can be an even more productive receiver in the slot. Right now he has the most chemistry with EJ Manuel as OTAs are set to begin. What’s more his precise route running provides more consistency for a quarterback looking to take the next step in his on field performance than the unconventional route running of Johnson.
As Doug Whaley has said the aim this year is to help EJ Manuel take the next step in his development as a franchise quarterback. Providing him with the most dynamic receiver in the draft and a proven scorer in Mike Williams, both of whom can high point the ball as well as anyone, and then a reliable receiver in the slot in Woods they believe will enhance Manuel’s chances of succeeding.
In essence it was a bit of musical chairs and when all the moves were completed at the receiver position Johnson did not have an available seat. He would’ve been the team’s fourth receiver at a hefty price tag moving forward.
Tags: 2014 NFL draft, Bryce Brown, Cordy Glenn, Cyril Richardson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Doug Whaley, EJ Manuel, Fan Friday, Jon Bon Jovi, Nathaniel Hackett, Proskauer Rose, Russ Brandon, Seantrel Henderson, Stevie Johnson
Posted in Inside the Bills
Some of the newer Bills players on the roster have been assigned their jersey numbers.
RB Bryce Brown, acquired in a trade with Philadelphia during draft weekend, will wear jersey number 35. He wore 34 with Philadelphia, but that is obviously not available due to a certain Hall of Famer.
WR Ramses Barden is going to be the first player to wear 13 since Stevie Johnson’s departure and newly signed WR Caleb Holley is going to stick with the number he was given during his tryout in rookie minicamp, 86.
Tags: Bryce Brown, Caleb Holley, Ramses Barden
Posted in Inside the Bills
The Bills made a handful of trades in the 2014 NFL draft, some of which affected their pick total in 2015. Here’s a look at where things stand right now.
2015 draft picks traded away
1st round pick – to Cleveland
4th round pick – to Cleveland
Possible conditional pick to Philadelphia (Bryce Brown trade)
2015 draft picks added
4th round pick – from San Francisco (Stevie Johnson trade)
5th round pick – from Tampa Bay
So at this point Buffalo has a total of seven picks for the 2015 draft (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 5th, 6th, 7th), but they could lose one if certain statistical figures are attained by Bryce Brown for the Bills in the 2014 season.
They do have the potential to have eight total picks in 2015 if Stevie Johnson hits certain statistical marks in San Francisco in 2014 because the fourth rounder they received from the 49ers will turn into a third and the conditional pick they would owe Philadelphia (4th rounder) would move ahead to 2016.
Tags: 2014 NFL draft, 2015 NFL draft, Bryce Brown, Stevie Johnson
Posted in Inside the Bills
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter the Bills have acquired Philadelphia RB Bryce Brown.
Eagles traded RB Bryce Brown to the Buffalo Bills, per league source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 10, 2014
Brown is just 22-years old and at one time was the number one high school prospect in the country.
Tags: 2014 NFL draft, Bryce Brown
Posted in Inside the Bills