Orchard Park, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- The following is a transcript of a media session with Buffalo Bills assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt from Thursday, Feb. 16.
I appreciate everybody being here. Obviously it’s been a little while since we had a chance to talk a little bit. People have been asking what has been going on here the last month or so. It’s probably a combination of a couple of things. One, with the defensive staff, getting everybody onboard from a defensive and playbook standpoint. That’s been really the priority. We’ve been spending at least a half of day doing that. At the same time we’ve got the Combine coming up next week. We’ll be heading out there and interviewing and evaluating players. Free agency is coming up right behind that.
It’s a combination of the X’s and O’s of football discussions that we’re trying to get done as a staff and working on the player personnel end of it at the same time. It’s exciting. We’ve got a great group of coaches with two or three of the guys that have obviously been here. We’ve added a couple to the group and shuffled a couple of guys around. I think it’s a very good group from the standpoint of a nice mix of experience and at the same time youth, which I think you have to have nowadays. It’s a group that can work together and be productive. It’s exciting. We feel like we’ve gotten a lot done so far and it won’t be long. We were looking at the calendar this morning and I think its 10 weeks before we can start doing something with the players. I think it’s May 7th. We’re focused, we’re excited and we’re pressing forward.
A lot of these players, everybody wants to know where guys are going to fit and who’s going to do what. We have a select group of players as every team does that are free agents. We’re still in the evaluation process. That’s something that obviously Buddy Nix has been in conversations with different player’s agents and where it’s at and how it unfolds. We have a draft and free agency coming up so there’s a lot of things that can and will happen, I should say, between now and when we actually lineup for the first mini-camp with our additions from college and from the free agent market. I’ve been a little bit vague as far as player personnel issues. It’s not that I’m avoiding anything. There is some uncertainty and we’re still in the evaluating process that’s taking place right now.
On why he thinks a 4-3 defense will make his group more productive on the field:
I think that from the few guys that we do have, our two inside guys (Marcell) Dareus and Kyle (Williams), I think it will give those guys a chance to make some plays in there. And I would mention our whole rookie class that at the end of the year we were playing five of those rookies like (Kelvin) Sheppard. Nick Barnett’s got a place. Nothing will change for him. We played last year about 65-percent of our snaps in nickel personnel where we actually had four down guys in the game with their hand on the ground. Whether we had five defensive backs or six defensive backs it really didn’t matter. The point was that if you looked at us we were doing a lot of things that there’s carryover within the 4-3 scheme and most teams do that. Even the teams that were 3-4 teams when you get in nickel it’s just a lot easier to adjust that way. Obviously that’s where my experience has been from my Miami and Dallas days and in Chicago. From every place that I’ve coached the 4-3 has been our foundation. We’ll continue doing that and we will mix. We’ll get into a little bit of an under. We’ll jump in a little bit of three down look. We’re going to have a variety depending on our opponent and depending on down and distance. I think you have to. Right now, it’s a matter of trying to get the personnel to fit. That’s where we’re at.
On a continuity aspect to the 4-3 defense:
A lot of instances it’s going to be the same guys maybe playing a little different position. There will be a little bit of a learning curve. The OTA’s and the extra days that we can get just to walk-through and talk with the players in the offseason is going to be very, very important to us. I’d like to think that not just from a rookie standpoint but with five rookies playing last year on defense we are counting on those guys making significant steps upward this year. The offseason is a time where we can make up a lot of ground.
On if he finds himself reconstructing the defense or tweaking it:
It’s really a situation of there’s some changes in terminology, in scheme and how we’re going to do certain things. But I think as a coach you’re always looking - at least how I approached it from being a head coach whenever I would make changes with coordinators - we’ve got five of us coaches and if we’ve been calling something a certain way and we’ve got some veteran guy that are used to certain terminology you’d like to make the changes that we want to make but try to keep the terminology as close as possible for the players. That’s what’s going on right now. It’s a little bit of give and take. Certain things will be emphasized maybe more than last year and what fits and what’s good for us and there were a lot of things last year that were good. We’ll continue on and try to improve those things. Things that won’t fit in with what we want to do, obviously we’ll move on from there. The playbook will be probably ongoing until we really get through the draft.
On if there are any specific personnel needs that the defense needs that aren’t on the roster:
Whenever you go from a three down look to a four down look the obvious are defensive linemen and everybody knows that. But we have a lot of needs. With going to three off the line linebackers, obviously that’s going to be a need, too. Again, depending on what happens with free agency and so forth we’re going to be looking at the secondary. Everybody is being evaluated right now. Not only do we need to and we’ll look to try to make some changes going from a 3-4 to a 4-3, but also just from a production standpoint. So it’s really a combination of the both of those things. And to answer your question, the four down and three linebackers that can run, not the big 3-4 linebacker. We’re looking for guys that run and make plays. When you reflect back on the defenses that I’ve been responsible for, for me the guys upfront have been playmakers and we expect guys to make plays. We want it to be a defensive line friendly scheme. It’s really trying to put those guys in the best position where we can use their talent, where they can play fast and give them the opportunity to make plays.
On what the ideal defensive end would look like in his scheme:
Obviously he’s got to be a guy that can win the one-on-one battles on the edge and put pressure on the passer. I think nowadays we need to improve against the run sure. But with teams probably throwing the ball 60-65-percent on average right now you need to be able to put pressure. There are not many people getting tricked anymore. Everybody talks about how much you’re blitzing. There’s zone dogs and man coverage blitzes. It’s very important to realize that there’s not many, the quarterbacks that we’re facing and the offensive coaches that we’re facing, you’re not going to lineup and trick many people with a blitz. There are only so many gaps you can run guys through. Whether it’s a linebacker running through or a safety or a defensive end twisting or running through it, he’s still got to go through that gap. The key, and if you look at the teams that have had the most success with pressure schemes have been the ones that have won the one-on-one battles. It doesn’t make any different if it’s the Giants or if it’s the Steelers. In a 3-4 scheme, (James) Harrison gets one-on-one because they fire somebody inside and he’s got to win that one-on-one battle against the tackle. So that’s kind of how I’m looking at it more from a standpoint of we need guys when they aren’t being double-teamed and they aren’t being chipped, if we can put them in some one-on-one situations we’ve got to win those battles. Whether it’s man or zone that’s really what it comes down to. You’re just trying to get guys isolated. You might try to get a Nick Barnett isolated on an offensive lineman or a back that we feel athletically we have the advantage. Now that all works good on the board when you draw that up but once the ball is snapped Nick is going to be one-on-one with that guy and we’ve got to win that battle. So I kind of look at that right across the board that if we can get Kyle and Dareus singled up inside we feel pretty excited that those guys are going to win one-on-one battles.
On what kind of role LB Shawne Merriman will have in the defense next season:
That’s a great question. I don’t have the answer. I think with Shawne Merriman and a few of the guys that are coming off of injuries, until they are here, physically here, cleared and participating, then we say ok this guy’s part of it. It’d be foolish for me to sit here and talk about any of the guys that are coming off an injury. Until they’re healthy and they’re back then we’ll evaluate and see. That’s where he’s really made a name for himself. Even when he was in the 3-4 he was rushing the passer. There’s no question about that.
On how healthy he thinks Merriman can get:
It was strange. You saw the same thing I did last year. I wish I could sit here and give you some insight. After that Bears game we were all expecting a big year and I don’t know if it was his back or shoulder and his Achilles started getting sore and all then sudden he couldn’t practice as much because he was getting that treated. It got to the point where surgery was required. Nobody was more disappointed than Shawne. I know that for a fact. How it all comes back, we’ll all find out together.
On where LB Nick Barnett fits into the defensive scheme:
The beautiful thing about Nick is really nothing has to change for Nick. He was an outside backer last year. He’ll be an outside backer this year. He was our mike nickel in third-down. Nick Barnett had an outstanding year last year. And I learned this at Dallas, our first Super Bowl we had nobody go to the Super Bowl that year and after we go to the Super Bowl and have success as a team I think the next year we had six or seven guys. Were they the same guys? I think they were. But you know how that recognition thing works. Nick had a great year last year. There will be a few changes. I’m over simplifying it. But from a position standpoint, outside in the 4-3, inside in our nickel package that will remain the same. That’s the exciting thing about Nick Barnett. He’s one of those few linebackers that legitimately is a three down player. A lot of guys play three downs but there’s a lot of linebackers that when they’re in there in third-down you’re trying to do some things schematically to compensate maybe a little for a lack of quickness or speed, not with Nick. He can cover any back and half of the receivers in the league. That’s a real positive. That’s exciting.
On his take on defending tight ends in the league:
There’s not a whole from a standpoint physically that you can do. You try to get your linebackers matched up but they have the athleticism that in most cases they’re going to have the advantage. Now you’re trying to matchup a safety against them and now physically they have the advantage. There’s going to be I think a little bit of a variety, little bit of a changeup between both ways of thinking of how you’re going to defend these guys. There’s no question in our conference starting with New England and the Jets and the Dolphins. They all have tight ends that can make plays. That’s a priority. There’s no question and we’re always talking about that schematically on what we have to do and what we have to changeup to make sure that those guys are accountable.
On how interchangeable some of defensive linemen are:
The thing that you want to try to avoid is situational players as much as you can. Every guy (Alex Carrington and Dwan Edwards) that you mentioned can go out and play defensive end and can play the run and play it very good. How the defensive end position in my mind gets separated are the guys that can rush the passer.
On if he’s heard any news on NT Kyle Williams injury and when he will be ready:
Kyle was in town last week and he came by for his check-ups. Everything is right on schedule. There has not been a setback in any form or fashion. When he’s going to be cleared to do something and how much, I don’t know but we’re looking forward to Kyle having a great year, we really are.
On if he has an injury update on CB Terrence McGee:
Terrence is probably; his injury was obviously a little bit later, and a little bit different. No negative reports. When he will be cleared, I think Kyle’s probably going to be a little bit ahead of him and the timing of his injury. The good news was that the injuries we had were relatively early in the year, for the most part. That gave us some extra time from a recovery standpoint in the off season. We have not had any negative reports. By that I mean the guy is not behind schedule or had setbacks that might prevent him from being ready.
On the player that DT Marcell Dareus can become:
Marcell is dominant, he will be and needs to be for us to get where we need. He needs to be a dominant player inside. He showed a lot of promise last year that you better double team him. He can’t be blocked one on one. That’s got to be his mind set. He’s got enough athletic ability, that’s the great thing. You’re not talking about a 330 pound big, stiff guy inside that can play the run. He’s a pass rusher, he’s an athlete. From a coaching standpoint that gives us a lot of flexibility with him. We expect him with his ability, with his mindset, and I know he’s thinking the same way. We expect him to make plays, make a lot of plays.
On DB Stanford Routt’s visit and what he likes about his game:
He was in and spent some time with him. I think it was a good visit. Obviously he’s got a lot of places to go and where the whole thing is with him deciding and all that stuff I really don’t know at this point, it’s early in the game. He’s got good size and he’s got great speed, and he’s got experience. That would be the three things, if you said right off the top of your head what comes to mind first, that would be the three thoughts.
On what the process is from now until the draft:
The way Buddy’s got it set up here it’s good. Obviously him and Chan are going to make the decisions but having been a coach he’s trying to get as much input from as many resources as he can, which is what you want to do. Right now every coach has X amount of players that they are responsible for evaluating. Our scouts just finished two weeks of meetings where they went through a preliminary draft board. Everyone will go to Indianapolis. Buddy’s got a list of players with each position that we’ll be interviewing at night to get a little bit of a one-on-one feel, meet the kid personally. They’ll be a lot of interaction in the next two weeks. It will be a very important week for us. We’ve been putting together tapes where we’ll sit in there and watch with Buddy and Chan and myself, Doug Whaley, the scouts, the position coaches. We’ll watch some tape on them and guys will make comments. It’s as thorough an evaluation process as any place I’ve been. Buddy’s got it all covered as far as how we’ve got to lay it out. That will take place now up really through the draft and then at the same time as free agent players that we might be interested in become available.
On how far away the defense is from being significantly improved from last year:
I wish I could, no. I feel good because some of the young players that played last year these guys we’re going to count on them, we’re going to coach these guys to take a step forward. That’s very encouraging, by adding a few guys to the mix through draft or free agency. You’re optimistic that that’s going to give you a chance to take a nice step forward. It’s a fine line in this league and you guys know that. You can get hung up on all those stats and stuff. It might be one run, one long run by Reggie Bush in the Miami game that all of the sudden takes your run defense from begin 15th in the league to 25th in the league or throw it off. It’s a little bit closer than what some of those numbers I think truly show and we just got to do a job as coaches and players and get everybody on the same page and get this thing cranked up and get it going. It’s exciting. It really is.
On LB Kelvin Sheppard’s play last season:
I have all the confidence (I could) with Sheppard being the middle linebacker. To me he’s kind of the perfect, I hate to say perfect, but he’s about what you’re looking for as a 4-3 middle linebacker. He misses all of training camp (last year) because he pulls that hamstring and he came into training camp at 258 pounds. Obviously a little bit uncertain 3-4, 4-3, am I going to be inside, am I going to be outside. None of us really knew for sure. After he strains that hamstring he misses all the preseason games, doesn’t play. No OTA’s, no mini-camps as we know, and now no training camp. He ended up at the end of the season he was playing at 245. He lost 10,12,13,14 pounds in there and really I thought got better and better as the year went on. He became more confident. He became quicker and now he’s got to play in the box. He doesn’t need to play on the edge as much. I think it’s going to fit his skills to a ‘t.’ I think he’s going to be a very, very good productive player for us.