It’s a yearly tradition at the NFL Owners Meetings, when the head coach of almost every single team sits at a table with reporters and has an hour-long chat. It’s called the ‘Coaches Breakfast,’ and Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott got his first taste of that setting on Tuesday morning in Phoenix.
As you’d imagine, there was plenty to take away from the hour-long conversation. So, I compiled the 10 of the most relevant things that were said throughout the conversation:
1) Whaley rumors? Nothing to see here, says Sean
- Over the last week, a report came out that put into question the long-term dynamic between new head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Doug Whaley. It was thought that the relationship wasn’t “built to last.” In response to that report, the Bills head coach said the working relationship between the GM and him has been “seamless” to this point in time. I then asked McDermott where he thought those rumors might have come from. His response, in full:
“I don’t even… we focus on ourselves and getting ourselves better. That’s it. And that’s a day to day process. Our focus right now is improving this football team in every way we can, and that speaks to the communication that happens between myself and Doug and our staff… and really the entire building. It’s what we’re doing going forward. This is a new era in Bills football, and we’re excited about it.”
We have no reason to believe that McDermott would be fibbing about the relationship with the Bills GM at this point in time. While it’s more than likely McDermott has an enhanced “say” in some of the moves that happen with the Bills roster, it seems as though everything actually is fine for the time being. I think we first need to let the draft play out as to who exactly the Bills are targeting to impact their roster. Until then, Doug Whaley is more than likely going to be the general manager of this team, and probably much beyond that as well. As for McDermott playing the ‘One Voice’ role, that was probably part of his pitch when he was first hired by the team, having seen Andy Reid do so for so long in Philadelphia. The duo will need to produce results, but McDermott has been truthful and forthcoming about everything else to this point, so he should be given the benefit of the doubt on all the Doug Whaley talk.
2) Rave reviews on Reggie Ragland
- As the offseason has gone on, one of the bigger questions has been about the linebacker group and how exactly they would fit into Sean McDermott’s defense. When it came to one player, Sean McDermott couldn’t help himself but to wax poetic about the virtues of Reggie Ragland. He said everything he’s heard about Ragland is that the linebacker can be that leader out there that with his type of character. He believes he can be the “antenna of the defense,” and then said you need that type of Luke Kuechly, Jeremiah Trotter leader on the field. “He has that DNA,” McDermott said. Unless he’s slow to get back on the field because of his injury, it is now the full expectation that Ragland will be the starting middle linebacker now and moving forward. The head coach also said he views Preston Brown as a middle linebacker in the defense, which doesn’t exactly bode well for the fourth-year player and his hold on a starting position in Buffalo. Brown is entering the final year of his contract, and doesn’t appear to be an exact fit to McDermott’s defense.
3) McDermott believes the No. 2 WR is on the roster right now
- This is a comment that a lot of Bills fans on Twitter didn’t exactly like reading. The Bills have added pieces to the wide receiver group in Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, Corey Washington, Jeremy Butler, and even re-signed Brandon Tate… but none of those are exactly awe-inspiring options to be the second option to Sammy Watkins. The prevailing thought, as the offseason has been winding through, is that the Bills would have to address the wide receiver position significantly in the 2017 NFL Draft. As for his comment about the No. 2 wideout being on the roster right now, this is a case of making a smart and calculated statement. Free agency is winding down and there aren’t any real options at the moment to walk in and be an immediate starter, and, in the event that they can’t get their hands on a player they want in the NFL Draft, they might be forced to go with what they have. With that said, to belittle that group and say that the No. 2 player on the roster might not have gone over well to a bunch of players that he wants to give everything that they have to be the second wide receiver option on the team. And, even if they do draft someone, it’s not a guarantee that the rookie walks in and adapts to the NFL life the way they want him to immediately. McDermott left himself some wiggle room with that spot. Make no mistake, it remains a big need for the team, and one that they’ll look to address likely at some point in the first three rounds.
4) Riverboat Ron, meet (to be determined) Sean
- It all started when I asked McDermott if he considered himself to be aggressive on fourth downs, or more passive. His initial response? From what Bills fans have grown accustomed to after four combined years Doug Marrone and Rex Ryan, they had to be pleasantly surprised:
#Bills HC Sean McDermott on going for it on 4th down: My personality is aggressive. If we're going down, we're going down all guns blazing.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) March 28, 2017
McDermott then went on to clarify that they wouldn’t be reckless in the decision making, but he has taken a page from the book of Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, and how he evolved into taking more risks as a head coach. McDermott termed his approach as “calculated aggressiveness,” because he knows the players want to play and leave it all out there, so to deny that too much would be going against what he is as a coach. I then asked McDermott what his ‘Riverboat Ron’ style moniker should be. His response? “I’ll leave that up to you guys.” Bills fans, you have a homework assignment.
5) Sammy on schedule
- Following a second surgery to repair the broken bone in his foot, Bills fans — to put it lightly — have been skeptical about the idea of Sammy Watkins staying fully healthy and putting the foot injury behind him. McDermott gave an update on Watkins Tuesday morning, saying the wide receiver was on schedule and hasn’t encountered any setbacks on his foot to this point in time. McDermott also added that Watkins is “fired up” for the season to get here. What’s important this time around, as opposed to last year, is there won’t be any pressure to rush back Watkins too soon. Not from the player, and certainly not from the coaches. The wide receiver was dealt a cold dose of reality last year that he needs to let his body heal all the way after a surgery like that before trying to get back on the field. He came back too early last year, and the injury bothered him the rest of the way. For an optimistic outlook, consider the cases of Dallas’ Dez Bryant and Atlanta’s Julio Jones. Both had issues with a foot, both had two surgeries, and both came back from the second surgery just as explosive as they were when they entered the league. Watkins certainly has to prove that he can stay healthy, but he shouldn’t be written off just yet. When healthy, he’s one of the most talented players at his position in the league — and the Bills know it.
6) The Anti-Rex Ryan?
- Over the last two years, the complaints have been pretty well stated from players about the Rex Ryan defense. There was too much going on, not a bunch of communication, and guys were continuously messing up on their assignments. Rex Ryan also had a very large defensive playbook. With Sean McDermott, that’s going to change by leaps and bounds — at least according to him. Two short quotes stand out in regards to this issue:
“I’m of the philosophy that less is more.”
“Clear expectations, clear lines.”
Yeah, I’d say that’s the complete opposite of Rex Ryan — and it makes sense. A coach’s scheme isn’t bigger than the players, so if they’re operating clearly in their responsibilities, it gives them a much better chance to react to plays instinctively as opposed to being in their heads too much and overthinking it. It’s logical and well-reasoned. Now we just have to see it happen.
7) The Bills starting outside linebackers will be…
- If you had Ramon Humber pegged as a starting outside linebacker as of March 28, 2017, congratulations, you win a prize. We weren’t exactly sure as to how the Bills would split up Reggie Ragland and Preston Brown, so now that we know they’ll both be a middle linebacker in McDermott’s system, that leaves the question about the outside linebackers. And as of now anyway, Ramon Humber and Lorenzo Alexander will be the two starting outside backers in the 4-3 base defensive scheme. Though, linebacker is one of the positions on the short list for the Bills to be added to — significantly — in the 2017 NFL Draft, which would push Humber back into a more natural depth and special teams role. I wouldn’t even rule out a linebacker, or even a hybrid linebacker, as early as the first round.
8) Tyrod termed a “nice fit” for O.C. Rick Dennison
- The Bills have their quarterback question answered for the 2017 season at least with Tyrod Taylor, and now we have a better understanding as to why. McDermott revealed on Tuesday morning that he has long admired new Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, and if he successfully landed a head coaching job, that the coach has been on his potential list of coordinators for a few years now. With Dennison, McDermott believes Taylor is a “nice fit” for the upcoming offense that the Bills will run — and much of that likely has to do with the mobility and threat of running that Taylor provides. The Bills are, excuse the lingo, “all in” on Taylor in 2017. Past that? He’s going to need to prove it. I don’t, however, believe that taking a quarterback in the draft should be ruled out in the slightest for the Bills.
9) “To ignore [analytics] is irresponsible”
- It’s a broad term, but ‘analytics’ is an important component to any business — and the same goes for football. To rely on only gut instincts and ‘feel for the game’ is basically the same as blindly ignoring all the information out there to help make more informed decisions, no matter what the topic is. That’s why the question and answer session with Sean McDermott in regards to the implementation of analytics is refreshing. Here it is in full:
Q: Do you have an analytics guy that you brought in from Carolina to help with the numbers?
McDermott: Well we have an analytics department. I’m a big believer in analytics and technology, again, just to try and gain that competitive advantage. I think to ignore that is irresponsible. That’s going to decide us in our decisions at the end of the day. You combine that with your gut instinct and you put yourself in a position to make those sound decisions.
Q: Analytics is really a broad term, what type of football analytics do you feel the most strongly about?
McDermott: Really all of it. You talk about the player tracking in the GPS, and trying to prevent injuries, and player safety, and then developing off of that dynamic practice schedules. We talked about the time… you know, that’s a big competitive advantage for people now is, ‘hey, who’s got the best schedule out there in trying to maximize time, yet keep players fresh for the opening of the season there and then throughout the season?’ So that’s a part of it. And then there’s the ‘what if’ scenarios. I get on my computer when I get in there at times. My brain, it’s always moving, so I’m always shooting emails to people and say ‘hey, tell me this.’ Whatever it is, say, tell me the number 10 spot, what happens at the number 10 spot in the draft. Or, tell me if we did this defensively what it would mean, or if an offense did this in this situation. There’s situations we haven’t even thought of yet that are yet to come up. The hamster is always on the wheel right here with some of those ‘what if’ scenarios.
Q: How much do you think you can use analytics when it comes to analyzing prospects for the NFL Draft?
McDermott: I think it can be used. I don’t think there’s ever an area that it can’t be used. Really, information is power. You use it to make — or at least as the part of the equation — to make sound decisions. I know there’s a lot of analytics about player evaluation… with the draft being one of them. So, it’s part of the overall decision-making process. I think when you get into trouble is when it becomes maybe too big of a part of the process. Because there are things like instincts that are huge, and production — flat out production — that can’t be ignored.
Q: So you’re not the type to just follow your gut blindly? There has to be some logic behind it?
McDermott: Right, absolutely. You take your personality and your gut… and really, you form your gut from that research, and then specific to a game, how that game is playing out. How they’re playing, how we’re playing and that’s one of the great things I learned from Ron [Rivera]. He was successful in a lot of those situations. I’ll come back to what I led off with…. The aggressiveness. Players want to play, they want to be aggressive, and no player wants to go out there and just sit back and be passive. It’s not a passive game.
I don't know about you, but I certainly liked what I've heard/read about his implementation of analytics.
10) Sean McDermott might not sleep
- The new head coach of the Buffalo Bills seems like the type to outwork anybody… but it’s hard to figure out when he actually sleeps. McDermott is willing to log long hours at the office to get the competitive edge as a coach, but then, he has a routine to wake up incredibly early — even by the standards of people that are used to waking up early — to get a workout in before he starts logging those long hours. The head coach said his alarm clock, daily, is set anytime between 3:00 and 5:00 am. He has the desire to stay fit to keep up with his players and that’s his only time of the day to do so. And then, hearing stories from other reporters that have covered him in the past, that he sometimes works so late that he’ll just have a couch in his office to finally pass out on. The term ‘grinder’ might have been hilariously overused when McDermott was first hired, but there might not be a better word to describe him. That is who he is. Setting a good example with the work ethic he expects surely won’t be hard to spot for his players.