PHOENIX (WKBW) — As the 2019 NFL Owner's Meetings continued along, the annual tradition known as the Coaches Breakfast went along on Tuesday. It's at that time where every head coach of every team sits inside one ballroom with reporters surrounding them asking about the state of their team.
For Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott, he spent over 45 minutes speaking with reporters about big picture things, and along with some positional importance queries. Truthfully, it was an insightful time with the head coach, especially after two years of his plan has been in action.
What did we learn? Five takeaways from McDermott:
1) Josh Allen heading into year two
- The Bills have a great deal of faith in their young quarterback Josh Allen as he tries to take the steps forward that the organization needs. Weirdly enough, in the majority of the press conferences since the end of the season, Allen hasn't come up much. It's a guarantee that he will be starting in 2019, that all of the moves made were to insulate him and to foster growth as a player with more talent around him, and he's about as much of an afterthought -- more like a known, yet unknown commodity -- as you'd find in a second-year quarterback. The trouble is, you don't quite know if Allen is going to be able to take the necessary steps forward to help push the Bills to a higher level. As for his development, the Bills think they know well enough about him, but that ultimately it's on him during the offseason:
"You know, the important thing is that he develops and takes ownership of his development, takes ownership of his career. And this offseason is an important of that, or an important chapter of that process in his career -- and then subsequently our success in Buffalo, McDermott said." "When you draft a player, you try and get to know him enough that he would be a responsible, you know, basically shepard of his career when he's not with us. We feel like he's had a pretty good offseason to this point from what we're able to tell."
However, much like the end of the season, McDermott was attempting to limit the expectations of his young quarterback going into just his second season. He understands that fans are hungry for a winner and for a quarterback to become the next big thing in Buffalo, but McDermott is smartly keeping the hyperbole away from the young quarterback. Simply put, he wants Allen to "do his job," which also includes becoming a natural leader of the team because of the position he plays. The Bills know this whole thing will sink or swim with Allen, and putting too heavy of expectations on his shoulders at this point of the offseason doesn't necessarily help him.
2) More fuel to the fire at tight end
- On Monday, despite the lack of success from tight ends drafted in the first round, GM Brandon Beane did not allow the historical failures of that position when drafted that early to impact his point of view. He isn't shying away from the notion of taking a tight end that early if the value of the player warrants it. Now, when you add that to the Bills still being very much in need of adding a contributor at the position, it has many wondering about if the Bills might be inclined to use ninth overall on a tight end. On Tuesday, I merely McDermott asked about the effects he saw in Carolina with the Panthers having Greg Olsen for all of those years. The results add more fuel to the speculative fire:
"Yeah, I liked it when we were on offense, when it was third and about five, I knew we were going to go get a first down because we had Greg Olsen, McDermott started. "At an early age, I feel like that I learned how important that tight end position is to a quarterback and a particular young quarterback. It becomes a security blanket."
With due respect to Tyler Kroft, his lack of starting experience does not indicate that he is a guarantee to develop into that security blanket type that McDermott seems to be discussing in his answer. It's also notable that McDermott made sure to clarify that a young quarterback stands to benefit from a tight end that can win in clutch situations for a team. I'm still not sold on the Bills taking a tight end at ninth overall, but if they were to trade down with a quarterback-hungry team, that likely makes the value of the player and position meet the pick -- along with picking up an additional Day Two selection. The more I consider this possibility, the more it grows on me with a transparent hole that still exists on the roster.
3) McDermott believes intently in interior pressure
- Much in the same way that the Carolina Panthers had Greg Olsen for all of the years that McDermott was there, he also saw the rise of three-technique defensive tackle Kawann Short to become one of the best players at his position in the league. Short caused havoc in the middle of the offensive line for McDermott for many years, and that's a position -- like tight end -- where the Bills have a gaping hole on the roster. McDermott's response to the impact Short had in Carolina for his team is one to remember distinctly should the Bills stand pat at ninth overall:
"Yeah that's big. That's really big. To be able to get pressure from the inside... you know, people would argue that there's ways to take away the edge rusher more than there is ways to take away the inside, the interior rusher, and I would probably agree. The ability to pressure an effective quarterback from the inside out is critical when you want to play good football on defense. So, you've got to make sure that you've got enough of those guys."
It seems to me, based on that answer from McDermott, that the three-technique defensive tackle role is the fail-safe for his system's pass rush. And at the tail end, he mentioned you have to have enough of those players, where the Bills have only Jordan Phillips -- and he's more of a rotational player than anything else. At this point in the offseason, the Bills haven't made any significant overtures in free agency to address it, and it's also a strength of the top of the draft. The Bills have even yet to invest a draft pick in the first three rounds in a pass-rushing defensive lineman since McDermott, and GM Brandon Beane came to the organization. Sometimes there are logical fits for teams near the top of the draft that make too much sense for all parties, and should Quinnen Williams (unlikely available), Ed Oliver (more likely available), or Christian Wilkins (quite likely available) be there, that's a critical piece of the defense that McDermott clearly covets.
4) Two years in: the relationship dynamic with Beane
- Except for a brief three-year reprieve in which Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey were as thick as thieves in a losing effort, the Bills have primarily had a structure in which the front office and coaching staff haven't been on the same page over the last two decades. That changed, in a big way, when McDermott and Beane joined forces. Two years in, how has that relationship evolved? From the words of McDermott, in full:
"As I prepared to be a head coach, you sit at symposium's, you listen to people that have been in that seat before and they'll tell you that you need to have someone that -- that that becomes a marriage with. And that is, in fact, true. Two years into it now, that's a big piece because there's, much like a marriage, you go through really good days and you go through days that are challenging. You go through adversity. The willingness to stick together, the willingness to work together, the willingness to communicate -- to keep those lines of communication open, that gets challenged day in and day out. Who gets the credit? Let's just start there. Who gets the credit when we win, when we went to playoffs in year one? You see that sometimes go, well, I didn't get my fair share of the credit, so over the course of time, I believe that our trust has continued to grow -- and I would say the same with our leadership team with Terry and Kim [Pegula] as well. We go through experiences together. That continuity over the course of time has only made our bond stronger, and really that's part of knowing our team. You talk about our team, our players knowing each other, it's also part of us knowing each other and where we want to go. Having those tough conversations that are going to lead to future success."
Now, much like what Beane discussed on Monday about Terry and Kim Pegula with allowing him a chance to make mistakes while trying to improve the roster, there is a lack of a pressure element here. There haven't been any real stakes for a rebuilding team at this point, which means there haven't been a lot of reasons for things to splinter between McDermott and Beane. That said, having that open dialogue between them through all the decisions they've made to this point is quite important. How they handle it when the wins and losses start to matter will mean everything to the future of the franchise.
5) The philosophical pillars of Sean McDermott
- Since becoming the head coach of the Bills, McDermott has taken the self-scouting preachings that he gives to his players and also puts them upon himself. In the meantime, the head coach has talked about how that look at himself and desire to grow has helped shape his philosophical approach, as well as how he wants to lead the organization. A reflective McDermott brought up some pillars that he tries to always get back to as one of the most important individuals in the franchise.
"I just think that, to me I keep coming back to the same words. Gratitude, humility, perspective, mental toughness, serving others, competition -- just the same words when you talk about highly successful teams, highly successful individuals. Over the years, people get away from those ingredients, and I keep coming back to those as a foundation for success."
It was a depth of conversation McDermott likely wasn't expecting, but one that must be monitored. The evolution of him, his priorities, and his message to his roster have an enormous impact on how the Bills operate. He's done a great job in his first two seasons by overachieving with a roster that likely shouldn't have won as many games as they did, but those won't be the years he's remembered by when all is said and done in Buffalo. It's what he does moving forward, and how he evolves, that will shape things for the Bills just like the composition of the roster will as well.