(WKBW) — The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine officially got underway from a media perspective on Wednesday, as the key decision makers from individual teams met with the media while the first wave of players went through the initial stages of a week full of testing.
The Buffalo Bills were no different, as head coach Sean McDermott met with both the national and local media on Wednesday. While general manager Brandon Beane won't speak publicly until Thursday, McDermott also gave some noteworthy answers along the way.
In the video above, you'll find the full one-on-one interview with McDermott in which you can see the answers for yourself (with the time of the quote in the headlines below). In the six-plus minutes with the head coach, here were my five takeaways in regards to the offseason:
1) McDermott's vision for the offense (1:20)
- During the 2018 season, the frustration levels from the fan base in what was happening on offense reached peak levels around the middle of the season. Once Josh Allen went down with an injury, there was a brief moment of hopelessness from a fan perspective with an offense struggling to score touchdowns for multiple weeks. It certainly improved once Allen returned, but there was still quite a bit missing. The need to improve offensively is as clear as day, as McDermott pointed to the young players on the defensive side of the ball that provide them hope later in the interview. However, the bigger question in regards to the offense is what McDermott hopes it looks like at its peak -- and with it, McDermott provided a threshold. It's a relatively simple premise, seeing as how the team with the most points wins the game, but McDermott doesn't seem interested in the low-scoring, grind it out games that the Bills had to grow accustomed to over the last two seasons. McDermott's premise was that for sustained success, they have to be able to put up 21-plus points consistently. Obvious, yet difficult to attain. In the 33 games the Bills have played under McDermott, the team failed to score 21 or more 19 times. It happened 11 times out of 16 games in 2018 alone. McDermott even alludes to it as some old-school thinking from more defensive-minded coaches, but it seems as though he wants things to open up regardless of conditions.
"I think to be a legitimate contender in this league you've got to be able to score, week in or week our, or a threat to score 21 points a game."
On numerous occasions, McDermott has pointed out that this is a passing league and that the way to sustained success is through the quarterback position. So if it wasn't obvious before with the way the majority of the offseason will lean based on the lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball, it should resonate even more now. The Bills are likely going hard at addressing the offense in free agency and the draft.
2) McDermott's "identity" positions (2:47)
- Along with scoring points, the Bills have to be able to provide more yards in unison with the passing game by establishing some bit of a threat on the ground -- to which they had none outside of the win over the New York Jets in the Matt Barkley game. But regardless if it's running the ball or passing the ball, McDermott mentioned the offensive line as one of his core "identity positions." Take it for what it's worth, but what's important to McDermott is also top of mind for Beane, considering the Bills did what they did to move up and draft Tremaine Edmunds last season. Middle linebacker is not a high profile position for many teams anymore, but for McDermott, it's one of the most important -- to which Beane responded by giving up multiple picks to get Edmunds on the roster. You would think, based on the overall lack of success in finding immediate starters through the NFL Draft, the Bills will be quite active in their approach for free agent offensive linemen. Without any restrictions due to incumbent starters, the Bills have a blank canvas from which to work in adding to such a strong "identity" position for the head coach. We'll have to wait to hear from Beane on Thursday, but by the time March 13 rolls around, it would be a bit of a shock if the Bills aren't in on multiple free agents attached to that group. As for Beane, his thoughts on drafting offensive linemen versus finding more established players is one of the things I'm most interested by Thursday.
3) McDermott tipping off a major need? (4:58)
- Along with the offensive line, McDermott also pointed to the defensive line as one of his "identities" for the team, and later on in the interview when speaking to the point of surrounding their core young players with more talent, he dropped a hint as to one spot that's quite important to them. It all had to do with Kyle Williams and his role as the three-technique defensive tackle with the roster. Williams is now retired and the team must move on, but that is as much of a high profile position on defense for McDermott as middle linebacker. It was that way for him in Philadelphia, the same when he was the defensive coordinator for Carolina, and now in Buffalo. The hard truth is this: the Bills have no one to fill that role at present. Jordan Phillips is a free agent to be and is likely more of a rotational player and spot starter in the Bills' eyes. McDermott's quick allusion to Williams' old role speaks to how much he values having an impact player at that position, able to penetrate and disrupt the backfield by winning their one-on-one, and even at times, two-on-one battles. With so many impact defensive tackles available in the draft, I think it's right in their wheelhouse organizationally to use their first-round pick to replace Williams if the value on the board warrants it. And getting after the passer is something that McDermott desperately wants to improve, too.
4) Adding talent to rush the passer is essential (3:15)
- There is little doubt that the Bills' defense made significant strides from 2017 to 2018 in quite a few areas -- with overall talent level being chief among them. However, for the second year in a row, the Bills were woefully ineffective at providing pressure and bringing down the quarterback. And for the second straight season, Jerry Hughes was the only consistent force getting to the backfield, which yielded a lot of attention from the opponents while giving one-on-ones to many of his teammates along the defensive line. The Bills have Lorenzo Alexander for the time being which is another helping two hands, but Shaq Lawson, Trent Murphy, and Eddie Yarbrough were all a bit disappointing with their inability to impact the pocket consistently enough. Now, if you mash that up with a random situation Beane alluded to at the Senior Bowl ( the first bullet point of this article from January ) you could work your way into thinking the Bills will look to add some form of pass rush help in the offseason. I think that could include someone like Anthony Barr, a multi-use defender due to become a free agent, or even drafting someone in the first few rounds. However, what they had wasn't good enough in that area. And for such an "identity position" for McDermott, he'll push for talent to be added along the defensive line if the time and price adds up.
5) McDermott raves about Levi Wallace (5:22)
- The head coach could barely wait for the question to end before he waxed poetic about the young Levi Wallace.
"Levi is everything right about what we're doing."
Wallace went from an undrafted rookie, to a practice squad standout, to a mid-year starter, and is now a darling among film watching analysts for what he did in his first year. And considering how much the Bills love Wallace and what he was able to do in his rookie season, combined with all the other needs that they have to address in the upcoming offseason, finding a cornerback to supplant a potential ascending player that they believe in doesn't coincide with the Bills' usual logic. While it wouldn't be out of the question to add depth to the position and perhaps a 'just-in-case' guy to make Wallace earn it in the offseason, spending a precious resource on a cornerback with a high-priced free agent or with an early-round pick doesn't make much sense. Wallace is clearly someone that earned the respect of the head coach, and with how much McDermott has had success in identifying non-first round talent in defensive backs throughout his career, my inclination is that Wallace will be back and in a prominent role for the 2019 season.