BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
Now that mandatory minicamp has come to a close, the Buffalo Bills have six weeks before preparation for the 2013 season kicks into high gear at training camp.
Although many fans and people within the organization are happy with the progress the team has made since new head coach Doug Marrone’s coaching staff took over in January, there is still plenty of work left to do.
A few key storylines in training camp could separate another mediocre season from one that meets its true potential and possibly the playoffs.
1) Can the offense learn the system quickly enough to play at the fast speed required?
Perhaps the most important question in regards to Doug Marrone’s influence on the organization is whether the Bills are capable of running the up-tempo, K-gun style of offense he is trying to install. So far, as is to be expected, the defense has been reported to be way ahead of the offense in their adjustments to the new systems. With new quarterbacks trying to learn their teammates and a new playbook, the offensive adjustment could take time.
However, Marrone’s entire offensive philosophy is built upon the relentless tempo of the offense. That means that one quarterback needs to emerge from the pack. That quarterbacks needs to be capable of making quick, decisive reads and hit on the home run throws when they’re called.
Moreover, the offensive linemen need to be able to move up the field with consistent speed and still have the energy to carry out their blocks effectively. For the team’s four experienced offensive line starters—right guard Kraig Urbik, center Eric Wood, right tackle Chris Hairston and left tackle Cordy Glenn—whose games and professional experience are built more on power, it’s a transition that could be slow going. If that’s the case, the Bills may be in for a long season offensively.
2) Will Bills defenders have the versatility to fit into Mike Pettine’s new hybrid scheme?
As mentioned above, the adjustments won’t only be taking place on the offensive side of the ball. When Buddy Nix took over the Bills front office three years ago, he announced that the team would switch to a 3-4 defense.
After two years of trying to acquire players to fit the new scheme, the Bills organization switched back to a 4-3 last season under defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. Now that Mike Pettine has come in as the team’s new defensive coordinator, he’s promised a more aggressive, hybrid scheme.
With a Bills defense comprised of players brought in to fill the needs of three separate defensive coordinators, the unit’s success will hinge on whether the Bills can find enough players, or combinations of players, that fit Pettine’s hybrid vision.
A few players will be central to this question, many of whom are new additions, such as defensive lineman Alan Branch, pass-rusher Jerry Hughes, outside linebacker Manny Lawson and rookie defensive back Duke Williams. Other players who will need to carve out a role if they want to remain in Buffalo include linebacker Arthur Moats, defensive lineman Alex Carrington, and linebacker Bryan Scott.
Carrington enjoyed a career year last year, finally settling in as a 4-3 defensive tackle after being tried out as a 3-4 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker. In a hybrid scheme, however, Carrington won’t just be able to stick as a 4-3 tackle in a rotation. He will also need to find a home in a 3-4 system that he’s historically been unable to succeed in.
The presence of free-agent addition Branch, who profiles best as a 3-4 nose tackle, will also complicate matters. If Branch is able to fill a role as a defensive tackle in both schemes, Carrington will find reps in the middle harder to come by.
Similar to Carrington, Moats has also been moved around throughout his career with the Bills. A defensive end in college, Moats started to excel as a 3-4 pass rusher during his rookie year in 2010.
The Bills tried Moats at both inside linebacker and outside linebacker in their 4-3 scheme. Now that the Bills are back in a hybrid, it seems they will try him at inside linebacker, where he doesn’t profile best. With Keith Pough and Marcus Dowtin also playing well this offseason, Moats will need to really show some value in order to remain on the roster.
This is especially true now with the additions of Hughes and Lawson, two players with experience in hybrid schemes. Although both have proven to be far more successful in 3-4 schemes, and will need to show the ability to do other things besides just rushing the passer (specifically Hughes), they were both brought in by the new regime and may have a leg up on Moats.
Bryan Scott, a former safety who has become more of a safety/linebacker hybrid, will also have to prove his worth to keep his roter spot. He did not register much success last season covering tight ends. He will be pushed by rookie Duke Williams at safety and athletic rookie inside linebacker Kiko Alonso for playing time.