BBD Editor: Dan Hope
In 2014, the Buffalo Bills will have an almost entirely new defensive coaching staff for the third time in as many seasons. Three members of the Buffalo Bills’ defensive coaching staff are following former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the Cleveland Browns, while another Buffalo defensive staffer might also be on his way out.
The Browns officially announced the hirings of eight assistant coaches Monday, including three who were employed by the Bills. Linebackers coach Jim O’Neil is following Pettine, who he has worked with for the past five years, to be Cleveland’s defensive coordinator. Defensive quality control assistant Brian Fleury will be the Browns’ assistant linebacker coach. Jeff Hafley, who never actually coached for the Bills as he was just hired as a defensive assistant earlier this month, will be Cleveland’s new secondary coach.
Another member of Pettine’s Buffalo staff in 2013, Chuck Driesbach, was hired by the Browns as linebackers coach. Driesbach was fired by the Bills earlier this month.
Under a brand-new coaching staff in 2013, the Bills defense finally started to play up to the potential of its talent. Pettine installed a pressure-heavy, 3-4 based, hybrid defensive scheme that maximized the talents of star players like $96 million pass-rusher Mario Williams and ironman rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso. The Bills used that combination of scheme and playmakers to exploit the weaknesses in opposing pass protections for 57 sacks, the second-most in the NFL.
The Bills also made improvements from the previous year in yards allowed per game (333.4, 10th in NFL) and points allowed per game (24.3, 20th in NFL), while they tied for the NFL’s sixth-most takeaways with 30. While the Bills had changed defensive coordinator in each of the two previous seasons, Buffalo seemed to finally be in a position where maintaining stability would be the best plan for the Bills defense this offseason.
Pettine’s first-year success as defensive coordinator was noticed on the other side of Lake Erie, however, and he was hired Thursday to fill the Cleveland Browns’ head coaching vacancy.
The Bills already made a big-name hire in former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz to replace Pettine, but Monday’s hires by the Browns leave the Bills in need of at least two replacements (having hired Todd Downing on Friday as quarterbacks coach, a position offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett covered in double duty in 2013, the Bills will likely hire one less defensive coach).
Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver is also expected to be on his way out. During Schwartz’s introductory press conference Monday, Marrone said he does not “feel good about” Weaver coming back, according to the press conference transcript. He did not indicate whether Weaver also plans to follow Pettine to Cleveland, but the Browns have not yet hired a defensive line coach.
Should Weaver leave, only defensive backs coaches Donnie Henderson and Samson Brown, who Marrone confirmed are both returning to the Bills in 2014, will remain from last season’s defensive coaching staff.
All of that means one can expect yet another new-look Buffalo defense in 2014. That’s not to say Schwartz will implement the exact same scheme that Detroit’s defense used the past five years when he was their head coach, nor does it mean that Schwartz will completely abandon the looks that worked in 2013 under Pettine. While it would seem likely that the Bills defense will be based out of a 4-3 alignment under Schwartz, expect the new defensive coordinator to work with Marrone to adapt the scheme to Buffalo’s personnel.
Also key to the development of the Buffalo defense in 2014, however, will be finding the right position coaches to fill the vacancies, specifically to replace Weaver and O’Neil.
One possibility to replace Weaver could Jim Washburn, who joined the Lions last year as assistant defensive line coach. Previously the defensive line coach of the Tennessee Titans for 12 years and the Philadelphia Eagles for two, it would come as little surprise if Schwartz tried to recruit Washburn to Buffalo.
As for the linebackers coach opening, the Bills reportedly have their sights set on Pittsburgh Steelers defensive assistant Jerry Olsavsky, who is interviewing with Buffalo and is looking to become a full-time position coach according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Schwartz’s linebackers coach from the past five years, Matt Burke, has already landed a new job with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Other potential possibilities for the openings on the Bills defensive coaching staff could include Gunther Cunningham, who was Schwartz’s defensive coordinator in Detroit for the past five years, and Pepper Johnson, who left the New England Patriots last week after 14 years as a member of their defensive coaching staff.
Tags: 2014 Offseason, Anthony Weaver, Brian Fleury, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Coaches, Coaching Changes, Coaching Staff, Doug Marrone, Gunther Cunningham, Jeff Hafley, Jerry Olsavsky, Jim O'Neil, Jim Schwartz, Jim Washburn, Mike Pettine, Pepper Johnson