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Brandon, Whaley, and Marrone talk 2013 Bills

Posted Dec 30, 2013

Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley, and Doug Marrone meet the media on Monday afternoon for their season ending press conference to discuss the quarterback situation, Stevie Johnson's future, and what free agents they plan on offering contracts.

Buffalo Bills President/CEO Russ Brandon
Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley

Buffalo Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone


Monday, December 30, 2013

Opening Statement:

RB: Just a couple brief comments. Thanks for coming out. Obviously it’s been a season of missed opportunities for us. We are obviously disappointed in the outcome of our season. We fell short of our stated goal which was to make the playoffs, but everything in this organization’s focus is to get to the second season next year. I am pleased with the direction of the franchise and the leadership of Coach Marrone and Doug Whaley. There are a lot of positives coming out of this season, but right now obviously we’re here to answer any questions relative to the 2013 season and we start on 2014 tomorrow. So I’ll open it up to questions for Doug and Coach.

Q: About a year ago you sat up there and talked about the franchise’s tarnished relevancy and the need to go to the ends of the earth to change that. How far do you feel this franchise has come to achieving that?
RB: We’ve made a significant step under Coach Marrone. The leadership that he’s brought to this organization, the level of accountability and where we’re trying to reach. We are disappointed that we’re sitting here at 6-10 there is no doubt about it. We certainly feel that, as I mentioned, we are under the path to success under his leadership. Under the personnel changes that Doug Whaley made. Some of the personnel brought in not only in the draft, but acquisitions like Jerry Hughes, Ty Powell, Stefan Charles and Dan Carpenter. A lot of players that contributed this year. Obviously the draft class was excellent. Obviously Doug also made some changes with his personnel department last year with Jim Monos as Director of Player Personnel and Kelvin Fisher as Director of Scouting and Tom Gibbons running the Pro department. I feel very good about that. What we don’t feel good about is sitting here talking to you at 6-10 and that needs to change.

Q: What do you see as the key reasons you didn’t have a winning season?
DW: I’ll let Coach speak on that, but after that I’ll chime in.
DM: I think what you see is that again it comes down to the consistency. I think when you look at it there were times where we went on that field and were consistent we were able to do some things to make us successful. I think obviously we had transition at the quarterback position, which is very difficult in this league. I think that one of the things that we’re looking forward to as we work going toward the future is stability there and availability obviously with EJ (Manuel). At the same time, there are things that we must improve on in all three phases.

DW: To add to that, from our point obviously with youth comes inconsistency. I think another year I always believe that the best step for a player is between his first and second year. All those players that contributed this year, we expect them to make a bigger step next year, play more consistent and be more productive.

Q: EJ said you told him he’s the number one guy going in to next year. Is that true?

DM: Yes.

Q: What did you see in him that allows you to make that proclamation now? Does the plan call for giving him a little bit more support?

DM: Well I think it’s a standpoint of again obviously you can see flashes of it during the season and again it goes with the consistency. I think it’s very important, in his first year he played in 10 games with probably the least amount of practices and preparation to play in those games. We feel very comfortable with the future with EJ. It’s the first time in his career that he’s going to have a full offseason. I think that when you get in here and you realize that at that position, which is the most critical position of a football team, the amount of work that you have to put in, the amount of preparation that you have to put in. Obviously he’s disappointed with the injuries that have occurred. I think that for us the plan is right now he’s going through a process of getting himself rested, healed and then start again with the rehabilitation for strengthening those areas of his body. Obviously we talked about the LCL. Then getting him mentally ready to come in and face a full season, where as last year at this time he was preparing for the combine and interviews. Now we need him to get prepared to be the type of quarterback we need him to be.

Q: You’ve said previously his knee wouldn’t require surgery. He said today he’s not sure. What’s the story there?
DM: I think again we’re just going through the process with the doctors and haven’t had the full medical reports yet. I think you look at all the different options of what you can do for preventive measures as you look forward.

Q: Doug Whaley, I’m assuming you are on board with going forward with EJ as your starter?
DW: Absolutely.

Q: Would you consider a quarterback at any time, but particularly in the first round of the draft?
DW: We’re going to develop our board like we always do. Research every position top to bottom. Not only during the draft process, but also during the free agents process. If we feel a player is out there that can help us get past this 6-10 mark, we will not be beholden to taking someone that we think doesn’t help us as much as another player.

Q: Are you happy with Thad (Lewis) as a back-up?
DW: We are pleased with Thad. We brought him in on a trade; he came in and was very serviceable. We look forward to his further development, but again we will not hold ourselves back from picking a person that would help us take a winning step.

Q: What is your take on EJ, as someone who evaluated him completely in the spring? What was a moment or two in the season that really sticks out in your mind that you liked on him and second, what do you think about his pocket presence?
DW: What I liked about him is the games where we needed him most in crunch situations; he gave us a chance to win. That for me is a very high mark of a characteristic you look at for a quarterback. Things he needs to improve on will come with time. You’ve got a young guy that’s getting a lot of things thrown at him defensively, offensively, coming to be the “savior” of a franchise, so that’s a lot of pressure on a guy. I think he stood in front of all of that pressure and performed admirably. Again, does he want to get better? Yes. We think he will get better, we know he will get better. It’s just going to take some time. Like Coach said, a full year of offseason of not preparing for the draft process, not looking to go to the combine, not having the mental stress of where he’s going to be drafted, what kind of city, what new playbook. He will be settled in and become a better pro this offseason and again I say the step between year one and year two is usually dramatic for most players.

Q: Russ did you have something you wanted to add earlier?
RB: I was just going to mention earlier when you asked about the medical. Right now we’re in full evaluation mode on all of our guys relative to medical. Dr. Marzo leads our medical team, obviously our training staff, so over the next full weeks we’ll have our full plan relative to all of our players when it comes to the medical process. 12 hours, 24 hours after the game obviously we have guys going through physicals and all the different things they do, so we should have a pretty good plan with everybody in the next week or two.

Q: Do you see Stevie Johnson back here next year?
DW: He’s under contract and we expect him to be here.

Q: What’s the mindset with regards to Jairus Byrd?

DW: We’re going to leave all options on the table. We’ve had a conversation, myself and Russ, sat and talked to Jairus and we’re going to make an offer to the guy and we’re going to try to keep him. We’re going to try to the best of our abilities because we’re in the business of collecting good players and he’s a good player.

Q: Would the franchise tag be an option again?
DW: It’s always an option. We’re not going to back ourselves into a corner and eliminate any possibility of trying to retain a good player.

Q: What is Kevin Kolb’s status and do you expect him to return next year?
DW: Kevin is in constant communication with the medical staff. He will go through a season-ending medical evaluation just like all the other players. He didn’t make it today, but he will soon be getting checked out and then after that we’ll have to see what the medical staff comes up with.

Q: Coach Marrone, your pass offense was 28th in yards. Aside from another year of development by your young quarterback what does the pass offense need to do better?
DM: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I think that obviously for us number one is getting our quarterback better. I think that’s going to help us quite a bit with the preparation. I think when you’re a  young quarterback in this league and one of the things I’ve seen with EJ and I’ve seen this with other quarterbacks too, when you work on things and you’re expecting certain coverages in a game and you go ahead and get that and you’re working with the consistency you see a high level of execution. It’s very difficult sometimes to prepare the quarterback for everything during the week of what may get thrown at you. At times during the season people have thrown coverages against us that were very low percentages of coming up. It was difficult for those adjustments. So for that we have to do a better job and I think with the year and that process we will. I think also it goes up front. I think in how comfortable the quarterback is in the pocket. I think at times, especially at home and that’s the one thing when we get back and start evaluating things, when we’ve been at home we’ve given up quite a bit less sacks and hits on our quarterback at home here at the Ralph. On the road he’s gotten sacked more and has been hit more. I think that it’s very important for the quarterback position to perform well when he feels comfortable back there. When there is no one around at his feet or getting close to him. As we upgrade or we do a better job with our offensive line, we do a better job in the process of year one is already behind us; we’re looking forward to year two. We have some talented receiver son the outside, some tight ends that have done well for us. Being able to use all of those options with the running back also in the passing game, I think that will help us considerably. Make no mistake you have to have a better ratio than what we had.

Q: You talk about EJ benefiting from a full offseason, what about yourself? You really have not had an offseason in some ways. How do you approach this offseason knowing you can digest a full year at the job?
DM: Well I’m excited to get back and start with the evaluation process really and going back and looking at why we are where we’re at. I have my opinion now which obviously I get asked a question and give. We’re going to go back and really look at the details, strategically, schematically, where we have not produced the consistency that we need. For me, there is really no such thing as an offseason, so I’m actually excited about that for the challenges that we’re going to be faced with for the 2014 season. I understand sitting here obviously Russ said it and we all feel the same way, we’re disappointed with where we are in the season and sitting here at 6-10. We also know that we have a lot of work ahead of us and I look forward to that challenge.

Q: Do you anticipate the entire coaching staff coming back next year?
DM: Well again the evaluation starts with me going through that, we’ve already made one change--Ike Hilliard is no longer with us. We appreciate what Ike has done in helping us try to reach our goal this year and we fell short. I think that you always go through an evaluation process, when you come after that you’re going to have situations where there’s going to have to be some type of structure, discipline, change in what we do. I think that if everyone is on board with the coaches that we have here now and being able to implement that, then I don’t foresee many changes, but again when you sit down with the coaches, you go through the evaluation of here is what we need and here is what we need to go forward, it always can possibly be changed.

Q: How would you assess the job that Danny Crossman did in his first year as Special Teams Coordinator?
A: Well we knew going in to the year that it was going to be a difficult situation for him. When we looked at the team from a core special teams standpoint, we felt like we had some good return specialists. We really didn’t have as many opportunities as we would have liked. Obviously Danny is disappointed; we all are in the performance of some of those areas. I think ti goes back to the same thing we said before. When you look at these teams and these elite special teams, sometimes people lose sight of that phase of the game. They see the core players on offense, they see them on defense, but just this past week when you look at New England and you look at a player like (Matthew) Slater, he is a special teams killer. He is a great player that plays teams. One of the things that we have to establish is a core. I think Marcus Easley stepped up big for us. He would be a core type player. What our goal is is to have six of those type of players. Duke (Williams) has played well at times, Ty Powell has played well at times. When you have about six core special teams players that are playing on three to four teams for you, now you have the ability to perform at a high level. We felt that’s an area that we have to improve on with our football team.

Q: Will Danny Crossman be back or do you have to go through that evaluation period before you can make a decision?
DM: Well like I said before I don’t want to cause a problem here, but right now we feel that we’re going to sit down and we’re going to evaluate everything. We’re going to see what we need to do to move forward. Just like anything else, Russ and I have conversations constantly along with Doug. There are things that we need to do. As long as we’re all on the same page of what we need to do to get this organization back to where we want it and get to the playoffs there won’t be any problems and there won’t be many changes from that respect of the coaches that are here.

Q: The decision to let Ike go, was there disappointment in what you got out of the receiving group?
DM: No I spoke to Ike about it and it’s just a difference in philosophy.

Q: Marcell (Dareus) is one of your most talented players. Are you interested in pursuing an extension with him this offseason?
DW; It’ll be something we have to discuss and that will go along with the organizational meetings that we’ll have later this week. Again we’re going to leave all options on the table to make sure we do what we have to do to get this team back on top.

Q: How long does it take to form an opinion about whether or not a quarterback has “it”?
DW: From the personnel side or media side? (jokingly)

Q: From the personnel side.

DW: I think you have to go case by case basis. You would like to have a guy at least have 16 games under his belt, and one year of continuity with receivers and practice time to get a baseline. That’s going to be tough to do with EJ right now. I can’t give you a specific timeline, but I think as well as you, you do the work, I listen to you. You know when you know. It’s hard to put in words, but after so many games, you get a feeling, alright this guy’s got it, or this guy needs some more time in development, or this guy doesn’t have it. That’s one thing that I have full confidence in the coaching staff that we’ll get every resource we have available to EJ to be successful.

Q: The only reason I ask is because the NFL is such a win now league…
DW: And quarterbacks are going to be a victim of the success of the young guys like the Andrew Luck’s and RG III. We’ll, see he’s had an up and down season. You guys have a quick hook on these guys, unfortunately. We don’t have that quick of a hook, but we do want to see progress and step forward.

Q: The Toronto series, is that going to continue?

RB: We’re still in that evaluation mode, Mark. Nothing has changed since the last time I spoke on it. We’re going to have, as Doug mentioned earlier, we’re going to have a thorough organizational meeting on anything and everything that touches the football operation. And we’re going to do everything in our power, as I told coach Marrone when we hired him and Doug Whaley, that we will provide every resource available to assist and empower them in their roles. Mr. Wilson obviously always provided that, but that’s what we’re going to do and that will fall into that bucket.

Q: With your background with the offensive line, how would you sum up their performance, and might you anticipate any changes there?
DM: I think when you look at it, and again, you can say we’re number two in the league in rushing, so obviously somebody had to be doing something up front. When you look at the sacks per play, and it goes back to the home and away, I think it goes through that inconsistency again. I thought that we have to do a good job in developing the players that we have and hopefully create some competition there. I think we have some good young players that we need to really develop. We added some players onto the roster. I think they have potential to be starting-type players in the NFL, but again, that process needs to start now for them, when they rest their body, get in shape and work on their own. I’ve said it before, with the new CBA, I believe there is more accountability today on the NFL player. This was my message to the team today, was from now until when we report in April, we all have to be working to get better.

Q: Were you referring to the trio of ‘Unga, Asper and McClain?
DM: Yes.

Q: For the record, Jairus Byrd’s injury, is it significant?

DW: Again, we haven’t been able to get the report from the medical staff yet because we’ve been in meetings all day.

Q: Was he on crutches?
DM: No, he was walking around.

Q: What’s the evaluation on the run defense?
DM: I think it’s the same thing, and I know it gets repetitive at times. It’s something we have to look at. Two weeks ago, you shut down some pretty good backs that have played well in the past. There’s been games, and that’s what’s frustrating, when you go in there and some games you perform very well in an aspect of whether it’s run defense or sacking the quarterback or pass defense or interceptions, and then some games you don’t. You have to really look at schematically what we’re doing. I know Mike (Pettine), we had discussions already about looking into that and what we need to do better. Obviously we’re all disappointed at times, especially yesterday, which is still fresh, having given up so much yardage in the run game. But again, those are the challenges to get yourself in the playoffs. It’s finding a way to be consistent. And it’s not just consistent from one game to all of the sudden you skip a couple in game three. Consistency for 16 games is the key to becoming a very good football team.

Q: C.J. Spiller said earlier that his goal was 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns. He didn’t really come close to that. It seemed at times that it was almost a struggle to utilize his talents, why do you think that was? And what can you do better next year to get C.J. more involved, or do you not think you need to?
DM: No, we’ve been working on a couple of things. The situations that we ran him this year, when you look back, it was different than the situations he ran in the year before. I think that the injury did play a factor in some of that production, but I did see him improve at the end of the year. I think that he was able to, even yesterday, you saw him stick it up in there, break it, become more physical. Whether that was because of the injury and feeling much better about it, but there are signs of him having the ability to get to those numbers.

Q: What was your assessment of EJ Manuel’s performance this year as a rookie and how behind him is the organization?
RB: We’re certainly behind him. My assessment really is empowered through Dough Whaley and coach Marrone. That’s what I empowered these guys to do last year and certainly we’re going to put every recourse behind all 53 of our guys to improve. Obviously the bell cow is usually the quarterback and gets all the publicity and all the media attention as we mentioned earlier. But we’re going to put everything behind him and try to see some marked improvement moving forward.

Q: Could you comment on the acquisition of Jerry Hughes? The trade now seems very tilted in the organization’s favor.
DW: Well at the time they thought it was going to be a win-win for everybody. I’m not sure how they feel about it now, but we’re very excited to have Jerry Hughes and we’re expecting bigger things from him next year.

Q: Do you feel you need more from the tight end position?
DM: I feel we’ve gotten good production. I think that Scott Chandler had a fine year. He really did. I think that we have players in place here, on this roster, which can be very productive. And obviously in my background offensively and Nathaniel’s background, that position has been productive for us in the past. And I think it’s important of the different ways you can attack people schematically, obviously the tight end in zone coverages down the middle of the field, but more importantly again with the matchups. Right now we have three, I believe players on our team right now under contract, and obviously with Scott and Doug talked about Scott, but I feel that we have four tight ends that are potentially very productive.

Q: You guys were probably five or six plays away from being 10-6. Would you say that’s correct if you pick the right five or six plays?

DM: (Nods)

Q: New England, they win six games by three points or less. What is it about that team that they can figure out how to win that you guys just aren’t there yet?
DM: At the end of the day, when you look at their numbers percentage-wise and how they’ve won games, a couple things come to mind. One is obviously the turnover battle. They’ve continuously been one of the top teams in the league. The other one is obviously the rushing battle. Believe it or not, even though Tom Brady gets a lot of credit, and he’s outstanding, there’s no question about that, but the way they run the football. Again, when you do those things and you don’t beat yourself, unforced errors, not a lot of penalties, things like that, you have a greater percentage of winning games. And they’ve done it pretty much better than anybody else.

Q: Can you just give us an update on where things stand with Chris Hairston?

DW: Again, we get all that information when we meet with the medical staff later on this week. And then we’ll get a run down (of) every player and their medical status for the upcoming year.

Q: Dan Carpenter had a good year. Do you foresee making a push to try to bring him back?
DW: Absolutely. Russ and I talked to him and we’re going to reach out to his agents pretty soon and see if we can try to get something done.

Q: And what about Brian Moorman?
DW: Same thing.

Q: What is your level of disappointment in the inconsistency of your run defense, and what needs to be done to correct that?
DM: Obviously I’ve answered this before I think. Our level of disappointment and things that we have not done well is obviously extremely high. We’ll look at things and there’ll be things that we’ll categorize as urgent, which means hey, we have to fix this right now. We have to get this done immediately and address these issues. There are things that are going to be where we need to keep developing. And then there’s going to be things that we’re doing well that we need to keep at a high level. And that’s really the way that we’ll look at it. So again, I would go back to we’ll evaluate that, look at it schematically what we’re doing, but we’ll do that in all areas, not just the run defense. We track about 250 categories of how we play. And more will be added to that as we go along.

Q: Was that a big concern of yours, the inability to consistently stop the run?
DM: If you talk about when I first took the job, and I looked at the team and I looked at the history of how we’ve been playing, my first concern was the turnovers. And I think that we finished the day at, I don’t know if it was 2 or 3, I’d have to look at it, but I think we were 2 going into the (New England) game. That was the biggest thing, because in my philosophy and my opinion, that’s the fastest way to lose football games. I think there are times that I want to make that number greater. I want to not turn the ball over as much and create more takeaways. That was the number one thing going in. When you play teams, there’s different ways of beating teams. In other words, and I felt that we’ve done a good job of explaining to our players, how do we beat this team? Sometimes it may be different. It may be third down, it may be rushing, it may be sacks. There are a lot of different things that we look at from an analytical side that can give us an advantage in each game. So from game to game, there are different points that you have to stress. But I would say from what you asked about the run defense, to list it in a certain order, obviously we’re disappointed in it and we have to improve on it.


Q: Are there any plans for training camp at St. John Fisher College. Might you be evaluating that along with the Toronto series?
RB: What we were evaluating, Joe, was if we were going to stay there a little bit longer, based on the renovations and some of the things that we have going on here. That’s really what the focus was on. I know that sort of struck a chord relative when I mentioned it. I just was trying to say that everything is under evaluation, but we’re very pleased with Fisher. The only thing we may do is stay there longer.

Q: Have you decided on that one way or the other?

RB: That’s in that organizational discussion.

Q: You had said earlier that Stevie (Johnson) is under contract, but it didn’t really seem like a strong vote of confidence. Do you anticipate him being an important, key figure in this offense going forward?
DW: I was taken aback by the question. We have him under contract, we expect him to be here. I was kind of amazed by why that would be a subject to ask. That’s why.

Q: It seems it’s like this almost every year.
DW: Well, for all of us though. But no, we expect him to be here, and obviously he was dealing with a tragedy that our hearts go out to him and we’re supporting him 110 percent.

Q: Doug, You see a coach like Rob Chudzinski get canned after one season. What does that say about the business, and how much pressure do you feel. And maybe Russ, what’s the importance of stability here?

RB: When we entered into this a year ago, this is for the long haul. Continuity wins in this business if you can keep making progress. And like I said when we opened this up Leo, very disappointed in sitting up here at 6-10, but I have all the faith and belief in coach (Marrone) and Doug (Whaley) to continue to get this ship pointed in the right direction and see significant progress as we enter 2014. Do not plan on sitting here next year in this capacity.

DM: For me, obviously it’s a close profession and Rob is a friend, and I spoke to Rob late last night. It’s a profession that we’ve chosen, and I always say that and I’ve used that before. And the one thing about the NFL and I think there’s an appreciation for it, I know I have: It is a results-oriented business and you have to win. And just like the question before, when you say the sense of urgency, it’s a sense of urgency all day long, 365 days a year. And it’s very difficult to escape that. Especially for someone like myself that really doesn’t have any hobbies. You guys that know me understand that. It’s a tough situation and you just fight everyday. I mean you fight every day to get it right. But we understand that and we chose it. And that’s what’s great about it. We’re out there, all of us, including the assistant coaches and the players, we’re out there for everyone to look at and go. And there’s something about that competitiveness and that challenge that I think all of us that are in this profession thrive on. I think that when we can’t get it done, the level of disappointment is extremely high, and I think that sometimes I don’t know if people that are not in it can really understand what we go through. Kind of like, when John asked, when is there an offseason? I think about how to better this team every single day. There’s not a day that goes by that I say I’m not going to think about football.

Q: Procedurally, what role does Mr. Wilson now play, and do you go with Detroit with Doug?

RB: Yeah, I’ve certainly spent some time with Mr. Wilson and talk with Mr. Wilson every day. Nothing has really changed in that capacity. We talk every day about everything, so I keep him updated on everything relative to the organization in totality and will continue to obviously do so.

Q: Is he doing well?
RB: He’s doing great.

Q: Usually there’s an end of the season meeting…
RB: Yeah, we’ll probably do that. We haven’t scheduled that at this point yet John, but certainly we’ll go spend some time and I always look forward to it.