Frazier to call plays in McDermott's 4-3 defense

Posted Mar 2, 2017

Bills head coach Sean McDermott has decided it will be defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier calling plays on game days in his 4-3 scheme.

It was generally assumed that head coach Sean McDermott would be bringing his 4-3 defensive scheme with him to Buffalo. McDermott confirmed that this week at the NFL Combine, but now a month and a half on the job, the Bills sideline boss has made another decision regarding his defense.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will be calling plays on game days.

“Leslie Frazier is going to call the defense,” said McDermott. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in Leslie. He and I worked together in Philadelphia for a number of years. Leslie has been there and done that across the league as a position coach and a successful coordinator and then a head coach. From a defensive standpoint I’ve got a lot of confidence in Leslie.”

Frazier has already been a valuable sounding board for McDermott in his role as head coach for the first time in his NFL career. So trusting him with calling plays was not a big leap for McDermott.

“I’ve utilized Leslie in a lot of different areas and he gives me great perspective on a lot of things as a head coach,” he said.

McDermott’s 4-3 won’t be locked in to a predictable look. They’ll be mixing things up a good deal.

“We’re going to base out of the 4-3 and get this defensive line coming off the ball and playing fast and aggressive up front,” said McDermott. “We’re going to be multiple when it calls for it and play some nickel defense and get some speed on the field and attack offenses the best way we know how.”

That will mean a shift back up to the line for players like Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson, who both become more traditional defensive ends in Buffalo’s four-man front.

“Both of those guys are great players. We look forward to working with them,” McDermott said. “Dynamic players coming off the football and they should fit our system well.”


Lawson has said he’s more comfortable in a 4-3 scheme having played in that system in college at Clemson. Hughes meanwhile enjoyed his two most productive season in a 4-3 scheme with the Bills in 2013 and 2014 when he posted back-to-back 10-sack seasons.

Buffalo led the league in sacks over those two seasons with 111. The team right behind them in total sacks from 2013-2014 was McDermott’s defensive unit in Carolina with 100. The Bills coach has confidence that they can recapture some of the success Buffalo’s unit enjoyed in generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

“You want to build it up front and that goes for offense and defense,” McDermott said. “We do have some pieces and I want to build on those pieces. We believe in coming off the ball and attacking the quarterback and creating negative plays, sacks being one of those important to stopping offenses.”

How the roles unfold at linebacker might take a bit more time knowing both Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland have somewhat similar skill sets.

“With Reggie and Preston and what they’ve done we’re excited to work with them and some other players,” said McDermott. “Ramon (Humber) just signed so we feel good about him as well. Our linebackers have to be versatile and in the end if you’re a good football player we’ll find a spot for you.”

Zach Brown was the team’s leading tackler last season after he capably filled the inside linebacker role left behind by Ragland following his ACL injury suffered in training camp. Brown even played in the Pro Bowl as an alternate. He’s also set to become a free agent.

In McDermott’s 4-3 scheme, he could be a great fit for the weak side linebacker position with his range and coverage ability.

“Zach is a good player. I’ve enjoyed watching him in the month and a half I’ve been there,” said McDermott of his film evaluation of Brown. “I really understand and appreciate what he’s done for this football team. He certainly has a good skill set so like all the free agents we have to continue to evaluate and respect that process.”

There are even more free agents in the secondary for Buffalo, with four at the safety position. Stephon Gilmore is now likely to hit the free agent market after the Bills declined to use the franchise tag on the cornerback. Fellow cornerback Corey White is also a free agent.

Despite those free agent challenges, McDermott believes re-instituting a 4-3 system in Buffalo can help the Bills defense get back to being more of a game changing unit.

“It wasn’t too long ago they were in a 4-3 system a couple of years ago. There are a number of players on this roster who are good players,” he said. “I feel good about what we’ve got with the men up front and then being able to blitz some of our secondary and third level players. It’s important for us to put them in position to be successful and then add players for competition and for depth purposes.”