The past two defensive line coaches for the Bills were known as yellers. Tim Krumrie and Bill Kollar were highly vocal coaches that tried to get the most out of their players by preaching effort more than x's and o's. Buffalo's new defensive line coach Bob Sanders has a bit of a different approach. He'll raise his voice when it's warranted, but his philosophy is strong technique skills win the battles in the trenches and get results.
"What I've learned from many years in the profession is to just be myself," said Sanders. "I bring enthusiasm and passion and excitement, but I've got to be myself because that gives us the best opportunity to be successful."
And Sanders track record shows he's got a proven formula. A defensive line coach for about half of his 30-year coaching career, Sanders has helped to maximize the talents of quite a few players in his time. Some of the more notable examples are still playing in the league now.
Green Bay defensive end Aaron Kampman was a high-motor, effort player not unlike some of Buffalo's current ends. But what Sanders did was maximize Kampman's talent with his effort and helped turn him into a two-time Pro Bowl pass rusher.
Though Sanders was promoted to defensive coordinator for the 2006 season with Green Bay, he still was heavily involved in helping Kampman and the rest of the Packers defensive line succeed. Kampman's sacks went from a previous career high of 6.5 in 2005 to an NFC leading 15.5 in 2006, as well as a career best 113 tackles. A Pro Bowl nod followed.
"Bob Sanders is a good coach and more importantly a good man," said Kampman. "I learned from him as both my position coach and my coordinator. He will be a great asset for Buffalo."
Sanders also tutored Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse in college at the University of Florida, turning him into the hottest pass rushing commodity in the 1999 NFL Draft where he was the first defensive end off the board. Kearse and his Gator teammates led the SEC in sacks all four seasons in which Sanders coached the unit, with Kearse going on to win NFL Rookie of the Year honors with the Titans with 14.5 sacks.
Maximizing a player's ability is something that will be of interest to every one of Buffalo's defensive linemen as they themselves recognized at season's end that their pass rush has to be more productive.
"Obviously his background is good," said Aaron Schobel of Sanders. "He has coordinator experience so he's able to see the whole defense and not just your position. That's always a good thing. He understands a lot about football."
Buffalo's defensive linemen right away saw the value of Sanders' coaching during the spring practices as there was a major focus on technique work. His biggest point of emphasis was developing and sharpening counter moves on the pass rush to help his players put more consistent pressure on opposing passers.
"We watched every sack in the NFL over the past two years this offseason and 90 percent of the sacks in the league are off counter moves," said Kyle Williams. "So it's really helped us to stay busy and taught us how to counter off an initial move."
Sanders then took it a step further bringing in Olympic Tae Kwan Do trainer Joe Kim to perform on field hand technique instruction for a week, which included hand placement, counter moves and leverage.
"He did a lot of work one on one with me and with the whole defensive line, and really with a lot of guys on the team just on working with your hands, moving fast and all that kind of stuff, so I really feel great," said Aaron Maybin. "I really feel like it was a big help for me."
"I think the tendency is with everybody in the NFL you have an initial move and a lot of times you get stuck," said Williams. "And you don't know where to go from there. And the things that he's been doing are teaching us how to have those answers if our initial move is neutralized."
By the close of the spring camps it was evident that the defensive linemen on Buffalo's roster had taken to Sanders as they saw improvement in their individual games.
"He's different," said Schobel. "He talks more about the position and the techniques and stuff where Bill (Kollar) was more of an effort guy. It's good. You change philosophies from one guy to another, but you still remember what the other guy told you. I remember what Bill told me, but I'm still getting something out of what (Sanders) is telling me."
So the chances of seeing Buffalo's pass rush and overall line play improve look very promising as the team heads to training camp later this month. Sanders has brought a more technical approach to line play with his players and has them convinced it make them more effective on Sundays.
But Sanders isn't looking to be some kind of savior. He knows that it's the players that make plays. He's just trying to give them the tools to hold up their end on a defense that must work seamlessly as an entire 11-man unit.
"It's a team game and everything fits together so we know we need that good rush to help the coverage and need good coverage to help the rush," said Sanders. "I just hope to add another building block to the foundation that's already been laid."