Linebacker A.J. Klein and tackle Cody Ford met with the media over Zoom on Wednesday to discuss their thoughts on the Bills culture, position chemistry and more. Here are six things we learned from them.
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1. Why A.J. Klein chose Buffalo
The former Carolina linebacker A.J. Klein jumped at the opportunity to sign with the Bills in March due to a chance to reunite with his former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and a sense that Buffalo is talented enough to make a deep run in the playoffs.
"Familiarity, knowing Beane and knowing coach McDermott," Klein said. "And obviously some of the guys that I've played with over the years are starting to come here as well. This is a young team that's eager to win and on the cusp of something great. I've been very fortunate in my career thus far to be a part of Carolina and the Saints. Being in winning programs, around winning organizations, and I see that here. I see the potential for a championship and I definitely want to cap off my career with a championship before I retire."
Klein played in McDermott's defense in Carolina from 2013 to 2016. The linebacker is one of four defensive players that have ties to McDermott and have chosen to play for him again. Klein explained this isn't by mistake, once you've played in his system there's a pull to come back to it if the opportunity arises.
"I think because we know how successful it can be," Klein said. "And I've been a part of that success when I was in Carolina. It's a system that once you learn it, it allows you to play fast and free. I just think it allows for great communication from the back seven, to the D-line, to the linebackers. It allows everybody to play fast together, and it works."
2. Klein wants to bring versatility, knowledge to defense
The eight-year vet, who most recently played with the Saints, wants to bring experience and knowledge to a room full of young linebackers. Klein is known for his versatility and thinks that can benefit the group knowing he'll play for a defense that welcomes positional flexibility.
"I would like to say I bring experience," Klein explained. "I've been around, this is going to be my eighth year playing. Familiarity with this defense, hopefully some knowledge to our linebacker room, but also versatility. I've been asked in the past to play all positions, special teams, all phases I'm looking to fit in wherever they see fit."
Klein is aware of hole left by Lorenzo Alexander's retirement from a leadership and skill perspective, but he is not worried about replacing Alexander. The vet is focused on being himself and letting his own skillset help the team.
"I'm myself," Klein said. "I've met Lorenzo [Alexander] from NFLPA meetings in the years past. I know the type of guy he is. I know he has come to talk to us in a few of our linebacker meetings over the offseason. I know he's a tremendous player, a tremendous man. I don't feel any pressure to fill any kind of hole, void or anything because I know who I am. I know who I am as a player, as a person. And I hope I just fit in with the group how I fit in. I'm not trying to fill his shoes."
3. Why the Bills have a winning culture
Klein explained there are several things that separate the Bills from other teams--whether it's the coaching staff or the culture, players believe Buffalo is doing it the right way. The most evident to Klein is how McDermott, Beane and the coaching staff find players who fit the DNA of the team and put them in an opportunity to succeed.
"It's not just about putting guys in the right position to win, it's the character of the guys that they have playing on this team," Klein said. "They go out and find guys in free agency, through the draft, guys that have high character and high standards for themselves. And I think that's part of the groundwork that's laid here with hard work, effort, having the correct attitude and being able to trust one another.
"Most of all I think the mutual respect for coaches, players - that's what creates a winning culture. You can have the best 11 players in the league on the team at the same time, pick any 11 that you want. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're having a successful team. I think it's deeper than just the X's and O's. It's deeper than just finding the best players at each position. It's coming together as a team, but to touch on as well as putting guys in the correct position. I think Beane, Sean [McDermott] and all the coaches together understand and know football. Their process of going out and finding guys in free agency, going out finding guys in the draft, they're looking for the correct pieces. I think we do have those correct pieces here, that'll allow us to be successful."
4. Ford: Whatever the team needs
Offensive lineman Cody Ford rotated through right tackle and right guard in his rookie year because of his experience and talent level at both positions. General manager Brandon Beane thinks Ford is a right tackle first, but will continue to see time at guard this year. Ford was asked if he had a preference between the two as he begins his second season in the league.
"My preference is to do whatever the team needs," Ford said. "I'm not going to sit here and pick and choose my position. The coaches are going to put the best five on the field and whoever they feel that is and whatever positions they think that everybody needs to play. They're going to make the ultimate decision it's not up to me at all."
Ford enjoys the opportunity to play both positions because it can only help down the road.
"Versatility is a big key in how you can play in a position at any level at any team," Ford said. "You don't want to limit yourself to just working on one position on one side. In the offseason is where you can work on the left side more than actually your right or you can have your left side work more on the right than if you are on the left. That way, if there's any incidents or whatever happens, you're ready to go."
5. How chemistry will help the offensive line this season
The Bills offensive line was looking forward to returning all five starters from last season this year, but Jon Feliciano's pectoral injury will leave an open spot on the line for a number of weeks. Ford said Feliciano will be missed on and off the field, but he believes the group's chemistry can propel them forward this season.
"Having all of us back early on was going to be a huge step in this year's success," Ford said. "We have a lot of good bonds and friendships that we built last year through the room. Jon [Feliciano] is a big part of that. He's a leader. He's got a bunch of experience. I know for me, last year, he helped my game a lot. Losing him is going to hurt a little bit, but you know we have a strong relationship in the room between everybody to where I don't think we'll miss a step or fall backwards in this case."
6. How Brian Winters has already impressed his teammates
The Bills signed veteran offensive guard Brian Winters about a week ago, and the eight-year vet has already made a lasting impression on his teammates. Ford said Winters started to lead right away. The group is looking forward to what they can learn from his experience.
"I think from the first day he's come in he hasn't tried to step on anybody's toes, which is a good thing," Ford explained. "He has come in and he's even trying to speak out a little bit as far as techniques and stuff. He's taking that leadership role, but now he's not overdoing it. He's coming in slow and when we're in practice there's certain things he knows about as far as techniques, like you said he's got a bunch of starts. So he's got a bunch of games in him. He's seen things that maybe even some of our older guys haven't even seen, so it's good to get some feedback from him."