1 – McDermott earned his stripesAlthough nobody knows for sure what Sean McDermott will bring to the Bills, the 20th head coach in franchise history is receiving plenty of praise from those who have seen him work.
One of his most glowing reviewers was Carolina Panthers beat reporter Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer, a guest on the John Murphy Show Wednesday.
Person started covering the Carolina Panthers the year before McDermott was hired as defensive coordinator, and said that he has seen the 42-year-old develop in his six seasons in charge of Carolina's defense—especially in regards to his relationship with players.
"I can tell you that Sean knows when to pat guys on the back, but when they need some tough love," Person said. "He's not just going to say anything that he thinks players want to hear. I've seen him get into it with players, but I've seen him get with guys individually after wins and losses and have a heart to heart type of talk."
The Panthers defense struggled in 2016, starting two rookies at cornerback and playing without Luke Kuechly for six games, but otherwise McDermott has enjoyed immense success in Carolina. The Panther defense ranked in the top 10 in total yards allowed in four of those six seasons, and only gave up 15.1 points per game in 2013. Carolina'a ability to get to the quarterback and force turnovers was also a key reason why the team went 15-1 last season en route to the Super Bowl.
McDermott, who operates a 4-3 defense, comes from an impressive coaching tree. He has coached under Andy Reid, Jim Johnson and Ron Rivera. Due to that experience, Person feels that McDermott will hire a defensive coordinator that he trusts enough to call the plays and that also agrees with his defensive philosophy.
"From Jim Johnson we saw the aggressiveness, but when McDermott got here (to Carolina) we thought he'd be blitzing all the time the way Johnson did, but McDermott's ideal is to generate pass rush out of that base 4-3 defense without doing a lot of blitzing," Person said. "Play a lot of zone behind it, cover two in the secondary and it's been an effective scheme so far."
Person went on to tell the story about how McDermott turned down a wrestling scholarship at a big-name college to instead walk on and play safety at William & Mary. McDermott turned himself into an all-conference safety there, and then started his coaching career the year after he graduated. This is a microcosm to how McDermott is as a coach, according to Person.
"We hear grinder in this business a lot, but Sean McDermott is the ultimate grinder," Person said. "Everybody works hard in this business, but he's got the couch in his office and he's not afraid to sleep on it some nights in the middle of the season in his preparation.
2 – Coaching staff decisionsOne of McDermott's most pressing and important chores will be to put together a coaching staff. There has been much speculation in the media about McDermott's choices for offensive coordinator, but it is Buffalo's current wide receivers coach who has caught the attention of another NFL team.
Sanjay Lal, who has been with the Bills since Rex Ryan was named head coach in 2015, interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday for their vacant receiving coach position.
According to several reports, the Eagles have "strong interest" in the 47-year-old.
Of course, if Lal doesn't get the job in Philadelphia, the decision will ultimately rest in the hands of McDermott if he wants to retain Lal in Buffalo—something that would make at least one Bills wide receiver very happy.
"That's one guy that I don't want to see leave," Sammy Watkins said. "If he leaves I don't know how my mindset would be. That's the guy who groomed me into running routes and doing everything the right way. My mentality, the mental and the physical and if he leaves that'll hurt. That's the guy who helped this whole (receiver) group form a mentality into how to be professionals. He gave us the whole script of off the field, on the field and it's helping this wide receiver group and helping the players. If he leaves it'll hurt."
Prior to his two years with the Bills, Lal was wide receivers coach with the Jets from 2012-14 and with the Raiders from 2009-11. Before that, he was an assistant receivers/quality control coach with the Raiders.
3 – Bills O-line ranks 11thWhile there are many question marks that McDermott is going to have to address on Buffalo's roster, one position he should feel fairly comfortable with is the offensive line.
That unit was slotted 11th on Pro Football Focus' rankings of all 32 NFL offensive lines for the 2016 season. PFF had the Bills 10th in their preseason rankings, and despite various injuries along the line, they were one of Buffalo's most reliable units.
While the Bills did allow the fourth-most sacks in the NFL with 46, they spearheaded the league's best rushing attack. Buffalo was first in rushing yards, rushing yards per play, and rushing touchdowns. The Bills finished with 2,630 rushing yards, which was their highest in a season since 1975.
PFF gave most of their acclaim to the left side of Buffalo's offensive line.
"LT Cordy Glenn allowed only one sack in 397 pass-blocking snaps before injury sidelined him, and Cyrus Kouandjio surrendering only one sack as his replacement. LG Richie Incognito was again the best player on this line, run blocking and pass blocking well over the year, backing up his strong performance from a season ago with another excellent campaign."
Incognito was given the top pass-blocking and top run-blocking grade and had the fifth-highest grade for left guards in the league. He was named an alternate for the 2017 Pro Bowl.
The Bills also showed that they had ample depth on the line. In addition to Kouandijo starting five games for Glenn, Ryan Groy got the nod at center for Buffalo's final seven games of the season after Eric Wood was sidelined with a broken leg. The Bills offense didn't miss a beat with Groy, going over 100 yards rushing in five of those seven games.
One area of weakness that McDermott and his future offensive line coach will have to address is Buffalo's right tackle position. The Bills have tried various players in recent years, and Jordan Mills surrendered eight sacks and 57 quarterback pressures in 2016, which was fourth-most of any tackle in the league.