In February, Bills head strength and conditioning coach Eric Ciano and his staff attended the NFL Scouting Combine where strength coaches from all 32 NFL teams gather in Indianapolis. This year's combine was unlike any other as Ciano earned special recognition from his peers.
The 11-year NFL strength coach was voted the head strength coach of the year by The Professional Football Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. The award is a first for Ciano and his staff. If you asked Bills players and coaches, many wouldn't be surprised by this honor. The strength staff is considered as the backbone of the team by many.
"The two things that I think Ciano does the best is number one he brings people together and it motivates everyone to accomplish goals during the season," defensive lineman Harrison Phillips explained. "Number two, he hires a fantastic group of supporting staff who go above and beyond."
Phillips, who was recovering from a torn ACL last season, spent a bulk of his time rehabbing with the athletic training and strength staff. For him, it's easy to see why the group is vital to the team.
Ciano would be the first to tell you the award isn't a reflection of just his work. It's everyone who has poured into the strength and conditioning department at One Bills Drive. It's the countless hours his staff puts in on a weekly basis, the relationship with the training and performance science staff where the three work as one, Terry and Kim Pegula's efforts to help create a new facility that rivals any in the NFL and the support from the coaching staff, including general manager Brandon Beane.
"To be voted that amongst your peers is special," said Ciano. "I would give all the credit to my staff — Hal Luther, Will Greenberg, Jason Oszvart. Without those guys I would never have been able to do all the things that we do. I have been really fortunate too with coach McDermott and Brandon Beane for believing in the right kind of people in the organization — from coaches, that makes a big difference for us to Kim and Terry Pegula for giving us all the resources we need to have to be successful."
With the facelift the ADPRO Sports Training Center received last year, many players say the new complex has helped set a new tone amongst the team and made a difference in the results they see.
"I'm very happy with everything that Ciano and his staff decided to do in there to make sure that we have the best equipment available," Phillips said. "With this whole quarantine, regardless of my health future, it's hard for me not to be there training. Having those guys in there and the ability to do all the exercises you need in there, makes it really hard not to want to stay there year round."
In addition to the resources, the strength team believes they are successful because of their relationships.
"I think the biggest thing we have is a great staff that communicates well," Ciano explained. "Also the players, they buy in and trust what we do. I think that's the biggest thing. The guys believe in what we do in the weight room, so they work really hard at it. That's probably the biggest part of our success."
Bills corner Levi Wallace respects and admires Ciano and staff because of how they approach and tailor workouts to every player — focusing on strength but keeping in mind past injuries and injury prevention.
"He has an individual plan for everyone," explained Wallace. "I feel like some strength coaches just give a generic basis of what everyone should be doing and we go in our folders and everyone's tailored different as far as their strengths and what they need to improve on. I think he's great in that aspect. And then, he just doesn't forget. He continuously checks up on you."
The health of the Bills roster in 2019 was something that didn't go unnoticed as Buffalo used only 57 players during the season, the least in the NFL. Ciano says being healthy in-season began long before offseason workouts started.
"I think there's a lot of things that tie into that," Ciano said. "I think it's our players staying strong throughout the entire season, coming into camp prepared and in shape. I think coach McDermott does a great job with scheduling, how we set-up practice periods, those kind of things. I think from our screening process and our individualized workouts for players, I think those are big things as well."
Scroll through to see the top photos of the Buffalo Bills working out during Week 12 of the 2019 regular season. Bills weight room photos are presented by Crunch Fitness.
"Even before the season started we felt that it was going to be a great season and Ciano stressed that longevity was most important," Wallace said. "Just being available to play. They do a great job as far as communicating and fitting our needs with what we need to accomplish."
That health factored into a season that included 10 wins and playoff appearance. The outcome was a step in the right direction but not good enough for a hungry team. That unsatisfied taste that many players still have will be present in the weight room for offseason workouts — one of the first places the team meets together to begin preparation for the upcoming season.
"Everybody has a piece of the puzzle and everybody has to work together to be successful," Ciano said.
"It makes our lives a lot easier if everybody can work together and be on the same page. I think that's the most important part. Players know too that we all speak the same language, we all preach the same things. All the same things are important to all of us so you know that it's not people pulling apart."
Ciano and his staff will be there ready to help lay the foundation for the 2020 season. The mindset, the work ethic, the goal-setting begins with weights in hand, pushing together to make it where Buffalo hasn't been in years.
Scroll through to see photos of the Buffalo Bills working out during the third week of the 2019 regular season. Bills weight room photos are presented by Crunch Fitness.