On Monday, Bills head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane participated in the first day of the annual NFL Owners Meetings in Phoeniz, AZ. While Beane and McDermott will be among fellow coaches, general managers and owners discussing the league changes for upcoming NFL seasons, McDermott took time to speak with the media about the current state of the Bills.
Here are the top three things we learned from the head coach.
1. McDermott to call defensive plays next season
Since it was announced that Leslie Frazier would be taking a year off from coaching, the Bills have explored both internal and external options to fill the vacant defensive coordinator position. After going through the process of determining what was best for the team, a decision was made and head coach Sean McDermott announced on Monday that he will call defensive plays next season.
"Taking it from the time that Leslie took the year off to now, I think we've been working well together, and I'm very encouraged by that," McDermott said. "We've got coaches on staff. As I mentioned before, not going to go outside to fill that role. It's heading towards me, and really at this point, I'm going to be the play caller. But at the same time, have tons of confidence in the guys that we have around me that if I need to toss it to them from time to time, I can do that."
Having been the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers and the Philadelphia Eagles before he became the Bills head coach in 2017, McDermott shared that taking on the defensive play caller responsibilities on game days is something he's comfortable with.
McDermott said he anticipates doing pretty much everything else that falls under his head coaching responsibilities in addition to his new role of calling the defensive plays. And while it'll be an adjustment balancing both roles next season, he's confident in the Bills coaching staff to help make the necessary adjustments to make for a smooth adjustment.
"I think that the key here is I've got a really good staff around me that will allow me to," McDermott said. "Even going back to the decision, it allowed me to even think that that was possible, it was because of the staff that I have around me. If you don't have that type of staff, then it could go in a lot of different directions. So, we're just going to take it one day at a time. That's where we're at right now. And look if we come to a deal and it's like, 'hey, this isn't working because of the breadth of the job in addition to the coordinator piece,' then I'll turn it over."
The head coach repeatedly preached the respect he has for Coach Frazier and for all the work he put into the defense over the past six years. A focal point of how Frazier called plays was his philosophy in doing so and when asked if anything would change philosophically with the calls next season, the head coach said, 'we'll see.'
"I think everyone has just slightly their own way of their own signature if you will," McDermott said. "And I learned years ago, even working for Ron Rivera, defensive coach — I was a defensive coordinator — unless you really do it yourself, it's never going to be exactly the same. So that's an impossible thing to blueprint exactly the way this person would do it. We're all a little bit different and that's what comes through in the play and sometimes that's good from time to time."
2. Recovery updates on Von Miller and Damar Hamlin
When GM Brandon Beane spoke to the media last week about recent free agent signings, he also provided an update on S Damar Hamlin. Beane said Hamlin has every intent to return to play, and the Bills will continue to work and support him through the process.
On Monday, McDermott reemphasized that the team is continuing to support Hamlin in all aspects of his life whether that pertains to football or not.
"Trying to assist anywhere we can, not just football wise, but everything that goes into just him and his life," McDermott. "And just because he came through that situation doesn't mean we stop with the support. So, we're hopeful that he plays, but at the end of the day, that's a decision that he's going to make, but we support him whether he decides to play or not."
The team will continue to work and communicate with Hamlin's doctors as he works towards receiving clearance to return to action.
"He's got other people that are — that's he's going through this process, and we just try and support from the back or the side if we need to," McDermott said. "But we're just praying for him and hopeful that everything turns out okay."
The head coach also addressed LB Von Miller, who is in the process of recovering from his ACL injury that he suffered in Week 12 against the Detroit Lions. From the reports he's received, McDermott said that the star pass rusher's recovery is on schedule.
"Von has been a great addition to our team" McDermott said. "To have a player go down with a major injury that he had and that type of injury, and then to stick around the team I think says a lot about who he is as a person, who he is as a teammate, which is off the charts, right. And then you talk about the piece that he's working on, which is getting healthy to play and play well on the field. That's a whole other piece and to this point, it sounds like he's on schedule."
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3. How the free agent signings fit into the roster
Since the start of the Free Agency period, the Bills have added depth at various positions up and down the roster by filling vacancies following the departure of players who landed on new teams. McDermott addressed where he sees those new additions and familiar faces fitting into the 2023 roster.
Former Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds found a new home in Chicago on the opening day of free agency. Edmunds took on the middle linebacker position when he lined up on the Bills defensive line, which is now a position that needs to be filled. McDermott said that Tyrel Dodson, Baylon Spector, and Terrel Bernad are in the running to fill that role.
"We owe it to those guys," McDermott said. "And certainly happy for Tremaine. We'll miss him. Never replace a player like Tremaine, but it's great to see a young man work hard, be drafted by us, work hard … And for the guys that we have at the middle linebacker position, they deserve a shot. Our guys that are in the locker room deserve a shot and we'll see where it goes."
Being the center of the defense, McDermott explained how the middle linebacker is a big leadership piece to the defense that entails a lot of communication and a lot of leading by example throughout the entirety of the season.
"It's a unique position because of the load that comes with it, the responsibility. Not just making your own plays but getting us lined up, knowing how we want to look defensively, the philosophical approach," McDermott said. "There's a lot that goes into it. It's a lot for a young player, but there's also a first time for everyone. So, I'm excited to see those guys. We'll take it one day at a time here, but we'll see how that whole thing unfolds. And it'll be an open competition, and we'll see where it goes."
While there was a question mark surrounding a potential open spot at the safety position, the Bills erased that by re-signing Jordan Poyer. In doing so, they reunited the safety tandem of Poyer and Micah Hyde, and McDermott is happy to have those two in their backfield next season after last season didn't consist much of that.
"They have so much pride in their team within the team, the two of those guys," McDermott said. "And to see what happened last year, as you saw, it was kind of — after really the second game — it really wasn't anymore. And then Jordan was fighting every week to get out there with the injuries and whatnot. So that was a struggle last year. But now, I think those two are chomping at the bit to get back together, have a great offseason, be around the team and lead. And it's hard to lead as much when you're not out there, so it'll be good to have him out there."
An offseason question that hasn't gone away regarding this position is whether or not Christian Benford will move over to safety or stay at cornerback.
"We'll see," McDermott said. "Again, I think it'll be an important spring for Christian that we get them out there in the right position in order to evaluate how it offsets our roster. So, there are still moves to be made roster-wise and we'll see how all that fills in, and then we're Christian goes beyond that."
After RB Devin Singletary signed with the Houston Texans, Beane was in search of a running back to fill that spot. So last Tuesday, the Bills signed former Patriots RB Damien Harris to a one-year deal.
"I think that was a good pickup for us," McDermott said. "Obviously, sad to see Devin move on, but what a great young man he is, and super happy for him and his family. And so, we'll see how it goes. And feel good about Nyheim (Hines) and James (Cook) all the while and we'll see where that goes as well."
After watching Harris on the field from the opposing sideline for a few years, McDermott loved the combination of his speed, size, and power.
"I think the biggest thing is the speed element," McDermott said. "We felt like we needed a slightly bigger back, but not a 250-pound cloud of dust type of guy. So, to find a player with some size, with some power, but also has the speed elements that go along with it, I think that's hard to defend. Because not only can you run up inside, but you can get to the edge from time to time and an 8-yard run can go to 18 or 80. So, I think that element is dangerous and puts a little bit of fear into some defensive coordinators."
Former Bills QB Case Keenum is joining Singletary in Houston next season, which opened a QB spot on the Bills roster. Beane filled that with QB Josh Allen's good friend, Kyle Allen.
"Their relationship is very close, and I'm interested to watch it develop even more now being in the same meeting room where it's not all – it's business at times now too," McDermott said. "So, that'll probably grow their friendship even more. I think that'll be pretty exciting to watch."
While the Bills lost the veteran presence in the QB room, McDermott feels that Allen stepped into that role.
"Josh has now grown to the point where he's a veteran quarterback," McDermott said. "He's been through the highs and lows of the NFL for the most part, and now it affords you an opportunity to put a younger or entertain the thought of putting a younger player in the room with Josh and rightfully so. Josh knows the system now more than any other quarterback would know it. It's really his system at this point."
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