NFL head coaches have a lot to establish when they come to a new team. In their first year with a new roster they quickly need to impress upon their players what principles will be most important for team success. Several players on Buffalo's roster only know about Chan Gailey's coaching style and approach by word of mouth from friends in the league that may have played for him in the past. Bills tight end Michael Matthews however, has first-hand experience.
Matthews, who signed with the club as a free agent last month, was part of Gailey's first recruiting class at Georgia Tech. He spent his entire college career under the Bills sideline boss. More importantly, he was there when Gailey was laying the foundation for the Yellow Jackets program. Though the pro game has its differences from the college one, Matthews isn't expecting his coach's plan to change.
Two of Gailey's main areas of emphasis are toughness and team. It's not surprising that toughness was what first came out of the head coach's mouth when he first addressed his younger players at the rookie minicamp almost two weeks ago.
"That is big with him, being physical, especially with the run game," said Matthews. "That is a big part of what he preaches. When we put pads on we'll crank out even more, but for now with OTAs coming up it'll be more about just being sound with our fundamentals. In the end that's what you lean on, especially at the end of the season, your fundamentals. When the pads go on the physical part will follow. It'll be emphasized."
Matthews knows about the priority Gailey and his staff place on being physical because he was largely a blocking tight end in his time at Tech and figures to fill a similar role in Buffalo.
"Our offensive coordinator and running backs coach Curtis Modkins, I worked with him a little bit when I spent some time playing some fullback in college," said Matthews. "(Offensive line ) coach (Joe) D'Allesandris he would grab me and work with me and stuff. He's intense. He's awesome. He's a great motivator. So I've worked with him too. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity."
Gailey is also adamant about the team being one collective group as often as possible. Evidence of that can be seen in Buffalo's locker room. In the past when the offseason roster consisted of 80 or more players, the locker room adjacent to the Bills Fieldhouse did not have enough locker space to accommodate everyone.
Previous coaching staffs would simply have college free agents and draft choices walk all the way back to the stadium locker room across the parking lot to change and shower after practices. That wasn't an option for Gailey.
He had lockers ordered to install in the Fieldhouse locker room so all players on the roster would be in one room, together.
"Keeping us all together is valuable," said Matthews. "It allows veterans to get in the ear of younger players a little bit. Whether they need to tell a rookie to pick it up or you might see a rookie that's really being hard on himself, and you can tell him that he's got time in the offseason and not to worry.
These draft picks, especially the higher drafted guys put a lot of pressure on themselves. From my experience they beat themselves up too much and that's good for them to be in here so the vets can talk to them because in the end they're going to have to help the team win."
When it comes to expectations, Gailey is no different than most NFL coaches according to Matthews.
"I do know what he expects, but these guys are pros in this locker room," said Matthews. "They know you've got to deliver and work hard and give it your all. That's pretty much what he wants. He wants you to come in and work hard and know your stuff. There's going to be no babysitting. That's his style and approach.
"You work hard for him and as long as you're successful and executing your assignments and doing what you're supposed to do he'll be happy with you. From my experience as long as you're performing and doing what you're supposed to do and staying out of trouble you're on his good side."
Having been an offensive player under Gailey for four years in college, Matthews believes much of what he experienced at Tech will continue with the Bills.
"Offensively I know that we're going to establish the run," he said. "That's very important in any offense, but that's one thing he's big on. Getting the ball downfield, I know he likes to do that some so the receivers will need to have their legs ready. He mixes it up well. I'm sure he might take a different approach in the league where guys are faster and stronger. So there might be some tweaks here and there."
After a few successful seasons with the Giants including a Super Bowl title, Matthews has had trouble sticking with one club. Following his release from the Giants, he had a brief stay in New England where blocking tight ends aren't exactly utilized all that often.
Matthews is hoping his knowledge of what Gailey likes and wants will help him in earning a roster spot. He was a fit for what Gailey wanted in college, and hopes to be again, though he knows nothing is guaranteed.
"I feel I fit into this kind of offense and he has some level of comfort with me and I have some comfort with him, but I'm not expecting anything," Matthews said. "I'm going to put forth my best effort and do whatever I can to help the team win. I'm a big time team player because I don't care about individual stats. So hopefully my best is good enough."