|Bucs||Howard, O.J. TE||Signed/Draft Choice – Four-year contract (fifth-year option)|
|Chiefs||Ochi, Victor LB||Cut|
|Chiefs||Williams, Tourek LB||Signed/Unrest FA (from Chargers)|
|Colts||Williams, Frankie CB||Cut|
|Colts||Williams, Frankie CB||Taken off IR – undisclosed|
|Eagles||Evans, Jerod QB||Cut|
|Eagles||Walker, Charles DT||Cut|
|Eagles||Evans, Jerod QB||Taken off IR – undisclosed|
|Eagles||Walker, Charles DT||Taken off IR – undisclosed|
|Jaguars||Patmon, Tyler CB||Signed (from Panthers)|
|Jaguars||Dixon, Brian CB||Signed (from Cardinals)|
|Jaguars||Walters, Bryan WR||Placed on IR – undisclosed|
|Jets||Foxx, Deshon WR||Re-signed|
|Jets||Smith, Devin WR||Placed on IR – undisclosed|
|Jets||Smith, Devin WR||Cut|
|Patriots||White, DeAndrew WR||Signed|
|Rams||Miller, Kwayde T||Cut|
|Rams||Bryant, Omarius DE||Signed (from Ravens)|
|Rams||Jefferson, A.J. DT||Signed|
|Rams||Wright, Dravious CB||Reserve/DNR|
|Rams||Wright, Dravious CB||Cut|
|Saints||Hightower, Forrest CB||Cut|
|Saints||Harris, Bryce T||Signed (from Dolphins)|
|Steelers||Dobbs, Joshua QB||Signed/Draft Choice – Four-year contract (through 2020)|
According to multiple sources, free agent linebacker Gerald Hodges is visiting One Bills Drive today. He has made several visits this offseason, and still has visits lined up after today. His services are a commodity, and when you turn on the eye in the sky, you can certainly understand why.
Hodges is a balanced linebacker. He isn’t a top end athlete, as he possesses just average speed and below average explosiveness, but he shows some very good lateral agility and good balance. His lateral agility is one of my favorite traits, specifically versus the run. He has the ability to shuffle, cover enough ground to keep extremely good leverage on the running back, keep square shoulders, and plant and make the tackle.
Completely zoned in on the runner/ball
Keep in mind that in San Francisco, he played Will linebacker in a 3-4 defense. In Buffalo, he would more than likely be playing Will in a 4-3. Of course, with different schemes comes different assignments, but the outside linebacker assignments in the Bills’ defense should play to his strengths. He has awareness versus the run. He quickly reads gap and zone runs equally and inserts himself into those gaps. A technique that McDermott and Frazier teach at the linebacker position is the spill technique. As the run develops, the play side linebackers are asked to insert into their gaps and spill/force the running back wide. Hodges executes perfectly versus New England.
Notice the helmet placement is always in his gap. On the first play, the run is attacking the defense to the weak side. He inserts and allows the Mike to flow over the top for the tackle. On the second play, he is aligned to the strength and immediately inserts and is able to fight through the block and assist on the tackle.
As far as his position, based on the skill he possesses and the LB unit, I think he plays Will. However, the Sam and Will do move and are interchangeable, to an extent. For example, in a defense like Buffalo is going to run, you will see a lot of 4-3 under looks. The 4-3 under looks like this, and you can expect Hodges to run as the Will. That is, off the ball, where he excels. He would struggle at Sam here because he doesn’t have the length or stacking ability at the point of attack.
During certain game plans he can play Sam, but he will have to be stacked or covered. That is possible in a 4-3 over front, something that McDermott loves to run. Here, you see Davis, who was primarily a Will LB stacked behind two defensive lineman, as it allows him to stay clean and make plays on the ball if the ball were to come downhill at him.
Here is a similar look by the Niners last season, but from an odd front. Watch how Brooks spills the play to Hodges. He gets downhill and knows the gap he must occupy, but manages to use his short area quickness to cut inside the block to make the tackle.
I watched four games of Hodges 2016, and I came away surprised at how well he played versus the run. I always believed that he was purely a coverage guy, but if put in the proper scheme and position, then he is well above serviceable against the run. Keep him clean and he can make plays. He had the 13th highest run stop percentage for inside linebackers last season, including 29 run stops, and only missed 5 tackles against the run.
3-4 under, Hodges aligned as the WILL.
Hodges has only averaged 54% of the snaps in his career, so you know that he does have some limitations. Last season, he was subbed out on third downs. Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini liked to run a lot of three safety looks, so Hodges was usually brought out of the game. However, it was also because Mangini liked to play a lot of man coverage on those downs. He had three good safeties to do so. Typically, safety Eric Reid would be inserted and asked to play versus running backs and tight ends in man coverage. Man coverage is not one of Hodges’ strengths.
Play action gets the best of him here
As a three down LB, usually the Will LB is aligned to either the field or the passing strength. On the first play below, he is aligned away from the passing strength AND into the boundary, and you can see he struggles to cover the receiver and actually trips the player. On the second play versus the Cardinals, he is aligned to the passing strength AND to the field. He is in man coverage and struggles to open up his hips, and it allows the tight end, Jermaine Gresham to separate. On the final play against New England, he is matched up with RB Dion Lewis on the backside of a 3×1 formation, a role that Will LBs often play. I actually love how he meets the running back and utilizes the hover technique of firing his feet, but when Lewis commits inside, Hodges disrupts the back but can’t explode with him. He doesn’t have the type of feet, change of direction, or explosion to match up with those kinds of players.
The following three plays occurred on 1st or 2nd and 10
His struggles in man coverage can be minimized by scheme, and luckily for him, the Bills are apparently going to play a scheme that Hodges could flourish in. We can expect more zone coverage in 2017, which is a long way from Rex Ryan’s defense. In 2016, he was only targeted 24 times, allowing 18 receptions for 179 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
As a zone defender, he is very good at restricting early pass options and at recognizing threats that may enter his zone. On the first play, the Niners drop into what appears to be cover 3 match and Brady wants to hit the crosser, but the quick downhill reaction by Hodges changes Brady’s mind. A similar thing happens on the second play. Watch how as the ball is snapped, Hodges finds Bennett.
Stopping crossers will be a TREMENDOUS asset to the Bills’ defense. Shutting down the middle of the field, I’m sure, is a priority, especially if they want to beat the Patriots.
He is very good as a hook to curl linebacker. He knows when to expand horizontally to restrict passing lanes, or bring the receiver down to limit YAC.
His spatial and zone awareness overall is really good, and that is why he was drafted by Frazier in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. Look at how he flows in the direction of the play, finds Cooks who is trying to sneak underneath, and takes away a possible TD.
Potential Bills Fit:
Linebacker Gerald Hodges is no doubt a fit in the new Buffalo Bills’ defense. He is a linebacker that is much better versus the run than most people realize. He uses his mental processing skills and leverage to get his body into a position at the point of attack to spill plays to his teammates or to make a play himself. He uses very good lateral agility to shuffle down the line of scrimmage, track the ball, and fill versus runs away from him. If kept clean, which will probably be the case behind Buffalo’s defensive line, he can be a tackle machine.
Versus the pass, he does have limitations. He isn’t the athlete that Zach Brown was, so he can’t be asked to carry out the same responsibilities. What he lacks in athleticism, which is exposed in man coverage, he makes up for with zone eyes and awareness. He displays the ability to read the QB, find zone threats, and take away options from the QB. For a defense that is attempting to switch to a more zone based scheme, I think that he is the perfect fit.
People want to compare him to Preston Brown because he played both the Sam and Will for Jim Schwartz in 2014. That scheme uses a lot of similar techniques and concepts to what McDermott runs, so the comparison makes sense. What most aren’t factoring in, is that Brown is in the last year of his deal. He may have to play Mike until Ragland is healthy. When both of these players were in a 4-3 defense, Hodges was the more consistent player AND has more skills that fit the current scheme.
Each graded around the same versus the pass, but after watching film on the both of them, I think Hodges is a much better zone defender. He has the ability to find threats, click, and close. Both linebackers struggle in man coverage, and that’s why the Bills used Nigel Bradham in those matchups or game situations in 2014, relegating Brown to play the ‘rat in the hole’ role quite often.
Hodges produced comparable numbers to Brown in 2014 with half of the snaps.
With all of that factored in, in my opinion, Hodges is a much better fit, and the Bills should make a push to sign him.
Head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have fostered an environment of competition. It doesn’t matter what position you play or what name is on the back of your jersey; the staff created an environment that promotes competition.
One of the biggest competitions that will unfold is at the linebacker position. It is a unit that has so many different types of players: young, old, experienced, and even a share of rookies. Carl Bradford, a former fourth round pick of the Green Bay Packers, was a player the Bills signed to compete.
He isn’t a player that I think offers much upside or even legit competition to start, but crazier things have happened. Bradford entered the league in 2014, but he has only appeared in 33 regular season snaps, all of which came last season. According to Pro Football Focus, he was 5th in run stop percentage amongst inside linebackers last preseason.
He is a former hybrid player from Arizona State, a guy that had a very productive career.
He often lined up as a defensive end, but in certain blitz packages he was in a two point stance and showed very good change of direction on stunts and games.
But his physical limitations are significant: 30 1/4 inch arms and lack of a pass rush arsenal led to Green Bay shifting him to weak inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. From all accounts, he struggled, which is saying a lot, because the inside backer positions have long been a position of weakness in Packer country.
He plays very well versus the run, and mainly versus outside runs because they give him the best opportunity to avoid blocks or to be uncovered altogether. On this play from preseason, the safety spills the play and Bradford waits for the back to commit. He maintains good leverage, breaks down, and makes the tackle.
He isn’t the most athletic linebacker; he doesn’t offer top end speed or change of direction skills, but what he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with leverage. He rarely takes bad angles to the ball and sizes up the running backs pretty well. These kinds of traits are useful in 4-3 defenses, and especially one gap defenses. Leveraging gaps along with the ball is numero uno.
When asked to blitz from his linebacker position, he can flash some explosiveness. Overall, his explosiveness is average, but if put on or near the line of scrimmage and if schemed up properly, he does offer some pass rush ability. This blitz is a run blitz where he recognizes the down blocks. The right guard is pulling, so he fires his gun, gets downhill and takes out the guard and the tight end, and manages to bring the back down.
At the point of attack, he is average. He often processes too slowly, and if one-on-one with an offensive lineman, he just doesn’t possess the physical toughness to disengage. To a certain extent, this can be minimized by scheme or by having a strong defensive line in front of him; 3-4 defensive lines aren’t conducive to keeping inside backers clean.
In pass coverage, you don’t want him matched up with a modern running back. Bradford will have trouble running with those types of players. But as a zone backer, he can continue to use his angles and tackling to minimize big plays. He reminds me a lot of Preston Brown, primarily with his movement skills and what he does at the tackle point. When Bradford gets a chance to square up players, he delivers a nice thud on contact.
The following play was his best play of 2016, albeit in preseason. But he shows his zone coverage abilities by dropping to his landmark. He squeezes the tight end and recognizes the crosser entering his area, so he gets downhill and lays the running back out.
Potential Bills Fit:
This is hard to determine purely based on film, but taking into account the current linebackers on the roster and Bradford’s skills, I only see him working at Will and/or Sam linebacker, but ONLY in certain situations. In this scheme, they are often interchangeable. Of course, I believe his role is as a backup and special teamer, not a starter on defense. I don’t believe he has the take on/hand usage skills needed to play Sam linebacker in 4-3 under fronts. The Sam in 4-3 under is a position that often travels with the tight end, typically to the strength of the formation, and aligns on the line of scrimmage. In 4-3 over looks, I believe that he could be kept clean, allowing him to make plays in the run game and to keep most plays in the passing game in front of him.
In my opinion, he is a much better fit at outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, especially a zone based defense. He’d be best in the type of scheme that doesn’t rely on linebackers to chase tight ends and running backs all over the field. With that said, the chances of Bradford making the squad are pretty slim. The Bills invested two draft picks at linebacker and they are guys that are much more versatile than Bradford and also offer special teams abilities. This competition will be one to watch come minicamp.
We experienced some technical issues but were able to work through them. We apologize and will work out the kinks for our next episode.
- Thoughts about completed staff
- Discuss OTAs:
- Rick Dennison
- Rico Tyrod right fit or not
- Run game carryover
- Offensive philosophy
- Players audio
- TT-RBs in passing game
- TT-‘Next level’-QB keepers
- Leslie Frasier
- Hyde’s versatility
- Answer questions
If the Bills want to be successful in 2017, they will need big years from Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins.
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|Bears||Shaheen, Adam TE||Signed/Draft Choice – Four-year contract (through 2020)|
|Bills||Dawkins, Dion T||Signed/Draft Choice – Four-year contract (through 2020)|
|Browns||Garrett, Myles DE||Signed/Draft Choice – Four-year contract (fifth-year option)|
|Browns||Barker, Chris G||Acquired from Waiver (from Patriots)|
|Browns||Wright, Gabe DT||Cut|
|Browns||Brantley, Caleb DT||Signed/Draft Choice – Four-year contract (through 2020)|
|Buccaneers||Fitzpatrick, Ryan QB||Signed/Unrest FA (from Jets) – One-year contract (through 2017)|
|Colts||Basham, Tarell DE||Signed/Draft Choice – Four-year contract (through 2020)|
|Giants||Bisnowaty, Adam T||Signed/Draft Choice – Four-year contract (through 2017)|
|Packers||Jones, Josh S||Signed/Draft Choice – Four-year contract (through 2020)|
As everyone knows, the NFL is a passing league. That’s why there aren’t many fullbacks left in today’s game. According to Football Outsiders (FO), only six fullbacks played over 25% of their teams’ offensive snaps in 2016. Former lead back for Buffalo, Jerome Felton, was one of those six, having participated in 30.5% of the team’s offensive snaps. He truly made a difference for Buffalo’s #1 rushing attack and really seized his opportunity after being cut early in the season.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 7, 2016
The problem with Felton was that he is cut from the same cloth as fullbacks of yore: downhill thumpers who use power and contact to clear holes for backs. But the role of fullbacks in today’s game has advanced. Enter Patrick DiMarco.
Buffalo signed the talented fullback early on in free agency, and it was a sign that Buffalo was not going to change their offensive philosophy. Rather, they were just going to tweak it. As much as Felton brought in the run game, he was not a player that could be relied upon to block moving defenders in the open field or make a difference in the passing game like DiMarco.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he was the fourth highest graded fullback overall, first in run blocking, and the third highest graded receiver out of the backfield (FBs with over 100 receiving snaps). DiMarco is one of the best fullbacks in the game, and it’s because he offers more athleticism and versatility than what we’re used to.
Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is used to having fullbacks who bring that style of play. In Dennison’s zone blocking scheme, the fullback isn’t asked to just get downhill and put a helmet on a helmet. DiMarco, who played in the same exact system in Atlanta, is asked to move a lot pre-snap to outflank defenses and use angles to seal off defenders.
In zone blocking, simply put, the lineman are working combo blocks to the second level in the direction of the run. This moves gaps horizontally, in turn testing defenders’ run gap integrity.
This is a far cry from a power run game where the tailback has a specific landmark to aim for (e.g. the 4 or 6 hole). DiMarco is asked to lead, read the flow of the linebackers, and use angles to block defenders, all while keeping options open for the running back. This is something that he is very adept at doing.
As you will see in the following clips, DiMarco utilized his athleticism to get out into the open and cut defenders down, which opened up creases for Devonta Freeman. The one cut ability of Freeman and Tevin Coleman, paired with DiMarco’s ability to create lanes for backs at the second level, led to the league’s 5th best rushing attack.
Did you notice anything in the prior two clips? They were runs to the weak side. Why is that important? It’s the cornerstone to the play action passing game that has made this system famous. Matt Ryan ran play action 27.6% (#1) of his passing snaps in 2016, and a lot of those passes were off of run actions like these. The zone run game helped Ryan increase his yards per attempt by +2.8 yards on play action vs. normal drop back passes. The defense is going to have one hell of a time defending these zone runs with Shady and Tyrod Taylor at the helm . . . but that’s an analysis for another day.
Let’s get back on track. As I mentioned earlier, Dennison is used to having a fullback with similar skills to DiMarco. Here’s a clip from Rico’s tenure in Baltimore when he had FB Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk uses angles to take Kuechly where he wants to go, giving RB Justin Forsett the ability to cut it back. How important is the role of DiMarco and Juszczyk? Juszczyk hit the jackpot by signing a 21 million dollar deal in San Francisco with new Head Coach Kyle Shanahan . . .
I don’t want to sell DiMarco short. Yes, he uses his speed, angles, and ability to target, but can he lead with power at the point of attack? Absolutely. He can dominate safeties and linebackers, which is often a difficult task to carry out, due to those types of players’ athletic prowess.
Having a guy like DiMarco on the field also helps dictate matchups. Yes, I said it; a fullback helps dictate matchups. This occurs in the run and the pass game. In the run game, DiMarco’s movement often helps the offense outflank a defense or gives blockers angles to execute.
For example, on the following play, DiMarco aligns in the backfield. In this 21 personnel set, the defense will have eight to nine people in or around the line of scrimmage, but more importantly, they will have a sound defensive structure.
As he motions out wide, the defenders bump out, which lightens the box to around seven/eight, but more importantly, the defense loses a linebacker in the tackle box. This is because by motioning wide, the offense is creating another run gap that the defense must account for.
This creates a HUGE bubble for the offense, and Shanahan attacks with inside zone.
This was all set up from a little movement by DiMarco. When used correctly, it is like poetry in motion. Watch it unfold.
Atlanta used him EVERYWHERE. There were times where he was split wide in empty sets, in the slot in 3×1 sets, and even as the lone back in the backfield with check release responsibilities.
A staple of this offense is by aligning the fullback out wide then motioning him to the backfield. The Falcons do just that to help Ryan decipher that it is zone coverage, so he puts them in the correct play. Post snap, he sells the run, which holds the second level defenders. He finds the single high safety, alerting him that it is zone coverage, and he is able complete the dig to Jones. That motion by DiMarco seems minor, but it makes plays like this much easier on a QB. Deciphering coverages is more than half the battle with Tyrod Taylor.
Fullbacks like Juszczyk and DiMarco are legitimate receiving threats because they are able to release into routes from the backfield. DiMarco was in a passing route 34% of his snaps in 2016, compared to Felton’s 15.5%. The ability to catch and run by a fullback allows coaches to devise ways to not only get them the ball . . .
But it can also open up passing windows for others. On the following play, the Steelers are in a cover three defense, and Juszczyk runs the wheel up the sideline. This forces Polamalu to carry him deep. This leaves a nice window for WR Steve Smith to run a pivot route. So coordinators can devise ways to get 2-3 guys into a route, all while being in 21 personnel (which will keep defenses in base personnel).
Flashback to 2016. Ryan carries out the play fake that forces the cover 2 middle defender to come screaming towards the line of scrimmage. DiMarco releases into the flat, and that widens the hook/curl defender just enough to open a gaping window for the receiver to hook up his route. This is another example of the Falcons running a three man route from 21 personnel.
DiMarco’s presence will allow the offense to maintain it’s run first philosophy, but ultimately, he will augment the passing game. Dennison will move DiMarco around and use a lot of pre snap motion to outflank defensive run fits, but also to dictate coverages.
Dennison’s wide zone runs to Shady, in addition to play action and getting Taylor on the perimeter versus zone coverage, will be tough to stop. Taylor will have not only his physical skills to rely on, but also a scheme that puts him and others in position to be more efficient. This isn’t just a boom or bust offense, but rather an offense that can stretch zone coverage horizontally, not just vertically.
So, for as much flak as the Bills took for signing fullbacks Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert, their skills will be crucial to what Dennison can do in his first year coordinating an offense.
Don’t forget to tune into Cover 1 | Live Sunday May 21, 2017