Player Evaluations

Player Evaluations

Camp Competition | LB Carl Bradford

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.

 

Inside the Playbook-Nickel Run Blitz

Cover 1 | Film Room: The Role of Safeties in Sean McDermott’s Defense

Sean McDermott’s Defensive Philosophy | Detail Oriented

 

 

 

 

Can a Fullback Jumpstart an Offense?

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.

 

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.

Who else is on the list???

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

Don’t Sweat the Technique | Tre’Davious White

The Buffalo Bills traded back and took cornerback Tre’Davious White at the end of the first round believing that his skills would immediately boost their production at the corner position. White was one of the most polished corners in the draft, but he just didn’t have the measureables or flash that people expect out of first round corners.

When you turn on the film, you begin to understand why he was so reliable at LSU. It was due to technique. His technique is refined, and that can be attributed to hard work and great coaching. The current LSU defensive backs coach is Corey Raymond. Raymond has been on the staff as a DB coach since 2012. Before him was a coach by the name of Ron Cooper (2009-2011), who is now the defensive backs coach at Texas A&M, but who served on the FIU staff as the defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator from 2015-2016.

Although Raymond will get most of the credit for tutoring White, a lot of the techniques taught were also taught when Cooper was there. What is even more interesting is that new Bills assistant defensive backs coach Bobby Babich crossed paths with Cooper while at FIU last season. Babich was the defensive backs coach for FIU, so he is well aware of the techniques Cooper taught in the following videos. Watch Cooper demonstrate his man coverage techniques, then watch White execute them in the following videos.

Motor-Mirror technique

White executing the Motor-Mirror technique

 

Outside release-Lean and press

 

WR’s Hips Drop

 

White executing the lean and press then breaks when the WR’s hips drop

 

Outside release-cutting off the route

 

White cutting off the outside/fade release

 

Shuffle drill

White executing the shuffle technique

 

As you can see, White really absorbed his coaching and executed the techniques consistently. These techniques are some that I am sure the Bills will utilize in 2017 to maximize his and the other defensive backs’ skills. Most Bills fans expect Leslie Frazier and Sean McDermott to predominantly play zone coverage, but based on the current roster, I believe that we will see more man/pattern matching coverage. White, Seymour, Darby, and the rest of the defensive backs should continue to improve their techniques under coach Gil Byrd and Bobby Babich this season.

Full Ron Cooper Video:

 

 

 

 

Andre Holmes Now A Buffalo Bill

Andre Holmes is 6’4”, 210 pounds and went undrafted out of Hillsdale College in 2011. Currently 28 year old, Holmes spent the past four years with the Raiders, playing a plethora of different roles. According to Pro Football Focus he has 106 career catches for 1,512 yards and 13 TDs. Last season, he had 18 catches for 126 yards and 4 touchdowns on just 28 targets.

Holmes’s role was reduced in 2016, due to the presence of Crabtree, Cooper, and Roberts. However, he was a budding star prior to the birth of Oakland’s offense, and still possesses great size.

Holmes was a huge part of the Oakland offense in 2014, recording 47 catches for 693 and 4 TDs. He played 735 out of 1060 snaps, as seen below. In 2013, he played 59.5% of snaps and recorded a very high 6.1 raw PFF grade. He graded out well all across the field, but especially in the screen game.

Holmes is durable. In fact, he has not missed any games over the last 3 years. This durability will be a boon for a Bills unit that faced a ton of injuries in 2016. Having an iron man should certainly help, and signing Holmes to the alleged 3 year offer would help lock him up during the prime of his career for very cheap.

As we can see here, Holmes dominates the middle of the field and is a solid receiver who can run tight routes and go up and contest DBs in traffic, which is a much needed trait for Tyrod Taylor. The Bills could have really benefited having him in 2016. In fact, it’s surprising Oakland didn’t look to trade him to needy teams like the Bills at the deadline. As we can see in the above charts, he has a 100+ QB rating when targeted in the middle or right side of the field.

Corey Brown and Andre Holmes would be a really good #3 and #4 tandem. They actually provide solid depth and receiving ability. In my opinion, though, the Bills should still look long and hard at Corey Davis at pick #10 to give them a solid #2 WR presence across from Sammy Watkins.

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Free Agent Signing: DL Ryan Davis

The Buffalo Bills have signed defensive lineman Ryan Davis to a two year contract. Davis has been in the league for five seasons and has spent most of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That was up until they cut him during final cuts prior to the 2016 season.

Davis signed with the Dallas Cowboys eleven days later and appeared in 155 total snaps during the 2016 season. He didn’t register a sack with Dallas, but he contributed 2 QB hits and 5 QB hurries.

According to Pro Football Focus, Davis has only appeared in 24.9% of his teams’ snaps, but has put together some decent pass rushing statistics. He has compiled 11 sacks, 16 QB hits, and 42 QB hurries, which equates to a QB pressure just about every 8 snaps in his career.

 

He is a bigger defensive player that fits new head coach Sean McDermott‘s and defensive coordinator Leslie Frasier’s typical defensive end mold now weighing 275 pounds.

Pro Football Focus graded Davis at 71.2 overall, including a 68.4 pass rush grade and a 70.4 run defense grade for the 2016 season.

 

But when you turn on the film, it becomes clear that his skills will be best utilized on pass rushing downs. The Bills will be able to line him up on the inside at 3 tech or 4i on obvious pass rushing downs. He has the quickness to win versus centers and guards. On this play, he beats the guard inside for the sack.

***The following plays will be in the video below***

 

He shows speed off the snap, an arm over move, and the athleticism to change direction for the sack.

 

Having a rotational player with his skill set will allow the Bills to have fresh legs when the defensive tackles and defensive ends need a blow or in sub packages, something McDermott loves to implement.

 

He displayed some very good pass rushing moves, including the swipe, double handed swipe, swim, arm over, rip, and bull rush. The consistency to win with those moves needs to improve, but he has shown the ability to counter offensive linemen. Having an initial move, then a counter for the offensive lineman’s technique is something not many role players possess.

 

Davis causes a strip sack versus the Colts on this play by chopping down on the LT’s left arm and swatting it outward to give him the edge.

 

He then rips through, en route to QB Hasselbeck.

 

Doug Whaley has always done a phenomenal job of picking up talent in free agency. That talent has paid off on the field, and I expect that Davis will be another player along those lines.

Ryan Davis’ career:

 

He has a skill set that should pay off in a defensive system that covets players with versatility along the line. With how the staff loves to move guys around, you can be sure Davis will see his fair share of the field.

 


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Tyrod Taylor’s 2016 Passing Campaign – Misinterpreted and Misused

 

 

Plenty of fans have placed Tyrod Taylor’s ability as an NFL quarterback under scrutiny. Certain assumptions, such as “Taylor is an inaccurate passer” and “his yards-after-catch average is poor” have been made. Many fans make these assumptions, but fail to recognize the context of the offense and understand what exactly Taylor was asked to execute. Passing offenses are typically tailored to maximize the talent of their offensive players. For example, Greg Roman’s offense was a power run scheme paired with a vertical ‘Air Coryell’ passing system. Roman, and then Lynn, wanted to maximize Taylor’s athletic ability. They focused on his elusiveness and mobility, both in the run game and the pass game. However, I question whether the structure of the offense was beneficial to its QB. Did it maximize Taylor’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses, while also helping him develop long term as a passer? Overall, was Tyrod Taylor placed in a position to be successful under Roman and Lynn? To find out, here at Cover 1 we charted every attempted throw from his 2016 campaign. This allowed us to analyze the Bills’ offense and recognize how it helped and hurt Taylor’s potential as a quarterback.

The chart we created accounts for every type of drop. This includes; 3-step, 5-step, 7-step, roll out, play action inside the pocket, and play action outside the pocket, as well as the screen game. The chart is also broken down further, distinguishing between snaps out of shotgun and those under center. This is important to note, because many of Taylor’s strengths and weaknesses are tied to these categories.

To make the chart easier to understand, let’s walk through some of the more important statistics and explain their significance.


Shotgun vs. Under Center

The Bills decided to go from shotgun a majority (88.2%) of the time this season. However, based on the film and charted statistics, this tendency appeared to hinder Tyrod Taylor as a passer. When Taylor was in shotgun his footwork took a huge hit. His drop was not as sound because he was already starting out 4 to 5 yards from the center. Poor footwork often leads to a poor throwing motion, which in turn leads to inaccurate passing.

 

 

Being under center gives a quarterback a sense of purpose — a checklist, if you will. The quarterback must go through his drop, hit his last step, then complete his reads in order to throw in rhythm. This is something that the shotgun cannot simulate. Roman’s offense wants its quarterback standing in the pocket and scanning the entire field. When no one is open, the quarterback is asked to extend the play with his feet. In theory, it makes perfect sense, but for Taylor, it often led to prematurely escaping the pocket. Mentally, Taylor processed this as him standing in the pocket for too long while waiting for routes to develop. If Taylor was under center, then he would have to complete everything in rhythm. He would need to go through his drop and process his progressions all at once. This would allow him to hit his last step on the drop and deliver the football on time. This would lead to cleaner mechanics from the hips down and a more compact, crisp delivery. Ultimately, this would culminate in more accurate passes.

Taylor’s passing accuracy percentage, yards per attempt, completion percentage, and quarterback rating were all significantly worse while he was in shotgun compared to under center. The difference in statistics between the two are not even close. These statistics show how valuable it is to have Taylor throwing from under center.

 


3-Step Drop – Quick Game

Statistics show Tyrod Taylor is a capable quick-game quarterback. On the season, Taylor completed roughly 65 percent of his throws and had an accuracy rating of 79.1 percent when throwing quick-game off of a 3-step drop. The Bills’ offense motioned 33 percent of the time while they had a quick-game concept play called. The quick game allowed Taylor to diagnose the defensive coverage pre-snap and find the correct receiver to throw the football to post-snap. The quick game is an effective way to pick up a decent amount of yards on early downs. Some of Taylor’s best passing games were when he was efficient in the 3-step passing game (See above chart).


7-Step Drops

One area in which Tyrod Taylor appeared to be a strong passer, both on tape and statistically, is 7-step drops. The 7-step drop allows for a quarterback to get a deep drop in the pocket. This has helped Taylor for a number of reasons. First, being that Taylor is a shorter quarterback, getting him further away from line of scrimmage allows him to see down the field more clearly. Secondly, a deeper drop allows for a receiver to gain better separation on a defender, thus allowing Taylor to find an open receiver down the field.

If a receiver is unable to get open, then it offers more options to run the ball for a mobile quarterback like Tyrod Taylor. The defense will drop into their zones deeper on the farther routes, opening up running lanes for him underneath.

Throughout the season, though, Taylor only attempted 44 7-step drop passes, accounting for just 10 percent of all his throws. Of these 44 attempts, Taylor completed 29 for 368 yards. At 8.4 yards per attempt, this is where Taylor made a good amount of his big plays. Once again, looking at Taylor’s top passing games, he played his best when he was effective in this passing category. During Taylor’s best three games, he threw for 147 yards on nine 7-step drop attempts, completing eight of them.

 


Screen Game

When a screen game is used properly, it can be a great way to nullify a strong pass rush and also move the football down the field. In 2016, the screen game for the Buffalo Bills was virtually non existent. The Bills called 17 screens, which gained a total of 53 yards. At 3.1 yards per play, is a screen play even worth calling? Well, then offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn must not have thought so. In five separate games, the Bills did not call a single screen all game. The screen game is an area that is supposed to help a quarterback. It gets them an easy completion, and in some cases can get a quarterback out of a funk and into a rhythm. In Taylor’s case, it actually ended up hurting him, often times putting the Bills behind the sticks and destroying Taylor’s yards per attempt average.

 


The Verdict

After analyzing the statistics, it is alarming how the Buffalo Bills decided to use Tyrod Taylor in 2016. It is the job of the coach to put a player in the best possible position to succeed. This can be said for every position in every sport. If the statistics clearly show Taylor was a better quarterback under center, then why was Taylor only under center 10.6 percent of the time? Taylor was a successful quarterback in the 3-step game in 2016. The easy completions were a great way to gain five or more yards per play, and also allowed Taylor to gain some rhythm during the game. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn should have done a better job and made this a more integral part of the offense. At times, it was virtually stealing.

On another note, the film and statistics both show Taylor was a better quarterback with a deeper drop from the line of scrimmage. This not only allowed for Taylor to throw the football down the field, but it helps him see the field better and the ability to step up and make a play with his feet when necessary. If this is clearly seen on film and backed up by the statistics, then why only call 7-step drops a measly 53 times all year?

The coaches did not put Tyrod Taylor in a proper position to succeed. His strengths were not used as an asset to the offense, and often times his weaknesses were exploited by his own coaches. With Anthony Lynn out of the picture and the Buffalo Bills’ 2016 offense in the past, Tyrod Taylor could have a very bright future teamed with new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Dennison is known for having quarterbacks under center, while also utilizing play action and deep drop backs. This plays right into the areas where Tyrod Taylor excels as a passer. With these two paired together, it is reasonable to expect a much better passing attack out of the Buffalo Bills in 2017.

 


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Free Agent Signing: S/CB Micah Hyde

It only took about a half an hour into free agency for the Buffalo Bills to make their first big splash by signing defensive back Micah Hyde. Hyde was one of the most versatile defenders in all of free agency, and the Bills hit a home run in terms of his scheme fit and contract.

 

Per OTC

The money is modest annually, basically paying Hyde the same amount they were paying Aaron Williams. As we all know, Williams’ long term health was in question, and the organization made the right move by releasing him. The annual amount falls in line with the pay of most #3 corners (slot CB), which is where I think he will play most of his snaps.

In my opinion, Hyde offers more versatility and obviously more stability long term than Williams, at this point. Last season was Hyde’s 5th with the Packers, who drafted him in the 5th round. As much as I love the signing, I will acknowledge that it is surprising that the Packers organization didn’t re-sign him. Typically, GM Ted Thompson likes to re-sign the talent that he has hand picked. But, in the end, they have a bunch of young guys on the roster that they will move forward with.

In 2016, Hyde started most of the games from the slot corner position in Dom Capers’ defense, where he had a very productive season. He concluded the season with 50 solo tackles, including 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries, and 6 QB pressures. That’s incredible production for a guy that was labeled a ‘tweener’ coming out of college from the University of Iowa.

Per Pro Football Focus

 

Hyde is 6’0″, 197 pounds and has good arm length at 31.5 inches. With Buffalo having needs at safety and cornerback, where do they plan on playing him? You’re guess is as good as mine, but he has some very good traits that will translate.

Doug Whaley has always valued speed since becoming GM of the Bills, but Hyde is not necessarily cut from that cloth. He ran the forty yard dash back in 2013 in the 4.56 range, which is right in line with safeties Tre Boston and Kurt Coleman, who were on McDermott’s defense in Carolina.

The Packers utilized Hyde as a force player in their nickel package. This is an important role nowadays because of the run support responsibilities and the type of receivers that align in the slot.

As you can imagine, Hyde has to make up for his lack of top end speed with intelligence. His ability to diagnose, process and execute is much faster than his forty time. Scouts refer to this as play speed. The root of it can manifest on the field in many ways, including knowing how an offense is going to attack a certain defense and recognizing route combinations, but it can also come from many hours of film study and and applying it on the field. While in Green Bay, Hyde would attend both safety and corner meetings on a daily basis and it is abundantly clear that Hyde does his homework.

In week six of the 2016 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott runs a simple run-pass option (RPO) against the Packers’ defense. The offense is in a stacked WR set and the Packers defend it with Hyde in press versus WR Butler and CB Goodson in off coverage. With that much space, Prescott fires it outside to Beasley. Hyde holds his leverage and Goodson comes up for the tackle. A three yard gain and not much harm done.

 

Flash forward to the Divisional round of the playoffs against the same team. Hyde shows off his mental processing, play speed, and ball skills in dramatic fashion. The Cowboys utilize the same motion from a trips bunch set, and on the snap Dak one steps and fires it out wide. Bryant is unable to get a piece of Hyde, and he picks it off to end Dallas’ drive. Incredible recognition displayed by Hyde.

 

That type of intelligence and instincts is something that the Bills’ staff will welcome after a down year in 2016. Hyde should flourish in this defense with the multitude of disguised and trap coverages that the staff will implement.

Based on his years in Green Bay, in my opinion, Hyde is primarily a zone defender. Although he is listed as a safety, he plays with zone corner instincts. He has very disciplined ‘zone eyes’ and is very good at recognizing routes and combinations with the depth of the QB’s drop.

On this play, the Vikings are in the red zone and employ a 3×1 WR set to the top of the screen. Hyde is the hook to curl defender to the top. Post snap, the Packers drop into cover 2 with a defensive lineman dropping into the shallow zone. Hyde checks the vertical release of the #2 WR, then gets his eyes on Bradford. Sam gets sloppy with his eye discipline and zeroes in on the TE Rudolph. Hyde recognizes that Sam’s front shoulder and eyes are aimed at Rudolph, so he plants and makes a play on the ball.

 

This was just a heady play by the veteran, and that kind of spatial awareness could lead to opportunities on the defensive side in 2017.

He possesses the recognition of a corner, and the thought of him possibly playing outside crossed my mind, but is not likely. He’s aligned in the slot to the top of the screen. Hyde diagnoses the combo and takes away the in breaking route right at the first down marker. This shows very good awareness, communication, and change of direction.

 

The former Hawkeye has been groomed in one of the most diverse defenses in the NFL. It is a defense that utilizes a lot of coverage concepts. Hyde appeared to be one of the leaders in that secondary; anytime there was motion and the coverage changed, you would see him setting the defense. On this play, he does just that. The offense motions to get Hyde matched up versus Dez Bryant. Hyde has inside leverage as the ball is snapped, and he opens up to the sideline expecting Bryant to run deep. Bryant runs a dig, but Hyde remains calm, quickly flips his hips, and helps take away Dak’s primary WR.

 

His lack of speed can sometimes lead to struggles in man coverage versus fast/shifty WRs. The Packers did a great job of preventing that kind of matchup for most of the year, but it isn’t totally preventable. Take this play versus the Vikings. Hyde has inside leverage on 3rd down and is matched up with the WR Diggs. Diggs sticks inside and runs to the back corner of the end zone, while narrowly catching the pass for the touchdown.

 

He is a competitive player who doesn’t get intimidated. In fact, he likes the challenge. The Vikings routinely attacked him with speed. Hyde utilizes the 5 yard contact box, gets his hands on the receiver, and as the receiver breaks inside he quickly peeks in the backfield and changes direction with Diggs. This is a fantastic display of mental toughness and belief in his skills to force fourth down.

 

Hyde possesses very good ball skills for a so called ‘safety’. On this play, he is in off coverage in the slot to the top of the screen. He shuffles until the receiver exceeds the ‘quick’ route depth. The receiver bends it to the post, so Hyde breaks on it and makes another play on the ball.

 

In man coverage he will give up his fair share of catches. In 2016, he allowed 58 receptions for 642 yards and 6 TDs (in 19 games). The longest reception he gave up was this 32-yarder to Rishard Matthews. Hyde actually is with Matthews step for step, but as he begins tracking the ball over his shoulders he slightly loses balance. This doesn’t allow Hyde to make a play on the ball at the catch point. It’s a display of good coverage and ball tracking skills, but he just has to clean up at the catch point.

 

He may not be your typical cover 1/3 center fielder, but he can still run with most NFL talent. Don’t believe me? Watch him cover running back Theo Riddick down the field. He does a great job of playing the man, then squeezing the running back to the sideline.

 

After looking over several games from his past two seasons, one thing I noticed was that he really wasn’t utilized like a normal safety. He wasn’t used a often in single high looks or two high sets; he mainly played the slot. As a result, he was rarely in the tackle box making run stops. This was one of those rare occasions where he dropped into the box and made a run stop.

 

Most of the run stops were off the edge on run blitzes like this or tackles several yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

 

This is not a bad thing, but that is the way the Packers utilized him. According to Pro Football Focus, he registered 11 total tackles versus the run all season. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Bills plan on using him.

 

Part of the reason the coaching staff and front office targeted Micah Hyde was due to his pass rushing ability. In 2016, McDermott rushed his corners a total of 42 times. Between the two corners that split duty as the slot corner in Carolina, they rushed the QB 23 times and created nine total pressures. The main rusher was Leonard Johnson, and he finished the season 3rd in pass rush productivity (22.6%) among all corners who started 50% of snaps. Hyde rushed the passer the 2nd most in 2016. He attacked the QB 7.4% of the time (32 snaps) and registered two QB hits and five QB hurries. On this play, Hyde rushes from field. As Witten crosses the formation to pick him up, Dak senses pressure so he hops up into the pocket. Hyde recognizes it and changes the angle of his rush. The sudden change of direction is too much for Witten, and Hyde registers the sack.

 

Check out this play. Hyde is aligned as an outside linebacker, and he rushes Andrew Luck. He temporarily loses contain, but continues to pressure, and it leads to an interception.

 

Micah Hyde was a very, very smart signing. He is pegged as a ‘versatile’ player for good reasons. He has good size and speed. He could quite easily play any of the defensive back positions in Frazier’s cover 2 defense or McDermott’s cover 3 defense. According to NFL.com, he was a three team captain in high school, and held the captain title for the Packers in their play off matchup against the Giants.

He is a leader on the field; he consistently helped get the secondary in their proper coverages. His prized trait, though, is his intelligence. He displays the ability to process and react accordingly to what is going on in front of him. This includes diagnosing run vs. pass, routes, and concepts. From the safety position he has just enough range to play center field if needed, but will fit perfectly in a half field role.

His main role in Green Bay was as a slot corner. He leverages the ball and takes really good angles versus the run. In the passing game, he can matchup with any tight end and/or running back in man coverage. He uses his hands well within the contact box to help him stay in phase during the receiver’s drive phase. He can struggle at times versus shifty receivers due to slight stiffness in his hips, but he will never back down from the challenge. In fact, that competitive toughness is what makes him a great player. Overall, the Bills’ staff should feel comfortable with him playing man coverage in the short to intermediate areas versus any style of receiver.

Teams tried attacking him on multiple occasions on 3rd and medium. Hyde sometimes gave up the reception, but made a sure tackle in the open field to force 4th down.

 

His open field tackling on bigger WRs and tight ends is one of his strengths. In zone coverage, he possesses very good  ‘zone eyes’, trusts them, and utilizes his instincts to make plays on the ball.

The defensive staff will enjoy having a player like Hyde on the roster. He gives them freedom. He can tackle, blitz and cover. But where he can be maximized is versus tight ends and running backs. If the staff is able to match him up versus the Gronkowskis, Dwayne Allens, Julius Thomases of the league, then that will help defend the middle of the field to a greater extent. Hyde will be able to neutralize those big bodied tight ends and receivers and will not intimidated by them. If he loses a play and they catch the ball, then he will minimize yards after the catch with his sure tackling.

 

Hyde displays the ability to carry bigger receivers and tight ends down the seam if necessary, something that will assuredly be asked of him if McDermott incorporates his cover 3 match defensive concepts. This is important, considering the utilization of receivers and tight ends down the seams by the Pats and many other teams to open up the underneath routes for the smaller, shiftier receivers.

All in all, Hyde is going to be McDermott’s ‘swiss army knife’. He has the ability to return punts and contribute on all of the special teams units. But there is no doubt that McDermott and Frazier will use him all over the field, match him up with tight ends and running backs, and ask him to be the leader of the secondary. This is the most important role on a Sean McDermott led team.


 

Free Agency | CB Alterraun Verner

Free agency has yet to open, but teams are already making changes to their rosters. This is the time of year in which franchises decide to cut players, and one of those very moves was recently made by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bucs disposed of one of their prized free agent acquisitions from 2014’s offseason. Tampa drafted Vernon Hargreaves in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and intends on starting him alongside Brent Grimes for the foreseeable future. As a result, Alterraun Verner became dispensable.

Why should the Bills consider him?

First, the obvious: he is familiar with the defense. He has experience playing under new Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Frazier was the DC in Tampa in 2014 and 2015, which will be one of the reasons that GM Doug Whaley may pick up the phone and gauge what kind of contract Verner is looking for.

 

He should only expect a modest contract, considering he only has nine starts over the last two seasons, seasons in which he allowed four touchdowns, while amassing only two interceptions and seven pass deflections. When new coaches take over, they typically like to bring in guys that know the system, making the transition much easier. I know that type of thinking strikes a nerve, thanks to Rex Ryan, but these types of moves aren’t abnormal in the NFL.

Second, what Verner does well fits the scheme. He is really good in off coverage, whether he is aligned outside, heads up, or inside. Verner is better as a defender that utilizes a bail technique, or ‘Saban shuffle’, as opposed to the backpedal. The bail technique is one that is heavily utilized in McDermott’s scheme, and it is a skill that is very difficult to master. Being in off coverage helps the DB in several ways, and it allows him to utilize his mental processing skills to make plays.

 

In man coverage, it gives him time to read the route by analyzing the drive, release, and direction at the top of the route. In zone coverage, he is reading the wide receiver through to the QB, otherwise known as ‘zone eyes’. This approach helps him not only read the receiver’s route, but also how it corresponds with the depth of the QB’s drop. His ability to use his hands to disrupt usually doesn’t occur at the line of scrimmage. Typically, it is in off coverage, within the five yard contact box where he usually ‘catches’ WRs (Video above) or strikes with them and is able to redirect.

 

Verner reads routes and combos really well in off coverage, and he is able to jump routes. He is able to plant and drive utilizing sound angles. He read quick routes well, including slants, speed outs etc., something that you saw in the video. This allows him to make plays on the ball, which is something that he has done expertly over the course of his career. In all, he has registered 15 interceptions and 49 pass deflections. How competitive a player is at the catch point is overlooked by many. In that regard, Verner fights at the catch point. If the receiver catches it, Verner is often right there, attempting to rip the ball out.

Those are some of his strengths, things that got him that lucrative contract with Tampa. What are his weaknesses? Most of his issues are related to his average overall athletic ability, including his straight line speed. However, it is right in line with the corners that have played in this system, in the 4.5s.

 

Usually this deficiency flashes down the field. He doesn’t have the speed to stay with speedsters, and even when in off coverage he can be put out of phase and taken advantage of.

 

He is not a guy that you can line up in man coverage with expectations of him being able to mirror receivers to the intermediate and deep areas of the field. He lacks the agility to carry out those kinds of responsibilities.

 

 

 

 

 

Bills Fit

Depending on the what kind of compensation he is expecting, I think he fits the Bills’ new scheme really well. It is a scheme that utilizes a lot of zone concepts from off coverage. The coaches teach the ‘Saban Shuffle’, allowing defenders who lack the elite agility to plant and drive with efficiency. McDermott puts his corners in that coverage to not only mask their straight line speed or agility issues, but also to keep the receivers in front of them, reducing the likelihood of big plays. Pairing a corner that is good in off coverage and can process route combinations quickly with the multitude of pressure packages that McDermott likes to run would be a wise decision. In this scheme, Verner could still make plays on the ball, hence providing a tremendous value to a team that is needy at the position.

 

Tyrod Taylor’s Interceptions from 2016

Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor had what many people considered a down season in 2016. Fans were largely disappointed because it was a season in which they expected him to take a big step forward. The organization maintained continuity up front, and they were in their second season in Greg Roman’s offense.

Well, as is often the case in Buffalo, things didn’t go as planned. After their first two games, the team decided to fire Greg Roman and promote running backs coach Anthony Lynn to offensive coordinator. He was appointed to a position, a role, as a play-caller that he had NEVER held before. What made things even more difficult were that he was running an offense that he didn’t design.

Lynn decided to scale back some of the playbook, simplify things for Taylor so that the offense could just make plays. Rather than pair the dominating run game with an Air Coryell, vertical passing game, Lynn wanted to make the offense more efficient.

He attempted to lay a foundation, a passing game comprised of a base set of concepts, rather than trying to outsmart defenses week to week. It was a smart move. The defense wasn’t really stopping anyone, so an explosive offense wouldn’t complement the defense. You saw a lot more progression reads by utilizing some familiar concepts, such as the Spot concept, Smash concept, Mesh concept, Levels concept, and even the Switch concept.

Taylor wasn’t asked to do much. The strict adherence to the structure seemed to remain in place. One could argue that it was due to Taylor’s lack of mental processing post snap, and honestly, I would agree with that. His field vision from the pocket is average, but the passing scheme was, in my opinion, vanilla. It was an offense that operated much too often out of the shotgun. According to NFLSavant.com, the Bills were in the gun 72% of the time. That was far too often, in my opinion, because one of my biggest gripes with Taylor is his mechanics.

 

In a Roman designed offense, the quarterback is an athlete that hits the top of his drop, scans the field, and, if nothing is there, takes off. The footwork and the depth of the drop don’t necessarily correspond with the depth of the receivers’ routes, so the QB is just standing in the pocket waiting for things to develop.

It’s the type of offense that needs to have an athletic QB, so that if no one is open or the protections break down, then the QB can take off. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many offenses nowadays operate with that type of structure, but a guy like Taylor needs to be under center more. It helps him focus on his drop and his footwork — you know, the mechanics.

 





 

It also allows him to throw in rhythm, to go through his progressions and reads in tune with his footwork. Taking snaps under center just helps him with his overall consistency.

 

The second year starter dropped back to pass 529 times and attempted 426 passes. He only completed 269 of those passes, which is a 61.7% completion percentage. Although his dropbacks (2015-467) and attempts (2015-380) were up in 2016, his completion percentage dropped two percent.

His efficiency as a passer is something that many fans bring up. According to Pro Football Focus, of all QBs that started 60% of their snaps in 2016, Taylor ranks 19th in completion percentage, right in front of Mariota, Palmer, Winston and Rivers.

Even one of his strengths, the deep ball, failed him this past season. In 2015, he threw 12 touchdown passes over 20+ yards, compared with a mere six in 2016.

 





 

His struggles should have been no surprise, considering Sammy Watkins, who caught eight deep ball TDs in 2015, only played in eight games and participated in 75.7% of the snaps in those games. Watkins only mustered ONE deep ball touchdown in 2016 and was targeted 11 times, making four receptions for 173 yards.

How does that stack up to 2015? In 2015, Watkins was targeted 34 times, hauling in 16 receptions, 606 yards, and eight TDs. That could partly explain why Tyrod’s yards/attempt dropped from 8 (5th) to 6.93 (24th). Consider this: when Watkins was in the lineup, Taylor’s yards/attempt was 7.8 (6th), whereas without Watkins it was 6.3 (29th). Even his accuracy rate was affected. It was 74.9% (13th) when Sammy was in the lineup and a 71.3% (25th) when Sammy was not dressed. Not having Sammy Watkins for half of the season no doubt had an effect on Taylor, and a significant one, at that. He is the only receiver that Tyrod trusts. Sammy is so dynamic that he changes how defenses choose to game-plan against Taylor and the offense.

 





 

Defenses only had to worry about the Bills’ run game last season. Without a true #1 wide receiver to dictate coverage, defenses could stack the box, keep 22 eyes on #5, all while congesting the middle of the field. This severely limited the passing game, but the offense still was able to put up a fair amount of points thanks to a run game spearheaded by LeSean McCoy and Tyrod himself.

With a lucrative contract option on the line, a dominant run game, a vanilla passing scheme minus Watkins, and a leaky defense, Taylor didn’t force the issue. He played it tight to the vest, rarely threw into tight windows, and was coached into half field reads on three man routes.

With how things transpired on the field and the structure of Tyrod’s contract, the front office now has to make the difficult decision of whether they want to move forward with him.

In order to do so, they have to not only evaluate his play, but also measure how his strengths and weaknesses fit the Rick Dennison‘s incumbent offensive system.

They have to ask themselves: was he making good or bad decisions on the field? Was he putting the offense in situations to score? To win? Or were his conservative nature and passing deficiencies holding the offense back? And how will that translate into new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s system?

 




 

With all of that said, let’s take a look at the 12 interceptions Tyrod has thrown over the past two years. Here is a recap of the picks he threw in 2015:

 

But to get an idea on the decisions that led to his six interceptions this past season, here is a video breakdown:

 

Tyrod Taylor has been one of the Bills’ most polarizing figures since winning the job in 2015, but that doesn’t mean he should be the Bills’ starting quarterback going forward. What the organization and fans should ask is if they can win with Tyrod Taylor as a quarterback in Rick Dennison’s system.

That answer should be coming in the next couple of weeks, and I expect there to be an uproar, regardless of what the Bills decide.

 

The Fine Line Between Athleticism and Competitive Toughness

The Buffalo Bills have many free agent decisions to come to terms with and the Personnel Department and the coaching staff are at One Bills Drive scouring the roster, trying to determine who they want to resign. One of the most gifted talents on the defensive side of the ball is linebacker Zach Brown. Brown displays very good athletic ability including elite speed, very good agility and explosiveness.

Whaley hit a home run by bringing him in on a one year deal last season. He had been a productive starter with the Titans as an inside linebacker in their base 3-4 scheme and Buffalo needed a low cost option for that same position prior to 2016 seeing as how Rex was ‘all in’ on his scheme.

Brown didn’t disappoint, once first round draft pick Reggie Ragland went down, Zach was ready and he took the league by storm. By seasons end he was 6th in total tackles with 107 solo tackles which was 36 more than he has ever produced.

Sixty two of those tackles were versus the run and that includes 38 run stops which according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) were the 4th most for inside linebackers in both statistics. Early on in the season he was seeing the field well, look at him read the flow of the split flow zone in conjunction diagnosing Corbin Bryant covering the strongside A gap, he sees a small window in the backside A gap so he shoots it and brings Forte down.

Brown doesn’t just have very good straight line speed, he has good play speed. Play speed is the combination of straight line speed and mental processing. Zach does a good job on the following play of diagnosing the offensive tackles intentions, the counter steps by Blount and the bend back run coming right for Brown’s window. He shoots the gap and uses his arms to make the tackle on the back.

 

Brown’s tackling is good. He doesn’t load his hips and uncoil them to help him bring force behind his tackles, he is more of a chase and tackle kind of defender. Which works well versus outside runs because then he can use his athletic ability to sift through traffic and make the tackle.

Did he help in the passing game? You bet he did, he allowed the defensive staff to match him versus opposing running backs, receivers and tight ends. Brown is matched up here versus RB James White which helps the coordinators scheme the ‘box’ coverage to the trips bunch side. Being able to man up a LB vs. a RB like White nearly shuts half of the field down versus this offensive look.

Brown shows off his play speed again as he bails out the secondary. On the snap he reads high hats from the offensive lineman signifying pass. He finds Bell and confirms that he is not receiving the handoff and not going out for a pass, so he finds possible receiving options, closes the gap as he tracks the ball for the interception.

 

With his physical tools he is an asset anyway you look at it. He can run, is a good tackler, and solid blitzer and very good pass defender in man and zone situations.

 

But his problem has been the lack of consistency, especially read and diagnose skills which is something that I covered when the Bills signed him. He has all of the tools to execute but his overall mental processing is solid or average. The inside backer is undisciplined when it comes to sticking to his keys and maintaining proper leverage of the running back. At times he over pursues or just takes bad angles to the ball. This causes huge cutback lanes, which leads to big plays.

 

As the season wore on, stats padded and the losses piled up, Zach Brown’s play and competitive toughness diminished. Early on when the season was young and he needed to make plays to help him get a long term contract he was passionate and aggressive when carrying out his assignments. Was he always consistent? No, but he was putting forth the effort and playing physical….

 

Remember these plays?

 

There is no denying he was putting out effort to make plays on a few of those clips, but was he playing at 110% or just enough to get by? On that first play, was he pursuing the whole play or did he turn it on near midfield? Go back and watch.


I took a poll a couple weeks ago regarding resigning Zach Brown and 71% believe they should. Most fans will look at his stats, remember the splash plays he made and say, “yeah the Bills should definitely resign him.” I was one of them, til I studied him.


The reason I bring this up is because in my opinion fans undervalue competitive toughness, and I think that along with mental processing, these are some of his weaknesses. He is adequate or below average in competitive toughness. Coaches have trouble keeping him mentally engaged the whole game and season and that is what leads to his inconsistencies.

Is he being physically aggressive? Is he doing everything in his power to get off the block?

In my opinion the lack of competitive toughness across the board has perpetuated the drought. The Bills have talent, but do they have players that are competitively tough? It’s been missing and Pro Personnel Department needs to bring in more players that posses high levels of competitive toughness if anything is going to change.



Under the umbrella of competitive toughness lies mental toughness, physical toughness and competitive toughness. In 1 on 1 situations, in critical moments, throughout a game, does the player rise to the occasion mentally and physically?

On a 1-7 scale, where would Tom Brady rank? SEVEN, he is at an elite level when it comes to competitive toughness, especially in big games. How about their team? Do they have players that possess high levels of competitive toughness? Do they value that trait over athleticism? Think about the Jamie Collins trade…



Lets flashback to week 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, you know when the Bills needed to win to remain in the hunt, do you remember Brown’s play? Well, much like the team as a whole, his “effort” and competitive toughness were nonexistent.

Brown blew several run assignments, utilized bad technique and was dominated physically (physical toughness) by fullback Roosevelt Nix. Zach takes on Nix with the improper shoulder, allowing him to be sealed inside and a 2 for 1 occurs because Preston Brown is also blocked. Zach displays adequate or below average ability versus the run at the point of attack.

It didn’t end there, on the following play Brown reads the play well, but again uses improper technique to attack LeVeon Bell. Being able to execute your assignment, to elevate your game against better competition has to happen.

Can Brown be counted on to fill his gap utilizing the proper technique, force and play strength necessary to stop the run?

Brown also gave up 68 yards in this game on five catches. He ended 2016 season surrendering 53 receptions on 66 targets for 539 yards, 342 of which were YAC. That is not good enough.

Think I’m cherry picking one bad game? No, this is a trait, a tendency shown by him over the course of his career at the college and NFL level.

Draft Profile per ESPN

When you look at the good teams, the teams that win consistently they have players that are not just talented, but guys that are smart, mentally tough and display high levels of competitive toughness. How many of those players do the Bills have? How many players gave it 110% the whole season?



Based on the production that he put together in 2016, there is no doubt that he will be getting a raise and there are rumors flying that the Bills are looking to extend him. What will it cost? Five to seven million a year? I’ll make it easier, what is your ceiling for his contract? Will putting Brown back into a one gap scheme help minimize his thinking and let him play fast? These questions are being asked at OBD, they are going to measure his cost vs. what he brings to the field.

What traits or values will Head Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Doug Whaley hold higher?

Athleticism or competitive toughness?

 

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