Bills HC Sean McDermott talks taking over defensive play-calling duties: ‘I’m excited about doing it’


The offseason story that will perhaps have the largest on-field impact on the Buffalo Bills in the 2023 NFL season is a perhaps surprising afterthought as the team commences its 2023 training camp. Veteran defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier announced a temporary hiatus from coaching in late February, with head coach Sean McDermott – a former defensive coordinator in his own right – picking up Frazier’s defensive play-calling duties in addition to his previous responsibilities.

With how early in the offseason the story unfolded and the other events that popped up in Buffalo and around the league throughout the spring, some have forgotten just how big of a change this will be for McDermott and the Bills. Opinions on his play-calling aside, Frazier was a paramount figure within Buffalo’s coaching ranks, serving as the team’s defensive coordinator and play-caller since McDermott’s arrival in 2017. His departure not only thrusts McDermott back into a familiar, but long-unvisited role — it also adds a slew of new responsibilities to the head coach’s plate.

During his initial press conference at St. John Fisher University Wednesday morning, McDermott admitted that there’s going to be a learning curve that comes with his re-acclimation. That said, he’s excited about the process.

“I feel like I’ve got a lot of work to do, honestly,” McDermott said. “That’s part of what being here is about. To this point, I think it’s worked well, but that remains to be seen, really. Just like I ask our players and coaches to do, is to work hard, I’ve got to work hard to get myself ready to go in that capacity. I look forward to doing that.”

What changes to expect from the Bills’ defense in 2023

While some have speculated that McDermott will usher a new aggressiveness into Buffalo’s defensive unit, the head coach did not offer any real insight into his play-calling philosophies during Wednesday’s presser. He instead touched on how taking over play-calling duties will alter his training camp schedule and preparation, with even more time now being dedicated to film dissection.

“It’s really just [watching film] through a different lens,” McDermott said. “Sometimes it means, and it will mean, and it has in the past, as well to some extent, but more so now even, is going back through the film more than once. There’s a lot of film that we capture out here, so that takes some time. I’ll go through it with the defensive staff when we’re done practicing.

“Usually, I was able to hang out a little bit after practice, catch up with Brandon [Beane], Terry [Pegula], and our trainer, Nate Breske. Sometimes that’ll still be the case, but more times than not, if all goes well at practice, I need to get out of here and get back to stay on schedule with those guys, with the defensive staff, because then there’s a followup meeting with the players to review the film. Then I’ll have to come back and watch it from an offense and special teams perspective, as well. It’s just a little bit of extra work.”

McDermott has two stints as a defensive play-caller under his belt, serving as the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator from 2009-2010 before serving as Ron Rivera’s DC in Carolina from 2011-2016. That said, he has never consistently juggled the day-to-day game management obligations that come with being a head coach with defensive play-calling responsibilities. That’s all part of the learning curve and adjustment, according to McDermott, something he wants to at least partially figure out in camp, but won’t admittedly have a further grasp on until live reps are taking place.

“I think it’ll be a little bit of an experience that first preseason game, quite honestly, going through it first hand,” McDermott said. “I’ve done my research on it, though, and also thought through it pretty extensively to this point. Obviously, a lot of the situations that do come up are offensively related situations, so you want to be up there with the offense when they have the ball. That said, there are messages that need to get to the defensive players, and adjustments and whatnot. It will be calculated when we do it and how we do it.”

Sean McDermott closes door on Stefon Diggs situation: ‘We’re in a good spot’

Throughout his tenure in Buffalo, McDermott and company have constructed a well-respected coaching staff that’s been consistently poached from in recent years. He plans to lean on that staff as he makes this adjustment, a position that he expects will result in stronger relationships with both his colleagues and players.

“The staff has done a really good job of complementing me in the way of offsetting when I’m not in that role of a head coach and I’m pulled some other direction, whether it’s Matt Worswick, my assistant, or [special teams coordinator] Matt Smiley, who steps up in the situations that we run at practice, you guys saw that in the spring,” McDermott said. “Really the staff overall has done a great job of making my job a little bit easier that way. I look forward to it.

“I told the defense last night that I’m excited about doing it. I think one of the byproducts that I saw in the spring was just getting around the team a little bit more. Sometimes as a head coach, I think it was Kyle Williams used to tell me, you’re kind of behind the mahogany desk [as head coach] . . . There’s a piece of that that’s accurate, that you’re not always around the people that you really need to and want to be around because the job pulls you. That’ll be the pull for me is making sure I’m in both places at once, but I think the byproduct is getting closer and building closer relationships with the players and with the coaches, which I’m looking forward to.”