The 2017 Buffalo Bills’ season was certainly one to remember. With a brand new staff they managed to end the drought. But making the playoffs isn’t good enough, and the Bills have made that abundantly clear. Since the season ended, they have undergone several coaching changes, the front office has lost some bright minds, but that doesn’t mean that they are sitting on their hands.
They have replaced the lost coaches and have even added some young up and comers to the support staff. Buffalo announced that they have hired William Vlachos and Shea Tierney as offensive assistants, both of whom were recently analysts for the Alabama Crimson Tide. The NCAA allows teams to have nine coaches, four grad assistants, and any number of analysts.
An analyst may not recruit, may not serve as an on field coach and may not directly instruct or coach players at practice. They can offer advice develop study programs or film guides to help them and they can work with coaches to develop game strategy and other needed items. Some schools refer to them as quality control specialists, but whatever you call them, they are serving their teams in important ways.
One such important role is the film analyst. These analysts watch hours of film on opponents, scout players, and find tendencies of coaches. For example, here is a scouting report from on the 2017 Clemson offense that was most likely constructed by analysts.
Analysts evaluate every facet of the offense.
This includes individual scouting reports on starters and specific types of runs the offense executes with him at the helm.
It also includes formational tendencies, such as Alabama’s plan to ‘track the sniffer’, which is the off line tight end. ‘Sniffers’ are usually tight ends that are utilized in fullback-type roles. Typically, their action will give you an idea of the type of run play coming.
Play call tendencies are extremely important when developing a game plan. Here are Clemson’s run/pass tendencies when in Alabama’s formational play call ‘blue’.
Now that you have an idea of how important those analyst/assistant and graduate position roles are, let’s get to know both of the new offensive assistants.
Vlachos was a player under Nick Saban from 2008-2012 and was fortunate enough to command the Tide’s offense that won two National Championships. But he wasn’t a Saban recruit; he was actually recruited by Mike Shula. There were reports that Saban didn’t even want the undersized center.
“To be honest, Saban didn’t want him,” Mountain Brook High School football coach Chris Yeager said. “He wanted to figure out a way to get rid of him. When Saban came to visit William at his house, I felt like he really tried to get him to decommit because of his size.”
But Vlachos earned the respect of his coach and was a three time All SEC starter. After a brief stint in the NFL, Vlachos returned to the Tide staff as a graduate assistant. Vlachos worked very closely with Ryan Kelly, the first round center for the Indianapolis Colts.
“He has so much experience with the game. That’s really at the offensive line position what you need. He’s giving me little pointers here and there as to how to just put your team in the best position to score touchdowns. ” -Ryan Kelly
Having played the position, Vlachos is coming into the league in an entry level position, but he supposedly has a “keen eye to spot defensive tells.”
That may be a sign of things to come.
Tierney is coming to Buffalo with a little more experience. Tierney worked for the Philadelphia Eagles for four seasons. He was cross trained in the front office as an intern coach, then as a coach.
During his tenure with the Eagles, Tierney worked closely with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Shurmur was the OC for Chip Kelly during his tenure stretching from 2013-2015.
As you may know, Shurmur recently accepted the Head Coach position with the New York Giants after doing wonders with Case Keenum at quarterback in Minnesota just last season.
Tierney then left the Eagles to boost his resume by working under Saban. He made the most out of his two season in Tuscaloosa, having learned a tremendous amount of offensive wisdom from former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and then Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian is the poster boy of analysts rising through the ranks and currently is the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.
Tierney also gained an enormous amount of wisdom from co-offensive coordinator Mike Locksley last season, and many believe that Tierney will be a head coach someday.
What does it all mean?
These may seem like minor moves not worthy of discussion, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These analysts, these roles, are critical to the coaching staff.
Buffalo’s offense was a mess in 2017. Most of those struggles started in the trenches. Of course, Rick Dennison’s primary scheme, and even the hybrid one he put into action after the first quarter of the season, failed. Buffalo was unable to dominate up front like it had the two prior seasons.
Daboll obviously worked with Vlachos and Tierney last season, so they know what to expect from Daboll. What often goes unnoticed is how Saban kept many concepts from the Lane Kiffin offense after his departure.
Current Alabama offensive line coach Brent Key
Brent Key Alabama OL coach
Fly/Jet Sweep packages
30% of their offense pic.twitter.com/LordlUjiQv
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 3, 2018
That’s because Saban makes his offensive staff install concepts that give his defense troubles. Kiffin’s offense is characterized by lots of motions, uptempo, and overall a much more modern spread approach.
Lane Kiffin has a fun offense to watch at FAU. Here's a jet sweep variation that is a staple in their O.
— Brady Grayvold (@CoachGrayvold) February 5, 2018
Daboll ran a fair share of Kiffin’s techniques and concepts last season. It was the nice blend of a pro-style offense mixed with the college spread game. I wonder how much of that he will be bringing to the Bills.
— Cap! 🐟 (@CoachKenRW) February 9, 2018
Staffs across the country saw what teams like the Eagles and Chiefs did with college spread game concepts this past season.
Kiko on Hunt shows man coverage. #Chiefs motion Hunt into the backfield and run jet action with Hill. His DB has to follow and it gives the offense the numbers to get a big gain on the option. pic.twitter.com/ILSVfaDrzP
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) December 31, 2017
Utilization of motion, jet action, run pass options, incorporation of gap and zone concepts from the pistol and gun were wildly successful last season.
Daboll likes to run RPOs on 1st down. But they aren't of the post-snap read of the conflict defender type. Usually determined pre-snap. Quick fake to the RB and throw to Ridley…What a release by Ridley. pic.twitter.com/aHxhNUNivB
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) January 20, 2018
It is indeed a copycat league and I wonder how much Tierney and Vlachos are being brought in to help Daboll incorporate more of these concepts.
Daboll established the jet motion early in the National Championship. Here's the 2nd offensive play. Safety is slightly late on the rotation & unable to bring the WR down. The jet motion wrinkle better be installed this season! pic.twitter.com/oYdewkK6k3
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 3, 2018
Finally, everyone knows that the offensive line has many question marks. Franchise left tackle Cordy Glenn’s foot issues continue to be troublesome, but the Bills have Dawkins to replace him. Left guard Richie Incognito is still playing at an extremely high level, but he is getting long in the tooth. His best friend, center Eric Wood, was forced to retire. Right guard? I mean, the Bills started Vladimir Ducasse over the former starter John Miller. Right tackle may be an even bigger mess. Jordan Mills has been the starter and he is mediocre at best. So, is it possible that the offensive line is actually worse off than most think? As much as I don’t want to believe it, I can see why there is chatter about the Bills taking offensive lineman early in the draft.
Bridging NFL and college concepts is not an easy task. The hiring of Vlachos and Tierney may seem minor, but their assistance in teaching and implementing the techniques, game plans, and how to attack NFL defenses may prove valuable. McDermott and Beane want to continue to evolve and are willing to do whatever it takes to gain a competitive edge to help them build upon their 2017 success.