Can Doug Marrone finally turn around the Buffalo Bills?
Buffalo’s newest coaches will need to figure out a way to get the most out their players in order to return to the playoffs. There is sure to be a lot of change between now and the beginning of next season, and hopefully that change is for the better of the team.
With the arrival of new schemes and new ideas, some players are sure to benefit more than others. Despite their struggles, the Bills do have some talented players on the roster, and there are others with plenty of potential.
Here are five players who will benefit most from Buffalo’s new coaching staff.
The "Byrd Man" has already established himself as one of the top safeties in the NFL at just 26 years old. Now, with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine ramping up the pressure, he should only see an increase in opportunities.
In his first four seasons with the Bills, Byrd has accumulated 18 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. In those four seasons, his team has gone 22-42 and has never ranked in the top 15 in either yards or points allowed.
In other words, Byrd has done a lot with little help around him.
Pettine plans to implement an aggressive scheme, and he has the playmakers to produce results. Based on his previous success with the Jets, it’s safe to assume he will find a way to get the most out of a strong defensive line and a young but talented secondary.
The No. 1 beneficiary will be Byrd.
Byrd is a free agent, and Bills lead journalist Chris Brown reports that he “wants to test the free agent market.” Brown believes the Bills may have to use the franchise tag on Byrd. Regardless, they would be foolish not to do everything in their power to retain him.
If they can keep him with the team, the young star safety should only continue to rise through the ranks of the league and thrive in Buffalo’s new defense.
Much like his teammate Byrd, Spiller is the playmaker on the other side of the ball. Ever since filling in for an injured Fred Jackson down the stretch of the 2011 season, he has finally found his stride and is proving why the Bills drafted him ninth overall in 2010.
New head coach Doug Marrone is considered a progressive offensive mind who must get the most out of his best players.
His experience as an offensive line coach and an offensive coordinator in the NFL (with the Jets and Saints, respectively) has been fruitful. Bills lead journalist Chris Brown writes, “In 2004, the Jets finished 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards and 2nd in rushing first downs.” Brown also writes, “In the 2008 season, the Saints led the NFL in yards per game in total offense and passing offense.”
Clearly, Marrone has a firm understanding of what it takes to move the ball down the field in the NFL, and in Buffalo it will all start with C.J. Spiller.
The dynamic running back averaged 6.0 yards per attempt in 2012 but only received 207 carries. For comparison’s sake, Adrian Peterson (who also had 6.0 yards per attempt) had 348 carries.
Under-utilizing Spiller likely cost former head coach Chan Gailey his job; Marrone won't make the same mistake.
Look for Marrone to ride Spiller, and look for Spiller to take advantage.
New offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett helped turn wide receiver Alec Lemon into a standout at Syracuse. With the Bills, he’ll help a talented Stevie Johnson continue to develop into a top wide receiver.
Johnson has posted three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with Buffalo. In each of those seasons, he recorded at least six touchdowns. And he did all this without having a legitimate threat lining up opposite him.
Hackett may be young, but he has put up some big numbers while calling plays on the offensive side of the ball. His resume includes setting multiple offensive records at Syracuse in addition to molding Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib into an impressive, record-setting passer (h/t BuffaloBills.com).
In a conversation with Bills lead journalist Chris Brown, Hackett stressed how important it is to “make the quarterback successful” and to help him “feel more comfortable back there.”
Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk added that “the Bills need to work on receivers to up the comfort level for whoever they wind up picking at quarterback but that choice figures to be the one that determines how successful [he is].”
Johnson is the team’s No. 1 wideout, and both Hackett and coach Marrone will be sure to utilize his experience and skill set in the team’s new offense.
The result should be yet another 1,000-yard season for the exciting wideout.
For a player who seemed like an afterthought prior to last season, cornerback Leodis McKelvin had a great year and now has a legitimate shot of being back with the team in 2013.
McKelvin entered 2012 in the final year of his rookie deal. Many felt he could be on the trade block, while others tabbed him as a candidate to be released. After all, the former No. 11 overall pick had failed to impress in his first four years, and he was struggling at times on defense.
However, McKelvin bounced back, having arguably “his best season with the Bills in 2012,” according to John Murphy of BuffaloBills.com. Buffalo’s new coaching staff should be excited to have a player like him.
Head coach Doug Marrone named Danny Crossman the team’s new special teams coach. It’s only natural that he will want to start shaping his unit with McKelvin’s dynamic presence at the forefront, as he has proven to be one of the league’s best returners.
In addition, McKelvin seems to have turned a corner (pun intended) on defense, as his cover skills have improved noticeably and he is making better plays on the ball. With defensive coordinator Mike Pettine bringing more pressure and elaborate fronts, McKelvin will continue to impress.
Alex Carrington is an intriguing player with exciting potential. He is 6’5” and 301 pounds with the versatility to play multiple defensive positions. Previously, the Bills have plugged him in at defensive end and even outside linebacker in the 3-4, but he has played best at defensive tackle in a 4-3.
When BuffaloBills.com asked defensive coordinator Mike Pettine if he would run a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, Pettine answered, “Yes.” Knowing that he plans to run multiple fronts and attack offenses, Carrington suddenly becomes a unique option for the Bills.
Carrington is just 25 years old; he tallied two sacks and a forced fumble last year. Even more noteworthy, he blocked four kicks in 2012 and clearly has a nose for knocking down the ball.
His athleticism, agility and body control are all valuable tools, and he has surely created some buzz for himself. Pettine should be able to put him in a position to get even better in a more elaborate defensive system.