3 Buffalo Bills Headed for Breakout Seasons Under the New Coaching Staff
The Buffalo Bills took a step back as a team in 2012, but players like C.J. Spiller, Alex Carrington and Andy Levitre enjoyed “breakout” seasons.
With a new coaching staff in place, the team is hopeful that a handful of players currently under contract will take their game to the next level in the 2013 season.
Doug Marrone took a middling Syracuse program from Greg Robinson and turned it into a national competitor. During his stay in western New York, Marrone prided himself on creative play-calling and player development, which vaulted the program to the top of the Big East.
Marrone and his coaching staff have an opportunity to complete another restoration project in New York State, but this time with the lowly Bills.
The talent on the current Buffalo squad is there, and there were moments during the Gailey regime when it looked like the young players would begin to blossom. Unfortunately for Gailey and the franchise alike, the progressions were few and far between, which led to his firing at the end of the season.
Bills fans can expect to see a much different team under the new regime. A new quarterback will probably be in place by the end of April’s NFL draft, and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has already said that the defense will turn up the pressure next season.
The new approach for the Bills will open up a variety of competitions and opportunities for young talent looking to make an impression on a different staff.
With those summer camp competitions playing out over July and August, it would not be surprising to see plenty of breakout players for the Bills in 2013.
3. LT Cordy Glenn
Cordy Glenn is a player that could potentially make the biggest jump from this season to next, but offensive lineman tend to be more of the "behind the scenes" type.
The rookie left tackle was thought to be quite a steal when the Bills selected him in the first few picks of the second round of last year's draft. Once thought to be a first-round talent, Glenn slid into the top of the second for no explicable reason.
Perhaps teams were not sure whether Glenn would fit as a guard or a tackle in the NFL, but the Bills were adamant from the start that he would be their left tackle of the future.
Glenn flourished in his first few games as a rookie, winding up on Pro Football Focus' Midseason All-Rookie Team for his play at tackle. He made that list despite missing three of his first eight games as a pro, although his play in those five games was dominant at times.
The second half of the season was not as great for Glenn, as he dealt with some penalty and false start issues that one would expect from a first-year left tackle.
The mammoth tackle has the chance to an improve on an impressive rookie year with a new head coach that knows a little bit about offensive lines.
Doug Marrone was an offensive lineman and has coached some great lines with the Jets and Saints during his time in the NFL. He built up a beleaguered Syracuse offensive line and turned them into one of the most cohesive units in Division I football by the end of his stay there.
Marrone takes over a line that ranked in the top half of the league on a number of scouting websites, and Glenn is a huge part of that.
If Marrone can limit Glenn's mistakes, the former Georgia Bulldog could be in for a big season in 2013.
2. WR T.J Graham
Taking another rookie may seem like a cop-out, but T.J. Graham has an opportunity to take a big step forward with Doug Marrone now at the helm.
Graham was badly misused by the Bills' coaching staff during his rookie season, working in the slot as more of a distraction than anything else.
Due to Ryan Fitzpatrick's inaccuracies on the deep ball, the speedy Graham was limited to wide receiver screens. Chan Gailey hoped that eventually Graham would break a long play out of nothing, but the former NC State product struggled to find holes after the catch.
He finished the season with just 322 yards on 31 catches. Graham's lone touchdown reception was against Cleveland in Week 3 on a nine-yard pass from Fitzpatrick.
Just changing the scheme will not be enough to get Graham's numbers up from his rookie season totals, as the Bills will need an upgrade at the quarterback position for that to happen.
Graham's selection in the third round of last year's draft was a bit of a head-scratcher considering that his track speed and Fitzpatrick's limp arm do not mesh well. His positive attributes were negated by the fact that Buffalo could not connect on the long ball.
With the possibility of a new quarterback in tow, Graham should expect to see both his targets and receptions increase in his sophomore season.
Well, only if the Bills add a quarterback that can hurl the ball downfield in the Buffalo weather.
1. LB Nigel Bradham
The buzz surrounding Nick Barnett's release on Monday afternoon may have surprised some, but the Bills' new coaching seems serious about putting a fresh mark on the defense.
Nigel Bradham, a fourth-round pick out of Florida State, put in a major claim at the end of last season to become Barnett's full-time replacement.
Bradham replaced the inefficient Arthur Moats opposite of Barnett in Week 6 and never relinquished the spot. Moats was relegated to special teams duty and Kirk Morrison was ruled inactive for much of the remainder of the season because of Bradham's heady play at the spot.
While it remains likely that Buffalo will select another outside linebacker early in the draft to play on the other side of Bradham, it will be the former Seminole that could reap the rewards.
New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his staff have talked about changing up the defense since they arrived in early January. As AFC East blogger Erik Frenz referenced in his article on Monday afternoon, the Bills will be moving towards a nickel-heavy scheme with plenty of blitzing.
Buffalo ranked among the worst in the NFL in blitzing in 2012, rushing the passer on less than 20 percent of drop-backs. Dave Wannstedt thought that blitzing was not the answer, and it ultimately cost him his job after just one season in Buffalo.
Bradham was not a superior blitzer off the edge in college, racking up nine sacks in a four-year career with the Seminoles. However, he was often let loose on obvious running plays and had 21.5 tackles for loss to prove it.
Where Bradham lines up in 2013 will be interesting. He was projected as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, but was thought to be an inside linebacker in 3-4 schemes.
Pettine has run a 3-4 defense wherever has has been, but never committed to a specific scheme during the post-hiring press conference. The releasing of Barnett and George Wilson does not provide much clarity to that question either.
Bradham has the potential to be a high-volume tackle player in the NFL due to solid athleticism and sneaky good side-to-side speed. His main responsibilities may not be getting to the passer under the new regime, but there is no doubt he could be a disruptive force around the line of scrimmage when called upon.