The House that Marv Levy Built: 2009 Buffalo Bills Coaches Progress Report
It was more than twenty years ago when Hall-of-Famer Marv Levy came to the Buffalo Bills in 1986. He began his illustrious journey with the Bills the same year as Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly. The team overall was not very impressive going 4-12 that year, improving to only 7-8 the next year.
In Levy's third year, however, the Bills went 12-4, won the division, and played in the AFC Championship. The Bills went to the playoffs eight out of the nine next seasons under Levy.
He left as head coach in 1997, only to return in 2006 as general manager, twenty years after his coaching career with Buffalo began. His job was clearly to rebuild Buffalo to a respectable winning franchise like the one that thrived so much in the 90's.
Levy was very instrumental in building the franchise the way it is now, making personnel decisions, hiring Dick Jauron: former Coach of the Year with Chicago, and providing input on the team's draft, picking up Marshawn Lynch and Trent Edwards in 2007.
Levy stepped down as the Buffalo Bills general manager after the 2007 season, confident he had the team headed in the right direction despite a second consecutive 7-9 finish.
Levy was successful in his third year as head coach, but let's give Jauron a year grace period considering Trent Edwards was drafted his second year.
So, four years since Levy came back, now in Jauron's fourth year, will the Bills repeat history and go to the playoffs and win the first division championship since 1995?
Dick Jauron - 25th Year in NFL / 5th Year with the Bills / 4th as Head Coach
Dick Jauron is set to begin his fourth season as head coach for the Buffalo Bills. Jauron came to Buffalo in 2006 where his coaching career began as a defensive assistant coach in 1985.
He returned 21 years later to take over the team that gave him his first professional coaching job.
Last year the Jauron led Bills went 7-9 for a third straight season, but seen a lot of promise out of their young corps. Through his three years with the Bills he has seen practically a complete overhaul to the lineup, with rookies starting at several positions and young stars beginning to develop.
Not to mention the Bills have overcome devastating injury issues over the past three years and the loss of 17 players in 2007, the highest number of Bills players placed on injured reserve since the current injured reserve rules began in 1993.
Despite all the injuries, Jauron’s Bills have been the most disciplined in franchise history. The Bills have rewritten the team’s record book each year in fewest amount of penalties committed in a season from 87 in ’06, down to 71 last year.
The Bills showed improvement on both sides of the ball. The offense scored 10 more touchdowns and gained 4,882 yards -- the most since 2002. On defense the Bills allowed nearly 600 fewer yards than 2007 and held opponents to 16 or fewer points in seven games.
In his decision to keep the coach, Owner Ralph Wilson said, the "team played hard all year long and there are many positives to build on", in the third season under Jauron. "I believe that this team, at this time, is better served by continuity in the coaching staff rather than a disruptive overhaul."
Jauron becomes the first Bills coach to reach his fourth season since Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Marv Levy retired following the 1997 season.
This year looks to be a playoffs-or-bust year for Jauron as Wilson has proved he wants to win now.
Bobby April - 18th Year in NFL/ 6th with the Bills/ 6th as Asst. Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator
Bobby April has established himself as one of the best special teams coaches of all time. He joined the Bills in 2004 and turned a special teams that was already good, outstanding.
The Bills finished first in overall special teams ranking for the third time in five years (2004, 2005, 2008).
April received the Special Teams Coach of the Year for the second time in '08 after winning it with Dallas in 2003. In 2008, April’s special teams unit led the NFL in average drive start (32.4) and punt return average (15.5) and ranked second in opponent kick return average (19.8).
Last year was arguably April's best season because of all the injuries faced to his unit. Special teams’ players established a number of career records under April’s watch in 2008.
Roscoe Parrish returned punts most of the time and helped the Bills achieve the highest punt return average in a season: 15.47 (30-464), broken from the previous year. He also accomplished personal achievements with the most punt return yards in a career: 1,312, and most punt return yards in a game: 120.
Each season the Bills bring in new personnel and they consistently excel on April's special teams. Last season the Bills brought in rookie Leodis McKelvin to return kickoffs, allowing Terrence McGee to play cornerback, his natural position.
McKelvin broke several records including most kickoff return yards in a season: 1,468, and most kickoff return yards, rookie or first-year player in a season. He also achieved individual game records of most kickoff return yards, rookie or first-year player in a game: 185, and the highest kickoff return average in a game: 61.67.
Rian Lindell also broke the record for consecutive PAT's with 186 straight.
April has also coached special teams for the Falcons ('91-'93), Steelers ('94-'95), Saints ('96-'99), and Rams ('01-'03).
Turk Schonert - 14th Year in NFL/ 7th with the Bills/ 2nd as Offensive Coordinator
This season will be Schonert’s second as an offensive coordinator with the Bills. He was quarterbacks coach in 2007, and oversaw the development of then rookie quarterback Trent Edwards.
Edwards ranked second in completions, attempts, passing yards and touchdown passes among Bills rookies that season, and won the second-most (5) games for a Bills rookie quarterback in team history.
Edwards was also the most productive rookie passer in the NFL in 2007 and produced more passing yards than any QB drafted in the third round in his rookie season since the beginning of the modern draft.
Last year Schonert’s offense excelled in the early part of the season, with trick plays and a smooth offense characterized by a volatile running game and a decent passing game, but because of lack of depth on the offensive end the Bills became predictable.
The Bills ended the season ranked 25th overall on offense, scoring only 21.0 points a game. With a full season under his belt and this year’s offseason Schonert looks to open things up in 2009.
The additions of key offseason acquisitions like Terrell Owens, Shawn Nelson, and Dominic Rhodes, and a talented offensive line put all the right tools in Schonert's hands. With the rumors of a no-huddle offense in 2009, Schonert looks to utilize all the offensive weapons the Bills have while shedding the conservative tag that was so ineffective, used by former coordinator Steve Fairchild.
Schonert has been a quarterbacks coach for the majority of his NFL career and has coached for several different teams including Tampa Bay (1992-1995), Buffalo (1998-2000, 2005-2007), Carolina (2001), NY Giants (2003), and the Saints (2005).
Schonert played 10 seasons as quarterback, in 72 games and started 10, most notably with the Bengals where he played in two Super Bowls XVI and XXIII. He also played college at Stanford, Edwards’ alma mater.
Perry Fewell - 12th Year in NFL/ 4th with the Bills/ 4th as Defensive Coordinator
Perry Fewell is set to begin his fourth year as defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. Fewell led the Bills defensive unit to a 14th overall ranking last year, holding opponents to 21.4 points per game.
Fewell faced several injuries at key positions, losing veteran starters Aaron Schobel, and Angelo Crowell early in the season.
He performed well considering he started a rookie at cornerback in Leodis McKelvin, a second-year middle linebacker in Paul Posluszny, and several other key positions regularly held by young players in pivotal situations.
One thing that Fewell looks improve upon this season is the turnover ratio. The Bills ranked 27th last season and 25th the year before in that category.
Having an expected increased pass rush this season, the Bills should improve upon that number by putting the quarterback under more pressure. Also, the Bills signed veteran depth in the secondary and expect the young players from last year to develop even more this offseason.
With the additions of rookies Aaron Maybin and Jairus Byrd, Fewell has his hands full getting them in the lineup as they could make significant contributions early.
Fewell came to Buffalo in '06, from Chicago where he worked under Lovie Smith. He succeeded former Bills Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray, who after leading the Bills to two second place finishes in overall defense in '03 and '04, was released after plummeting to 29th overall in '05.
Fewell began with the Tampa 2 scheme, which was a new defense than he had previously worked with. In his first year, the Bills finished 18th overall, but Fewell showed the ability to make sideline adjustments and stick to his decisions.
Fewell has worked as defensive backs coach from 1998-2005 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, St. Louis Rams, and Chicago Bears.
Sean Kugler - 8th Year in NFL/ 3rd with the Bills/ 2nd as Offensive Line Coach
Sean Kugler will begin his second season as offensive line coach for the Bills. Last season he faced some uncertainty early on because of Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters' holdout, and attempted several options during spring minicamps before going with Walker at left tackle and Kirk Chambers at right tackle.
Several questions early on led to inconsistent play for much of last season, giving up 38 sacks—12 more than the previous year—and struggling in short-yardage situations, despite having two quality running backs.
This year, Kugler will be challenged in starting two rookies, and an entirely shifted offensive line with all five players in different positions than last year.
Having veteran center Geoff Hangartner from the Panthers will be great for Kulger in instilling some leadership.
As assistant offensive line coach in 2007, Kugler assisted in LT Jason Peters making the Pro Bowl.
Kugler spent the 2006 football season as the assistant head coach/offensive line coach for Boise State and 2001-2005 working with the offensive line and tight ends, with Dick Jauron and the Detroit Lions.
Matt Sheldon - 8th Year in NFL/ 4th Year with the Bills/ 3rd as Linebackers Coach
Matt Sheldon is set to begin his third year as linebackers coach for the Bills. Over the past two seasons he has worked with one of the NFL’s youngest linebacking groups yet received inspired standout play from his units.
Second-year middle linebacker Paul Posluszny started all 16 games after playing only three games his rookie season because of a broken forearm. Posluszny ranked first on the team with 110 tackles and took a leadership role on the defense. Last year was also the first year utilizing radio communication on defense.
The Bills were faced with a couple injuries to key players with Angelo Crowell sitting out the entire year, and John DiGiorgio missing significant playing time. This year the Bills signed more depth with Pat Johnson, a veteran from Kansas City, and rookie Nic Harris.
Sheldon was special assistant for the St. Louis Rams from 2001-2005, before being named as linebackers coach of the Bills.
Eric Studesville - 13th Year in NFL/ 6th with the Bills/ 2nd as Running Game Coordinator/Running Backs
Studesville is set to begin his second season as running game coordinator for the Bills. Buffalo's run game received a valuable one-two punch last season with starter Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson, combining for 1,607 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
This year the Bills have even more running back depth adding veteran Dominic Rhodes to fill in while Marshawn Lynch faces a three game suspension. Studesville will be faced with an unusual dilemma come week four in deciding how many carries to share between the three quality backs.
Add in the possibility of the growth of running back Xavier Omon and competition will be heavy, which should bring out the best in all four backs. Studesville may decide to run a lot of two back sets, getting as much talent on the field as possible.
Studesville was promoted to running game coordinator/running backs coach last season.
He played an important role in developing rookie running back Marshawn Lynch in the 2007 season, allowing him to produce the second-most rushing yards for a rookie in team history: 1,115.
Studesville spent three seasons coaching running backs for the New York Giants (2001-03) before joining the Bills.
Alex Van Pelt - 4th Year in NFL/ 4th Year with the Bills/ 2nd Year as Quarterbacks Coach
Alex Van Pelt enters his second season as quarterbacks coach with the Buffalo Bills. Last season he helped with the development of second year quarterback Trent Edwards who broke the team record for highest pass completion percentage in a season: 64.51% (309-479)
In 2009, Van Pelt adds a quality backup to the mix, Ryan Fitzpatrick, to help with Edwards' development and as a quality fill-in in case of an injury. The Bills look to pass more this year with more options at receiver and will need all the reps they can get this offseason.
Van Pelt was promoted to quarterbacks coach last season after spending his first two NFL coaching seasons as offensive quality control coach. He joined the coaching staff in the second half of 2006 after spending winter 2006 as the quarterbacks coach for the University at Buffalo.
He also volunteered with the Bills in 2005 as an offensive quality control coach. Before that Van Pelt spent the 2005 NFL Europe season as the Frankfurt Galaxy’s quarterbacks coach where he was responsible for all offensive play calling.
Van Pelt spent nine years in the NFL, his entire career as a member of the Bills playing in 31 games, and starting 11.
He currently ranks in the top 10 in three of the franchise’s key all-time passing categories—career passing yards (2,985 – 10th), completions (262-10th), and attempts (477-10th).