Kyle Williams has been on defenses that have been mediocre to bad to downright awful in his 6 year Buffalo Bills career. Williams, like many others inside and outside of the organization, expects this season to be different.
An off season that included the biggest free agent signing in the NFL, a new scheme, new Defensive Coordinator and another first round draft pick being spent on the defensive side of the ball, has many convinced the Bills will dramatically improve in that area.
“There are reasons to be optimistic where this is headed” Williams said during a segment on the WGR Morning Show on Wednesday. “But its like we’ve talked about with the defensive linemen, everything looks good on paper but none of it matters unless you put the work in so we’ve got a long way to go but I think the potential is there.”
The Bills are coming off a season where the defense was one of the worst in franchise history while ending up 30th in the NFL in points allowed and 26th in total yards per game.
But the off season additions/moves, season number two for Marcell Dareus and Williams himself returning to full health after an injury shortened 2011 campaign are among the reasons for the optimism.
“You look around and see a lot of talent and really good football players and think the sky is the limit but it all goes back to hard work” Williams said. “With everybody we’ve added, we feel good about where we can go.”
High expectations can bring with it the pressure to meet those expectations but the LSU product is ready for the challenge. “We do what we do because we want to be the best” Williams told WGR. “That should be our aiming point, our goal. That should always be our goal. Now with a new lift to us with Coach Wannstedt and new players, enthusiasm’s running around.”
As to Wannstedt who takes over as Coordinator from George Edwards, Williams says fans will like what they see. “We’re going to be an attacking defense” Williams said of the 4-3 scheme the Bills will utilize. “It’s a little different from what we’ve done the last couple of years. Guys are going to have their hands on the ground, coming off the ball, attacking guys. Everybody in our room is excited about what we’re going to do on defense.”
In Williams 6 seasons with the Bills, the defense has finished in the bottom half of the league in total yards allowed 5 times. A 14th place finish in 2008 is the high water mark.
They’ve been in the bottom half in terms of points allowed in 4 of the 6 seasons with 10th being their best ranking in 2006.
Williams also told WGR his rehab from the surgery on bone spurs in his foot is going well and he anticipates being able to go 100% by the start of training camp.
Mark Asper hopes to someday be known as a starting NFL offensive lineman but for now the Bills rookie has to settle for being known as “The Heimlich Guy.”
Buffalo’s sixth round pick in the draft last month was a three year starter for the Oregon Ducks but his fame, to this point, has come for performing the Heimlich maneuver on the father of an Oregon student during Rose Bowl week. Asper was taking part in the annual “Beef Bowl” which pits the two Rose Bowl combatants in a battle to see which team consumes more beef.
Asper, who did his part by downing four pieces of Prime Rib, was on the losing squad but saved a life and was told that University of Wisconsin fans began referring to him as “The Heimlich Guy.” You can listen to Asper tell the story during a segment on the WGR Morning Show and find out why he hasn’t kept in touch with the man whose life he saved.
As to football, Asper was one of many rookies in town for a minicamp this past weekend and finished his first workout feeling good. “My head spun a bit”, the 6-6, 319 pound Asper said. “Playing center(new position for him) with a new offense, a new scheme, new calls and new people.”
Asper made 13 starts at right tackle for the Ducks and 25 at right guard, where he played last season. Prior to the Bills minicamp, he spent a week taking a crash course on center at the University of Oregon.
“I knew coming in I had more work cut out for me,” the 26 year old Asper told WGR. “The other guys have played their positions for three or four years. They can rely on muscle memory or old technique. I was looking at the defense from a new spot in the line which made things look a little different at first and having to worry about getting the ball to the quarterback made things different so I knew I had to hit the playbook and act like I belong here.”
Yes, you did read that correctly. Asper is 26 years old. He spent two years on a mission in Spain. Not only is he 26 but he’s also married and has two daughters so he isn’t your typical rookie by any means. Asper was serious about his education as well, earning two undergraduate degrees from Oregon and he is currently working on a graduate degree.
Based on his parents resume, it isn’t surprising T.J. Graham is involved in athletics. What is surprising is the sport he chose. Instead of following his parents path into track and field, Graham opted for football and will now attempt to make the Bills look smart for selecting him in the third round of last month’s draft.
Speed is his greatest asset and you can credit Graham’s bloodlines for that. His father, Trevor, won a silver medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics with the Jamaican 4x400 relay team. His mother, Ann, ran track in college and now coaches in high school. But T.J. wanted to be different so he concentrated more on football and evolved as a player over his four years at North Carolina State.
“When he came to N.C State, he was a track star who was playing football” Wolfpack Coach Tom O’Brien told WGR during a recent interview. “I think he’s grown into a viable option. He will grow and get better each and every day because he works so hard at it. He is now a football player with great speed.”
Graham, who has been timed anywhere from 4.37 to 4.39 in the 40 yard dash, played all four years at N.C. State but wasn’t a big factor in the offense until his senior season when he led the team in receiving with 46 catches for 757 yards and 7 touchdowns.
“My football knowledge wasn’t that great coming into college” Graham told WGR. He credits O’Brien and Offensive Coordinator Dana Bible for his ascent into the NFL Draft. “You could tell my career got better and its just me understanding offense better and understanding football better” Graham said.
Graham has done his homework in preparation for what he hopes will be a long and successful pro career. He spent last season watching as many NFL games as possible to see which teams he would fit in with the best. That’s one reason why he was excited when the Bills called his name.
“I’m happy where I landed” said Graham. “I think I am falling into a good situation where I can help out a team and play right away. Watching Stevie(Johnson) and (Ryan) Fitzpatrick play, I feel like I could play with them. I fit right in that(offense), they needed a guy who can take the top off, somebody that can get down the field. I was pretty excited about the possibility of playing for them last fall.”(while watching the Bills on TV)
Shortly after being drafted by the Bills, Graham got in touch with the number one wide receiver and the starting qb. “I enjoy watching Stevie and Ryan play, I told them that” Graham said on WGR. “They tweeted me and Ryan sent me a text too. I think they’re kind of impressed with my Bills knowledge.”
Graham was a major special teams threat at N.C. State, returning punts and kicks in each of his four seasons. He left Raleigh as not only the school’s all time leader in kick returns but the best in ACC history too.
But the Bills have said they plan to let Graham focus on the receiving position as opposed to the return games. Chan Gailey said he sees Graham as an outside, field stretching receiver. Last season he had a catch of 47 yards or more in five of the Wolfpack’s 13 games. His career yards per catch average was 14.7.
One part of his game that will definitely need work is ball security. Graham had 6 fumbles last season and 12 in his career.
He didn’t completely ignore the sport of track and field, where he excelled in high school as a 2 time state champion in the 100 and 200 meters. Graham waited until his senior year to join the track team at N.C. State and ended up earning 2nd team All American honors as a sprinter.
As the NFL world deals with the death of Junior Seau, active players are once again answering questions about the sport they love and whether or not it will bring an early end to their life. That was just one of the topics we brought up with Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson when he joined Jeremy White and me on Thursday.
Wilson, who said he felt complete shock when he heard of Seau’s death, said long term health wasn’t something players used to think about much but that’s changed with all of the research in recent years. “Guys are more mindful of the harm they subject themselves to over their entire career” said Wilson. “You have more guys thinking long term and not just to be able to take care of their families but to be around and be able to enjoy their families.”
Despite the research and stories of debilitating injuries, dementia and in some cases suicide, Wilson has never thought about giving up the game even though it may take years off his life. “That’s something I definitely know, that I understand and most guys who look at the information objectively should understand as well” Wilson told WGR. “Playing this game comes with some trade offs and you have to give up something to get something and unfortunately its our time.”
Which might beg the question: Is it really worth it? There was no hesitation as Wilson responded in the affirmative. “This is something we’ve done our entire lives” the Bills player rep said. “Its in our bloodstream. This is something we live to do. We love the competition, the aggression, the camaraderie that comes with playing the game. It doesn’t make the person but it helps be part of the person. Being a part of this game is tremendous fun, competing, facing different challenges different teams present. Guys live for and thrive for this but with new information, if you ask guys would they allow their sons to play this game, that’s when you’ll start to hear a few different answers than you heard a few years ago.”
On that point we turned to Steve Tasker who also joined us on Thursday’s show. Tasker has sons who play football and his oldest, Luke, had a standout career at St. Francis High School and now plays at Cornell University. Tasker said he never thought about not letting his kids play football. “For me, even now at this point in my life, I think the positives far outweigh the negatives” Tasker said. “The game is such a great teacher of life skills, its not all about them, you have to be part of a group, part of a team and be willing to sacrifice for the greater good.”
The risk for players in the NFL doesn’t just end when their career ends. For many that is when the problem begins as they deal with various injuries or afflictions brought on as a result of the physical pounding their bodies took.
That’s why Wilson believes the NFL should do more when it comes to monitoring players once they can no longer play the game they love so much. “That’s difficult for someone who’s always been able to handle challenges and some guys handle it better than others” Wilson said. “We’re so accustomed to being very masculine and being able to handle whatever comes our way that we’re expected to be able to get through it. We’re still human. We’re still men and we need that help.”
As far as the future of the game and whether or not the NFL can take additional steps to increase safety, Wilson said they have made tremendous strides with the changes in kickoff coverage, the crackdown on hits to the head and fines for hits above the shoulder. He added it is a collision sport and there’s only so much you can do without changing the way the game is played.
Tasker, who made a name for himself on special teams, thinks they may be moving towards the day when the league will take kickoffs completely out and even though people will “frown and cry” about it, in the long run it will be good for the players as they go on with their lives. The NFL has taken numerous steps to make the game safer for quarterbacks and Tasker feels they’re going to make it that way for everybody eventually.
Lorenzo Ward has coached a lot of players over his 20 plus years in the college ranks and one season in the NFL but very few have made an impression on him like Stephon Gilmore. The Defensive Coordinator at the University of South Carolina was gushing about the Buffalo Bills first round draft pick during an interview with the WGR Morning show on Tuesday.
“He’s probably the most competitive young man I’ve ever coached” Ward said. “I’ve been blessed to coach some pretty good football players, some that have played in the league(NFL) for quite some time. D’Angelo Hall was a young man I was blessed to coach at Virginia Tech and even when I was in the pros(Oakland in 2006) I was able to coach Nnamdi Asomugha. I think Gilmore is right in those two guys class.”
With 40 starts over his three seasons at South Carolina, Gilmore has an impressive college resume which is one of the reasons the Bills were more than happy to use their first round pick, 10th overall on the cornerback.
Ward says much of the credit for Gilmore’s development in his football career goes to Gilmore himself. “You don’t have to motivate Stephon. Stephon comes to work every day” Ward told WGR. “He’s self motivated and wants to be good and he is a very professional young man in everything he does so I know what I would get in a Gilmore. I have never seen the young man or heard the young man drink. He’s not a partier. You won’t see him in the lime light and in the streets of Buffalo. That’s not who he is.”(Insert your favorite Marshawn Lynch story here)
No question Gilmore comes highly recommended but can he start right away in the NFL? From a physical standpoint, there’s no doubt in Ward’s mind that Gilmore can do just that. It will come down to his learning curve and how fast he grasps the NFL game and the Bills schemes. But Ward is confident Gilmore will dive right into Dave Wannstedt’s play book from day one. Every chance Gilmore had, he would head to the film room to do some studying and Ward said that was also a trait of Asomugha.
There are some fans who were concerned with Gilmore’s subdued reaction on draft night and his soft spoken, even keeled personality that has been evident in his first few interviews with Western New York media but Ward says not to worry. “Stephon is very quiet, he very rarely talks” Ward said. “But when the lights come on, when he crosses the white line, whether its practice or in a game, he’s ready to compete. He’s physical, he wants to go against the best receiver in practice. A lot of times in the league, they look for leaders and they think leaders have to be voices but that’s not how Stephon leads.”
Gilmore started from day one for the Gamecocks and was All SEC 3 seasons in Columbia but still made strides from his freshman year through his junior campaign. “I think his greatest growth came in the knowledge of the game” said Ward. “Studying his opponent or learning totally what we’re doing on defense. Not just his position but what other people were doing around him and I think it helped him understand when he can take a chance and when he couldn’t take a chance.”