He was pretty much a non factor for the Buffalo Bills last season. But days before Kirk Morrison would have hit the unrestricted free agent market last March, the Oakland, California native opted to re-sign with the Bills for two years.
According to figures in the Buffalo News, the Bills defense was on the field for 1,001 plays last season. Morrison was on the field for a paltry 55 of those plays. But when the Bills asked him to stay, he jumped at the opportunity.
"Last season was tough. I’ve always been on the football field" Morrison told WGR during an appearance on Monday's morning show. " I’ve always been productive. I found myself behind Nick Barnett but he was playing great football. With the switch to the 4-3, this is a place I wanted to come back to. With the environment, I love the coaching staff, the teammates, the area, it was for me. This year for me is a year to prove a lot of people wrong who said I don’t know if he can play."
At this point, Morrison is the starting strong side linebacker in Dave Wannstedt's 4-3 scheme. Starting is something the former third round draft pick is accustomed to, having started 95 of 96 games over six seasons with Oakland(5) and Jacksonville(1).
Even though Morrison is busy preparing himself for the season, it doesn't mean he hasn't kept an eye on other players at camp. When asked who impressed him the most so far, Morrison was quick with his answer, rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
"To be a cornerback in this league, you have to have a short memory" Morrison said. "You’re not going to make every single play but so far he’s made a lot of plays. He’s going up against one of the top receivers in the league in Stevie Johnson every day at practice. He hasn’t played one game yet, he hasn’t even played a pre-season game yet but the confidence that he walks with, the swagger that he plays with in practice has really impressed me as a rookie."
After focusing on the defense in part one of my training camp preview, the offense gets equal time in part two. While the Bills spent a lot of time and a ton of money on the defense in the off season, the offense hasn't exactly been ignored. Although on that side of the ball, money was spent to keep good players around.
You can actually go back to last season's 7 year, $62 million extension for Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starting point. That's the first guy on offense I'll be watching come Thursday afternoon. More on that in a moment.
If you've laid out big money for a player you believe is your franchise quarterback then you need to keep his weapons. Buffalo did that by not letting top receiver Stevie Johnson hit the free agent market, instead giving him a 5 year, $36 million deal.
Buffalo also re-signed Offensive linemen Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart, as well as tight end Scott Chandler and extended the contract of running back Fred Jackson.
The offense has made tremendous strides under the direction of Chan Gailey but there are still some questions about its on field leader. Will we see the Ryan Fitzpatrick from the first seven games of the 2011 season or the final nine games? Was his complete collapse due to what was believed to be a rib injury suffered during the win over Washington in the 7th game or was it just a case of his short comings and inconsistency rearing its ugly head?
One thing to look for in the pre-season practices and exhibition games will be whether or not the tutelage of new QB Coach David Lee will pay immediate dividends. Lee has been working with Fitzpatrick on his mechanics in an effort to cut down on bad throws. Fitzpatrick led the league with 23 interceptions last season.
Then there's the Vince Young factor. Assuming he beats out Tyler Thigpen(which shouldn't take much) for the second string job, is Young a threat for the top spot? What kind of a leash will Gailey have on Fitzpatrick? If he struggles out of the gate in a season where many believe the Bills can end their 12 year playoff drought, how long before Gailey goes to the football version of the bullpen?
Personally I wouldn't even consider the idea until after the first four games of the season and I'd be hesitant to make a change based mostly on the fact I don't think Young would be much of an improvement. I think it would have to be a five alarm fire before Gailey benches Fitzpatrick since the two have a very strong working relationship.
The next most intriguing story on offense is the battle for the number two wide receiver position. On paper, the Bills had a very successful off season but it would have been even better if they were able to land Robert Meacham.
Donald Jones seemingly has the inside track on the rest of the field as the Bills look for another threat to keep defenses from rolling their coverage to Stevie Johnson. The good news is they haven't had that guy the last two years and it still didn't keep Johnson from recording 1,000 yard seasons.
There is a wild card in the mix and that would be Marcus Easley. The Bills fourth round pick in the 2010 draft has the size, skill set and speed to be a valuable weapon in the passing game but we'll never know until he actually steps on the field for a game. Easley hasn't made it out of camp the last two years due to an injury(2010) and a heart condition(2011).
I'll be keeping an eye on rookie wideout T.J. Graham who brings blazing speed with his game but how quickly can he pick up the offense and earn the trust of Fitzpatrick?
There are no questions in the backfield where, after watching C.J. Spiller's performances over the final six games of last season, you can say the Bills have two starting running backs.
I won't be watching the breakdown of carries in camp because I think Fred Jackson will (and should) be the main ball carrier. But it will be interesting to see how much Gailey shows when it comes to Spiller's role. They can use him in a number of ways including a two back set with Jackson or set out as a wide receiver which Spiller was forced to do last season due to a rash of injuries.
The best battle for a starting spot on the 2012 Bills will be on offense. Second round draft pick Cordy Glenn will be going up against second year pro Chris Hairston for the left tackle job. Hairston made seven starts in 2011 as a rookie and played like a rookie with some good days and some not so good days.
When Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey took control of the football operations in 2010, one of their goals was to make the Bills bigger up front on both sides of the ball. Glenn would certainly do that, standing at 6'5" and weighing in at 345 pounds.
Whether or not Glenn can win the starting job isn't the only question about the Georgia product. Many scouts projected him as a guard in the NFL but the Bills are steadfast in their belief that Glenn can succeed protecting the quarterback's blind side.
I'll also be checking out center Eric Wood to make sure he looks okay. Literally and figuratively the anchor of the offensive line, Wood is coming off a second major injury in his young NFL career after tearing an ACL last season.
WGR will provide extensive daily coverage of the Bills training camp on both the station and the web site.
I'll be honest with you. I always get excited about the start of training camp. Even in years when expectations were low for the Buffalo Bills, I would still look forward to the beginning of the workouts at St. John Fisher. Then I would spend a few weeks trying to convince myself the Bills would contend for a playoff spot. I don't need to trick my mind into thinking that this year and that is why everyone is excited for what is about to unfold in Pittsford beginning on Thursday.
There's more excitement surrounding this camp than any other in recent memory due to a number of reasons, not the least of which is the Brinks truck the Bills gave to Mario Williams last March. That isn't the only reason Bills fans are day dreaming about seeing the team in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and it certainly isn't the only story line to follow in camp.
There are plenty of stories I will be checking out as we cover camp and broadcast live from St. John Fisher over the next four weeks.
At the top of the my list(and probably all of yours) is the Bills debut of Mario Williams. The biggest impact addition on defense since Takeo Spikes will have plenty of eyes on him as we see how he is utilized by new Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt. Buffalo's $100 million investment($50 million of which is guaranteed) needs to pay off immediately. I'm sure there will be plenty of #94 jerseys in and around the stands at St. John Fisher.
The prospect of Mario Williams on a line with Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson/Chris Kelsay should make opposing Offensive Coordinators lose sleep the week they prepare to face the Bills.
While on the subject of the line, I'll be keeping my eyes on the "other Williams." Kyle is coming back from Achilles surgery and a bone spurs injury that clearly limited his game last season. A Pro Bowler via the alternate route in 2009 and 2010, a return to full health will give the Bills a force in the middle. Make that two as he pairs with Dareus.
I'll be watching Mark Anderson because I need to know if I am underestimating that signing. Anderson had 10 sacks for New England last season and the combination of his burst and pass rush moves off the other edge could give the Bills tremendous balance along the front. The question is was that double digit sack total really who he is and was he playing well in a contract year? Anderson had 12 sacks as a rookie with Chicago in 2006 but then registered only 13 1/2 over the next four seasons with the Bears and Houston.
He isn't near the top of my list but I'll be checking in on Shawne Merriman too. However, if I get excited about what I see, I want you to stop me. Last year I predicted the defense would be "worlds better" in large part due to how Merriman looked in camp as well as the exhibition games. This tine around I'm going to expect nothing and will hopefully be pleasantly surprised.
If the defense is to be "worlds better" this season(I will claim that I was simply ahead of my time) it can't just be because of the play up front.
Second year linebacker Kelvin Sheppard will need to show he can make plays in the middle and handle the responsibilities given to him in this scheme by Wannstedt. The LSU product showed some ability last season and made nine starts while playing in mostly a two down role. The lack of off season OTA's and an injury during the first week of training camp that forced him to miss valuable practice time curtailed his development.
Lastly on defense, it will be interesting to monitor the development of the young cornerbacks. I think the Bills want Terrence McGee to be one of the starters but you can't bank on that given his injury history over the last few years. Factor in the off season release of veteran Drayton Florence and the inconsistencies of former first round pick Leodis Mckelvin, and the Bills starting tandem could be 2011 second round pick Aaron Williams and this year's first rounder, Stephon Gilmore.
Former CB Troy Vincent was a guest on our show last month and said cornerback is the second most difficult position for a young player to learn next to quarterback. A strong pass rush is a cornerback's best friend and that could make life much easier for Williams and Gilmore. They also have a pair of solid safeties to help them out in George Wilson and Jairus Byrd.
That's my camp plan for watching the defense. Tomorrow I will give you my thoughts on the offense.
Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas is as excited as everyone else in Bills Nation about the upcoming season. Thomas shared some of his thoughts during an hour long, in studio visit to the WGR Morning show on Thursday.
Thomas noted you couldn’t help but have high hopes after the Bills off season moves. “Mario(Williams), Mark Anderson, Fitz(Ryan Fitzpatrick), Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, they spent money” Thomas said. They’re keeping the core players and adding. If you know Dave Wannstedt, you know the type of defense they are going to have. I’m excited about it. They’ve done everything they possibly could do to make this team better even with the draft. Hopefully this is it. I’m always optimistic at the beginning of the season but I haven’t been this excited in a long time. I think it’s a lot of pressure on them because they’re getting the players now.”
Thomas feels the Bills can really set the tone for the season in week one and even called the road opener with the AFC East rival New York Jets a “must” win. “ It almost feels like they have to go out and win this game” Thomas said. “ I think you start looking within the division. The Patriots are still the top team but if the Bills can stay healthy, with that defense. When I saw the schedule I thought 10 or 11 wins right there and squeak into the playoffs. They have to start off fast like they did last year. They have a good closing schedule.”
Thurman also talked about the running back position and remarked how the presence of both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller reminds him of when he and Kenneth Davis were partners in the backfield. As were many Bills fans, Thomas was impressed with Spiller’s performance last season after Jackson went down with a season ending injury in week 11.
“When he got picked 2 years ago, that’s what everyone was expecting right away but he had Freddy Jackson there and he had to learn” Thomas noted. “ Now CJ knows how to do this and you can see how his running style changed the last 5 or 6 games. “
As far as how to utilize both men in the offense, Thomas knows Head Coach Chan Gailey will have a plan.
“You have to use Fred as much as you possibly can and you have to use CJ. Chan Gailey has to find a way to use both of these guys” Thomas told WGR.
“Freddy always made a big play whether it was in the running game or the passing game. He’s just been a remarkable player. I hope he comes out and does it again.”
On the topic of the head coach, whom Thomas once played for when Gailey was an assistant in Miami, Thurman is a big fan. “I love him as a head coach. He’s straight forward. When he was in Miami he called me out in a meeting once” Thomas recalled. “ He is straight forward with everything. I think the 3 years he’s been here, he has built something. He’s got players know. I talked to Chan and the first thing he said is now we’re going to see if I’m a good coach or not.”
Thomas said the Alumni are all excited for the upcoming season and he thinks we’ll see more of them coming back to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the games.
It wasn’t too long ago the Buffalo Bills had a player who used to refer to his playing style as “beast mode.” Now they have a player who will be a beast to handle this season.
This morning Joe Buscaglia and I spent time talking about the one Bills player who has us most excited about the upcoming season. The answer for most of you is probably Mario Williams but it would have been a boring discussion if everyone agreed so who else would you nominate?
Allow me to present Marcell Dareus. I’m salivating at the idea of Dareus operating in the middle of that defensive line, next to Kyle Williams and flanked by Mario Williams and Chris Kelsay/Mark Anderson.
I think Dareus will be eating up opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks and spitting them out during the 2012 campaign.
He’s big. He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s even dropping weight to cover more ground on the field. Listed at 340 pounds, Dareus was down to 331 at the start of the Organized Team Activities in the spring and said he plans to be at 325 for the start of training camp.
He will be part of a much more talented and deeper defensive line and the switch to the 4-3 scheme under new Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt should give him more freedom to make plays.
He made enough plays on a bad defense last season to make you smile when thinking about his future. Dareus made the NFL’s All Rookie team after recording 43 tackles from a defensive tackle position where much of his job was based on occupying blockers.
On one of the worst pass rushing teams in the NFL, Dareus did his part by managing a team best 5 ½ sacks. He also recorded 4 tackles for loss which was second best on the Bills behind Nick Barnett.
In addition to the points I stated earlier, Dareus obviously has a year of NFL experience under his belt and certainly learned some valuable lessons over his rookie season.
He’ll also get the benefit of a full off season of work(OTA’s and Minicamp) something last year’s rookies did not get due to the lockout.
I remember the night the Bills drafted Dareus and as he walked on stage to meet the Commissioner, all I could think was “this guy is HUGE and he’s going to play for the Bills!!”
Edge rushers get much of the glory and the eye popping contracts(just ask Mario Williams) but when you have a guy like Dareus(and Kyle Williams for that matter) who can be a disruptive force in the middle of the defense, it makes a world of difference.
When single blocked, I envision Dareus just swatting that blocker aside as he collapses the pocket and takes dead aim at the quarterback. Or knifing through the heart of the offensive line to make a tackle for loss. Or just holding his ground and swallowing up running backs.
In a season where there will be high expectations for what was a beleaguered Bills defense in 2011, look for Dareus to have a breakout year and be a devastating presence inside.
WGR 550 will provide daily coverage of Bills training camp which begins on July 26th.
Don’t tell my wife but while I was out with her for an anniversary dinner last night(17 years she’s been stuck with me), I couldn’t get my mind off of Steve Ott.
I absolutely LOVE the trade and as opposed to many of you, it’s about who is coming in and not who was sent out.
I didn’t have a problem with Derek Roy. Up until last season, he was a productive player at a position of need around the NHL. I don’t think he was a cancer in the locker room and is a good number two center who was in the number one role out of default.
I was pumped because Ted Black and Darcy Regier have talked about making their team tougher to play against and Steve Ott is the poster child for that kind of player.
Do you know the kind of player who makes you yell at the television set whenever you watch him play? The kind of player who makes you so angry that you wish you could put on skates and go out there and punch the guy in the face? That guy is Steve Ott. You can’t stand him….until your team trades for him and then you have a man crush. The Sabres acquired that guy.
Ott is the kind of player who can stir things up and more than handle himself. He’s the kind of player who will answer the challenge when the other team tries to stir something up. He’s the kind of player that makes his teammates feel more courageous and safer on the ice.
But Ott isn’t just a “policeman”. There is skill in his game. The soon to be 30 year old has recorded five straight seasons of double digit goals. He’s averaged 15 goals and 35 points over those five seasons in Dallas (while also averaging 154 penalty minutes.) Over that time span, there are only two players in the NHL who have at least 75 goals and 700 PIM’s. One is Steve Ott and the other is Scott Harnell, who might be atop your list of players you despise but deep down you wish they were on your favorite team.
For those of you who have been worried about the Sabres ability to win faceoffs since Paul Gaustad was traded to Nashville, Ott won 56% of his faceoffs the last three years with the Stars.
Good or bad, he can and has crossed the line when physical play becomes dirty play. He was suspended for three games in March 2008 for a hit to the head of then Colorado Avalanche defenseman and now teammate Jordan Leopold. Ott admitted it was a cheap shot and told WGR he plans to apologize to Leopold when he sees him at training camp.
Ott received a one game ban in March of 2009 after receiving a match penalty for eye gouging Anaheim’s Travis Moen. Ott claims it was an accident.
It won’t be an accident when Ott takes his physical play into games against the Boston Bruins. That was one of the first things I thought of after I heard about the trade. Lucic, Thornton, Boychuk, Marchand and company might actually have a Sabres team that can stand up to them with Ott, McCormick, John Scott, Mike Weber and Corey Tropp. Perhaps Patrick Kaleta will be on that growing list if he is re-signed by the Sabres and does a little more standing up and fighting rather than drawing a penalty and turning.
Listen to the entire interview with Ott from the WGR Morning show. You’ll love what he says about playing in Buffalo and facing the Boston Bruins.
Of all the things I have read and heard about Ott since last night, I’ll tell you the one thing that really struck me and made me smile.
When he was playing for Team Canada in the 2001 World Junior Championships, Ott actually learned some offensive phrases in other languages just so he could trash talk and get under the skin of the European players. Now that is dedication to doing whatever it takes to give your team an advantage.
That guy is now a Buffalo Sabre. Well done, Darcy. Now go and get Bobby Ryan.