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Howard Simon's Blog

Posts from January 2013

Sabres Ott Made For Game Like This

When the NHL released its lockout shortened 48 game schedule, one of the first things Steve Ott looked for was the season’s initial meeting with the Boston Bruins.  Ott might not have literally circled January 31st on his calendar but the date was committed to memory.

One of the off season goals for the Buffalo Sabres management was to make the team tougher to play against and the acquisition of Ott was a big piece of their plan.  You can thank tonight’s opponent for causing the Sabres to react.

The Ryan Miller-Milan Lucic incident was the defining moment of the 2011-2012 season for the Sabres, who hope that will never happen again, thanks in part to the presence of Ott and another off season pickup, John Scott.

Ott has a bit of a history with the Bruins going back to his time with the Dallas Stars.  During a game in March 2009, Ott blindsided Gregory Campbell, who is currently with the Bruins but at that time was playing for the Florida Panthers. 

Campbell didn’t face Ott again until he became a Bruin. In a game on February 3, 2011, the two fought as the puck hit the ice for the opening faceoff.   There were three separate fights in the first four seconds that night and Ott, not surprisingly, is a villain in the eyes of Bruins fans now.

We all thought about toughness the moment the Ott for Derek Roy trade was announced but I didn’t realize there’s more to Ott’s game than just agitating.  He was a first round pick, 25th overall in the 2000 draft.

Ott was considered one of the top junior players in Canada and would play for his country in the 2001 World Junior Championships.  That produced the best story I have read about him since he came to Buffalo.

In order to increase his ability to get under the skin of opposing players in the tournament, Ott learned and memorized offensive phrases in other languages.

But as I said, Ott has more to his game than just running his mouth and rolling up penalty minutes, of which he has nearly 12 hundred in 572 NHL games.

Over his last five years in Dallas, Ott averaged 15 goals and 35 points a season.  He totaled 20 power play goals over the last four seasons in addition to three shorthanded goals and eight game winning scores.

Over the last five years, there are only two players in the NHL who have at least 75 goals and 700 penalty minutes.  One is Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell, considered one of the best agitators in the league and the other is Steve Ott.

We had Ott on our show shortly after the trade and we asked him about his role on the Sabres.  Ott talked about competing and battling and challenging the opponents’ top guys to see if they would answer back.  He went on to promise Sabre fans he would be showing up for all 82 games and “especially the six against Boston”.


Stafford Ice Cold

Since the season opening five goal explosion in a win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Buffalo Sabres offense has been, as Head Coach Lindy Ruff desc ribed it, a “one trick pony”.  The Sabres have managed just eight goals in the last four games and have lost three of the four.

Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson have combined for nine of the team’s 13 goals this season so Ruff is looking for any of  the other ponies in the stable to produce.  Much is expected of the Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford trio but that group was broken up after four very unproductive games.

Ennis and Foligno showed signs of their respective games coming around this past weekend with both players finally breaking into the goal scoring column but Stafford remains ice cold.

A two time 20 goal scorer and just two seasons removed from a career best 31 goals(which as many will point out occurred in a contract year), Stafford has yet to score this season.  It isn’t due to a lack of chances.  His 16 shots on goal is tied for third best on the team and Stafford’s average of 18 minutes and 47 seconds of ice time a game, is third best among the forwards.  He’s also logged more than 17 minutes of power play time over the first five games yet he has as many goals for the Sabres as I do. 

Slow starts have been an issue for the former first round draft pick out of North Dakota.  Last season he actually scored three goals in the first four games but tallied just one in the next 22.  Through the end of January, Stafford had only eight goals.

Four years ago, Stafford had just three goals in his first 20 games and the season before that, it was two goals over the first 17 contests.  Even in his 31 goal campaign, most of that damage was in the second half of the season.  He scored 27 times from December through the end of the season.

If you look at shooting percentages, Stafford has been trending downward.  In his first full NHL season, the 27 year old Stafford scored on 19% of his shots.  It dropped in each of the next three years to 15,  10 and then down to 7%.  It jumped up to a career best 17% two years ago(in the contract year) and plummeted back down to 8% last season when he had a career best 226 shots on goal.






Senior Bowl QB's Didn't Look Good

If your plan was to watch the Senior Bowl and hope to fall in love with a “Bills quarterback of the future”, I’m guessing you are still unattached.

None of the six signal callers who played this past Saturday had a “wow” game and that includes Florida State’s EJ Manuel, who was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player after leading all three touchdown drives in the South’s 21-16 triumph over the North.  Although, one of those “drives” started at the North five yard line after a big kickoff return.

Manuel is big and strong and compiled a 25-6 record after taking over for Christian Ponder at FSU.  He was the best runner of the group and used his legs for a three yard touchdown.  His touchdown pass was a perfect throw of 20 yards as he hit his tight end in the back of the end zone.  It was perfectly placed, over the safety who had good coverage on the play, right into the hands of the target.

Most of Manuel’s completions were short throws and he was inaccurate on a few occasions, missing his receivers due to low throws. He ended up 7-10 for 76 yards.   NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said NFL scouts were suggesting Manuel will go in the third or fourth round.

Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib had a horrible game.  He threw an interception on one drive and while moving around to avoid a pass rush on another drive, Nassib was hit and fumbled the ball. Nassib was just 4-10 for 44 yards.   This followed what some draft observers termed was an “up and down” week of practice for Nassib. 

Mayock said he’s seen Nassib going back to high school and said he can “really rip it”. Mayock added that Nassib has an edge to him and scouts love that.  Scouts told Mayock they liked Nassib’s leadership and toughness but they need to see more accuracy.

Tyler Wilson out of Arkansas had mixed results with his performance.  Awarded the most outstanding quarterback of the week by a panel of NFL scouts who watched the practices, Wilson had a chance to make a big play but underthrew an open receiver in the end zone.  If he was on target with the throw, it was a touchdown but it was almost picked off because it was underthrown. 

However, Bills General Manager Buddy Nix, who has an affinity for SEC players,  did say Wilson’s arm was stronger than he thought, after watching practices during the week. Wilson finished 8-11 for 40 yards.

Mike Glennon from North Carolina State was inconsistent too.  His second half was better than the first and it included beautiful throws on back to back plays.  On the first, Glennon, who is not known for his mobility, was flushed out of the pocket and ran to his right.  He threw a dart to the sideline, over a linebacker in coverage and perfectly placed into the hands of his receiver who had time to get both feet inbounds.

On the next play, Glennon threw another strike down the seam to a receiver who was well covered for a good pickup. 

In the first half, Glennon had speedy Texas WR Marquise Goodwin open deep down the field but his throw was slightly off target and a little long and it fell incomplete off Goodwin’s finger tips.  On that same possession, Glennon missed a guy on a screen and missed another receiver on third down. 

Glennon went three and out on the next possession and again missed his target on a third down throw. Glennon’s final stat line was 8-16 for 82 yards.

Oklahoma’s Landry Jones did absolutely nothing, completing only 3 of 9 passes for 16 yards.  Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert was bad.  Dysert did lead a good drive at the end of the game for the North but earlier in the game, he threw an interception and on another possession, was sacked and lost a fumble. That late drive helped his numbers which were 10-16 for 93 yards.

West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Matt Barkley from USC, both of whom could be drafted in round one, did not take part.  Smith declined an invitation and Barkley is rehabbing an injury suffered late in the season.




Canes Mediocre Since Winning the Cup
Whenever the Sabres face the Carolina Hurricanes, perhaps it brings up bad memories.  You know, the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals where Sabres defensemen were dropping like flies including Jay McKee going down with a staph infection.  The Sabres played the decisive seventh game without McKee, Henrik Tallinder, Dmitri Kalinin and Teppo Numminen  and still had a lead nearing the end of the second period.

Of course, the Canes came back to win and went on to bring home the franchise's first ever Stanley Cup Championship.  What happened with the Sabres was just part of a hard to believe playoff run.  In the opening round, Carolina lost the first two games to seventh seed Montreal on home ice and gave up 12 goals in the process.  Don't forget, when the playoffs began, the eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner was a spectator.  Rookie goalie Cam Ward only got a chance to play because Martin Gerber was so bad that he was pulled in game two.  The Canadiens also lost Saku Koivu for the series in game three, the first of a number of injuries suffered by teams that would face the Canes that spring.

Carolina knocked out three seed New Jersey in the second round and eliminated the Sabres before facing the 8th seed Edmonton Oilers, who were down to their third string goalie in the Finals.  Are you kidding me? This might be the most fortunate post season run ever.

Maybe the hockey gods realized they went overboard that season and have  been trying to make amends.  Since winning the Cup in the spring of 2006, the Hurricanes have been a rather pedestrian franchise with just one playoff berth in the last six seasons.

Carolina's winning percentage over that time is .479 and they've averaged just 88 points.  They had 112 in that magical 05-06 season.  The low point came last season when they finished last in the Southeast Division with 82 points.  Prior to that, they recorded two second place finishes and finished in third place three times.

I never realized this but did you know the Carolina Hurricanes have been around as long as Lindy Ruff has been behind the Sabres bench?  The Hartford Whalers turned into the Carolina Hurricanes for the 1997-98 season which was Ruff's first as Sabres Head Coach.  For what its worth, over those 14 years, the Canes have made the playoffs just 5 times while Ruff has guided the Sabres into the post season 8 times. While the Canes have averaged 88 points in the six seasons since they won the Cup, the Sabres have averaged 96 and have three division titles to their credit but they haven't won a playoff series since the second round in 2007.

Doug Whaley Talks Senior Bowl Prospects
Bills scouts have been camped out in Mobile, Alabama this week evaluating the top senior prospects for the upcoming NFL draft.  Bills Assistant General Manager Doug Whaley was on the John Murphy show on Wednesday and talked about a number of the quarterbacks who are showing their skills to the NFL talent evaluators.

One possibility is Tyler Wilson from Arkansas.  Bills G-M Buddy Nix said he didn’t realize Wilson’s arm was as strong as it is until he saw him in person this week.  Whaley is a fan of the 6-2, 220 pound Wilson as well.

“I think one of the things that impresses me the most about Tyler Wilson,” Whaley said “if you look at him in college he was always under duress, so I think he’s getting here and he’s got time to throw and time to step in and time to put some zip on the ball. His talent level and skill level is starting to shine because he’s got some time and pocket presence and not always running for his life."

Perhaps the least publicized of the 6 quarterbacks who will compete in Saturdays Senior Bowl is Zac Dysert from Miami of Ohio and the Mid American Conference.  Whaley said Dysert has had an up and down week. "Its been sporadic. He had a good day the first day but then he kind of struggled” Whaley told Murphy. “That’s to be expected here because a lot of things are going through a guy’s head.”

“They may be throwing a bunch of offensive plays and he starts to swim and then he starts to press and when you start to press, and anyone who has played golf knows when you press you start to shank the ball,  those are the types of things you want him to work through.  I like the guy and one of his biggest qualities is keeping the play alive similar to the other  qb from Miami of Ohio that came out." (Ben Roethlisberger)

You can listen to the entire interview with Doug Whaley and hear what he had to say about  quarterbacks Ryan Nassib and Mike Glennon as well as some of the top wide receivers and linebackers who are working out.

Myers off to slow start
There are a number of factors that need to play out for the Buffalo Sabres if they are, at the very least, going to make a return appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and win a post season series for the first time in six years.

Among them is the play of 4th year defenseman Tyler Myers.  Its only two games but the player tabbed by many of us as a "franchise defenseman of the future", has struggled out of the gates.  Despite scoring a goal in the opening win over Philadelphia, Myers play and his decision making was shaky.  He took a step back, at least in terms of ice time, during Monday's win in Toronto.

Myers ended up with just 18 minutes and 6 seconds of ice time, a far cry from his career average of just under 23 minutes a game.  It was his second lowest ice time total going all the way back to the start of last season.  Myers was on the ice for the Leafs power play goal with 1:42 left and that was the last time he was out there.  With the Sabres trying to hang on to the 2-1 lead and facing a Toronto team with an extra attacker, Lindy Ruff went with Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Christian Ehrhoff and Andrej Sekera as his defensemen over the final 102 seconds.

During his weekly segment on the WGR morning show, Ruff said Myers is struggling a little on the physical side and in his battles and needed to tighten up his game inside the Sabres zone.  

Myers, who turns 23 on February 1st, burst out of the gate as a rookie and was fairly consistent on the way to winning the Calder Trophy in 2010.  The last two seasons he has started slowly and has dealt with extended slumps.  Last season Myers game was down enough for Ruff to actually bench him.

He had 48 points and was a plus 13 his rookie season but Myers production slipped to 37 points and he was an even player two years ago.  Playing only 55 games last season due to injuries, a suspension and the benching, Myers had 23 points and was a plus 5.

Despite his inconsistent play, the Sabres were a different team when Myers was on the ice.  Buffalo was 31-21-4 when he played and just 8-11-7 when Myers was out of the lineup.

Youth is no longer an excuse for  Myers, who is making $12 million this season thanks to a 7 year, $38.5 million extension signed in September 2011.  He has three seasons, 219 regular season games and two playoff series on his resume.  Myers needs to become a consistent force for the Sabres both in his own end and on the offensive side of the ice.  You can tell Myers is on top of his game when his passes are starting plays and when he joins the offensive rush, even going down low at times.

Myers was part of one of the best draft classes ever in terms of defensemen.  Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo and Luke Schenn were all drafted before him.  Erik Karlsson, Jake Gardiner, Michael Del Zotto and John Carlson were selected after him in round one.  Doughty and Pietrangelo have had better careers to this point and Erik Karlsson appears to have flown past Myers last season by winning the Norris Trophy.  Its time for Myers to take the next step and play consistently so Ruff can trust him and lean on him for the workload that top defensemen are asked to handle.  

College QB's Season Recap
With the front office and coaching moves completed, the Buffalo Bills are now faced with the task of making their roster better for the 2013 season and addressing their top need, quarterback.
Here is a recap of how the 2012 season went for nine of the quarterbacks who will be available in the April draft.
Geno Smith/West Virginia-  Smith closed out his career in Morgantown with his best statistical season, completing a career high 71% of his throws for more than 4000 yards.  His touchdown to interception ratio was an eye popping 40-6.  He earned second team All Big 12 honors.
But Smith’s season wasn’t without its issues.  He was red hot out of the gate but slumped over the second half of the schedule.  He didn’t face a top 20 pass defense all season and didn’t fare well against the two highest rated defenses he did see.  Against Texas Tech(23rd) and Oklahoma(26th), the 6-3, 214 pounder completed only 55% of his passes with 5 TD’s and 2 INT’s.
A sub par performance in a Pinstripe Bowl loss to Ryan Nassib and Syracuse may have also hurt his draft stock.  Smith turned down an invitation from the Senior Bowl.
Matt Barkley/USC- speaking of someone’s draft stock possibly taking a hit, I give you Matt Barkley who some claim would have been a top 10 pick had he come out after last season.  But Barkley chose to return to school for his senior year and it was a disappointing one for he and the Trojans. 
Barkley saw a drop in completion percentage(63%), passing yards(3273) and touchdowns(36) and he threw twice as many interceptions( a career high 15) as he did in 2011.  His season also ended early due to a shoulder injury in a loss to UCLA.  That kept Barkley from playing against top ranked Notre Dame and he missed the Trojans bowl game as well.
A four year starter, Barkley leaves USC with more than 12,000 career passing yards, 116 touchdowns and 48 interceptions.
Mike Glennon/North Carolina State-  Glennon’s stock is on the rise after his senior season.  A two year starter who took over following Russell Wilson’s decision to transfer to Wisconsin, Glennon’s completion percentage dropped from 62% to 57% but he threw for 600 more yards(3648) than he did in 2011.  He had 30 touchdowns to go along with 14 interceptions.
The 6-6, 232 pounder led the ACC in passing yards per game and became the first Wolfpack quarterback to throw for 30 or more touchdowns in two different seasons(he had 31 in 2011).
Ryan Nassib/Syracuse- He might be the hottest stock in the QB market right now.  A three year starter for the Orange and current Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone, Nassib closed out his collegiate career with a bang.  While learning a new up tempo, no huddle offense, Nassib recorded career bests in completion percentage(63%), yards(3619) and touchdowns(24). He was picked off just nine times. 
Named to the All Big East second team, Nassib will be the first Syracuse quarterback to be drafted since Donovan McNabb in 1999 and just the third SU QB to be selected since 1945.  Nassib threw for more than 9000 yards in his three seasons, 68 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.
Tyler Wilson/Arkansas- Wilson might be one of the most gifted quarterbacks in the class but a down year for the Razorbacks kept him from receiving more acclaim.  The successor to Ryan Mallet, Wilson had a tremendous 2011 season, throwing for more than 3600 yards, 24 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. He became the first Arkansas QB to ever earn first team All-SEC honors from coaches and the media.
But Head Coach Bobby Petrino was fired in the off season and the Razorbacks offensive productivity left Fayetteville with him.  The 6-3, 220 pound senior had a slight drop in yards(just under 3400) and tossed 3 fewer TD’s but his INT total went from 6 to 13. 
Tyler Bray/Tennessee- Like Wilson, Bray’s team had a disappointing season but it doesn’t take away from the fact he has a strong skill set and perhaps the most powerful arm of the group. 
Bray was a three year starter for the Volunteers.  Bray had a career high 3612 yards passing, almost double the numbers he put up in 2010 and again in 2011.  He also had a career best 34 touchdowns but his 12 interceptions were the most he had thrown in a single season.  Bray’s accuracy has come under scrutiny as well since he never completed more than 59% of his passes in any season in Knoxville.
Landry Jones/Oklahoma- Jones could have left for the NFL after 2011 but like Barkley, opted to go back for his senior season.  A three year starter, taking over for Sam Bradford, Jones completed 65% of his passes for the Sooners this season.  He threw for 3989 yards(down about 500 yards from 2011), had 29 touchdowns(his lowest total over the 3 seasons) and 10 interceptions.  Jones threw for 38 touchdowns as a junior and what turned out to be a career best 47 during his sophomore campaign.
An All BIG 12 second team selection, Jones leaves Oklahoma holding 13 school passing records including career yards at 12,379.
EJ Manuel/Florida State- Manuel was a two year starter for the Seminoles succeeding Christian Ponder.  He completed 67% of his passes this season for 3101 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.  His 2011 stat line read 65%, 2666 yards, 18 TD’s and 8 INT’s. 
Manuel is physically gifted with a 6-4, 240 pound frame and running skills that make some scouts say he reminds them of Cam Newton.  A second team ALL-ACC selection, Manuel’s stock might be hurt by the fact he did not fare well in the biggest games of the season, most notably a loss at home to in state rival Florida.
Zac Dysert/Miami(Ohio)- Guess who he’s being compared to?  The most famous quarterback to come out of the Miami program, Ben Roethlisberger.  Dysert  is 6-4, 228 pounds but some scouts believe he could add another 15 or 20 pounds and still be effective.  Roethlisberger is 6-5, 241 pounds. 
A four year starter for the Redhawks, Dysert broke many of Roethlisberger’s records and left Miami as the school’s all time leading passer.  He threw for more than 12,000 yards, 73 touchdowns and 51 interceptions.  That TD/INT ratio isn’t very impressive but in Dysert’s last two seasons, it was a very impressive 48 TD’s and 23 INT’s. 
The first ever three time captain at Miami, Dysert earned praise in a loss this season.  Go check out his highlights from the Redhawks game at Ohio State.  Dysert was 31-53 for 303 yards and a TD against a Buckeyes team that would go undefeated.  He became the first visiting QB to throw for at least 300 yards in seven years.

Ryan Nassib big fan of Marrone, Hackett, Bills

When Ryan Nassib takes part in the Senior Bowl activities next week, you can bet the Bills coaches and scouts will have a keen eye on the Syracuse University quarterback.  As you know, Nassib’s Head Coach and his Offensive Coordinator at SU now have  those same jobs with the Bills, leading to speculation that Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett will push for Nassib’s selection in the April draft.

Nassib was a guest on the WGR morning show on Friday and was asked how he’d feel if the Bills drafted him. “Quarterbacks want to get drafted to a team where there’s a quarterbacks coach that can develop them” Nassib said.   “Who better to be with than a guy you’ve been with for three years”(Hackett is also the Bills QB Coach).  If I had the opportunity to go there, it would definitely be awesome.”

Nassib, who broke some of Donovan Mcnabb’s passing records at Syracuse, said Hackett was a huge influence in his career.  “He’s an unbelievable coach.  I’ve had a lot of coaches come through Syracuse and I really credit my success to him and the work he did with me” Nassib told WGR. “ When I first came to Syracuse, I was extremely raw and he really built me up from the ground up and is one of the main reasons why I am where I am today.”

Nassib’s senior season could have been a disaster when you take into account Syracuse’s decision to completely re-do their offensive philosophy just a few weeks before the season began.  Hackett installed an up tempo, no huddle offense inspired by Bills playbooks from the early 1990’s, supplied to him by Jim Kelly.

That’s another reason why Nassib would be happy to follow Hackett into the NFL and here to Western New York.  “My favorite offense is the one Coach Hackett is bringing to the Buffalo Bills” Nassib said.  “That offense we had last year was probably the most fun I’ve had playing football.  We were going so fast, we didn’t care if something bad happened.  We just worried about the next play and sometimes that’s how you’ve got to play football.”

You can listen to the entire interview with Ryan Nassib and hear what he has to say about Doug Marrone, what he wants to show NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl and how, as a Philadelphia native and Flyers fan, he would handle living in Sabres country if the Bills draft him.





Sabres Season Preview

If the Buffalo Sabres are going to make the playoffs in this shortened NHL season, it’ll be because they found a way to score more goals.

To prepare for this season, I took a look back at the 2011-2012 campaign, one that ended with the Sabres missing out on the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, and was reminded of the fact  the offense wasn’t good enough.

Players like Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford will need to bring their goal production back up after a drop off last season.  Ville Leino will have to return to the form he showed in Philadelphia.  Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson will need to live up to the Sabres expectations that they are productive, top line centers.  Marcus Foligno will need to show he can play a full season as well as he did last March.  Assuming he makes the team, Mikhail Grigorenko will hopefully show why, at one point last season, he was considered the second best prospect in the draft.

Last season, the Sabres scored 218 goals which was their lowest total in 9 years and just 17th best in the NHL.  That put a tremendous amount of stress on a defense that dealt with some serious injuries and a starting goalie who was dealing with after effects of a concussion and perhaps some doubt about his teammates having his back.

If you look at Ryan Miller’s numbers from last season, you will find his goals against average(2.54) and save percentage(.916) were almost exactly where his career numbers are(2.57 and .915).  But Miller was in net for 21 regulation losses, the second highest total of his career.  Miller lost 27 times in 2007-2008.

Two years ago, Jhonas Enroth played a critical role in the Sabres late season surge into a playoff spot by compiling a 9-2 record in relief on Miller.  Last season, Enroth’s goals against improved slightly(2.73 to 2.70) and his save percentage was much better(.907 to .917) yet his record was an unsightly 8-11.

As far as where that offense comes from, I’ll start with Vanek.  His 26 goals  last season was his lowest total since his rookie year.  Over the previous five years, Vanek averaged 35 goals.

Stafford was coming off a career best 31 goals and received a new contract but he slumped back to just 20 goals last season.  The odd thing is Stafford was shooting more, recording  a career high in shots on goal but his shooting percentage, which was over 12% for his career, plummeted to 8.9% last season.  His lack of production on the power play was a big reason for his drop off.  Two years ago, Stafford netted 11 power play goals but last season he scored just three times in man advantage situations.  One positive note for Stafford is the effect Ennis had on his game.  Over the final 32 games of the season, when Ennis was healthy, Stafford had 12 goals and 23 points.

Speaking of Ennis, he needs to stay healthy for the betterment of Stafford and the entire team.  Last season, two separate ankle injuries slowed him down more than opposing teams.  The 23 year old center created quite a buzz in Sabres Nation two years ago with 20 goals and 49 points in his first full NHL campaign.  Last season Ennis played in only 48 games due to the injuries but still produced 15 goals and 34 points.

Hodgson will need to come through as well.  With only 91 games on his NHL resume, Hodgson is still all about projections when assessing his game.  After scoring a goal every four games on the average in Vancouver, Hodgson managed a goal every seven games with the Sabres.  But he was averaging a point a game while playing for Rochester during the lockout.

Leino needs to have a bounce back season or he will be a prime candidate for a contract buyout in the off season.  His debut with the Sabres was disappointing to say the least.  Leino finished with a measly 8 goals and 25 points in 71 games.  This, after what seemed to be a breakout season in Philadelphia two years ago when he rang up 19 goals and 53 points. Leino’s game should improve by being on a line with Steve Ott, who has averaged 15 goals over the last five seasons.  The “x” factor is the center on that line and it could be Grigorenko or perhaps Jochan Hecht.

The re-signing of Hecht was a puzzling move for many Sabres fans but up until last season, Hecht was durable and productive.  In his previous 7 years with Buffalo, Hecht averaged 70 games played, 17 goals and 42 points and was a total of plus 60.

The offense should get a boost from a full season of Marcus Foligno.  The son of former Sabre Mike Foligno, zoomed up the popularity charts after his recall from Rochester.  He brought a combination of size, toughness, physical play and offensive ability.  Foligno was the NHL rookie of the month in March after getting 6 goals and 11 points in 11 games.  He had instant chemistry on a line with Ennis and Stafford.  The trio totaled 21 goals and 49 points in just 13 games.

In addition to offense, the Sabres will need more team toughness and Ott as well as John Scott, should help noticeably in that area.  Ott has 1170 penalty minutes in 566 career games but he isn’t just an instigator.  Over his last five seasons in Dallas, Ott averaged 15 goals, 35 points and 154 PIM’s.

Scott, with his 6’8, 258 pound frame is, on the other hand, all about protection.  According to Hockeyfights.com. Scott has had 22 fights over his 4 year NHL career.

If things don’t work out and the Sabres miss out on the playoffs again, it might spell the end of the Darcy Regier/Lindy Ruff regime in “Hockey Heaven”.  Under their guidance, the Sabres have not been in the post season field in three of the last five seasons and six of the last ten.  Their teams haven’t won a playoff series since 2007.  Terry Pegula may be a big fan of the pair but you can’t meet your stated goal of winning the Stanley Cup if you don’t first make it into the playoffs.


Hodgson Eager For Challenge

While much of the talk at Sabres training camp has been on rookie Mikhail Grigorenko and his chances of earning the job of third line center, the play of the top two centers will go a long way in determining the Sabres fate this season.

A great deal is expected of 22 year old Cody Hodgson, who has one full NHL season under his belt and 23 year old Tyler Ennis, the veteran of the group with a whopping total of 140 games on his NHL resume.

Hodgson, who was acquired from Vancouver last February in the Zack Kassian trade, won’t have to worry about rust being an issue when he takes to the First Niagara Center ice on Sunday to face the Philadelphia Flyers.  He spent the lockout playing for the Rochester Americans.

Hodgson missed some time due to a hand injury but still ended up with 5 goals and 19 points in 19 games.  He thinks that playing time will give him an edge as the NHL season gets underway.

“I think it definitely was an advantage to play whether it was in Europe or whether it was in the AHL” Hodgson said during a Wednesday morning interview on WGR. “I think it was an even greater advantage for me to play in Rochester because I had a chance to know the system and be around our coaches and get advice from them.”

Ennis centered the hottest line when last season came to an end with Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford as his wingers but Hodgson will center the top line with Thomas Vanek who has scored 230 goals in his 7 year NHL career  and Jason Pominville who has netted 157 goals over the last 6 seasons.

“Playing on a line with Vanek and Pominville, those guys are pretty incredible hockey players” Hodgson said “ So just making sure that I do whatever I can to play  to the best of my abilities. They move the puck so well, they’re fast and they get in scoring position all the time. I just have to figure out ways to complement what they do.”

Playing on that line and being at the center spot can bring along with it some high expectations and pressure but Hodgson is looking forward to his chance. “You can look at it as pressure or you can look at it as an opportunity” Hodgson said.  “I try to look at it as an opportunity.  There’s a lot at stake but at the same time, there’s lots to gain as well.  I just want to build off where we ended last year. I thought we were one of the better teams in the league.”

You can listen to the entire interview with Hodgson and hear what he had to say about Grigorenko and what the additions of Steve Ott and John Scott will mean:



Marrone hits home run with defensive coordinator
I’ll admit I was scratching my head when the news broke that Doug Marrone was bringing Nathaniel Hackett with him from Syracuse to be the Bills Offensive Coordinator.
4 years as an offensive quality control coach(the lowest rung on the NFL coaching ladder) doesn’t qualify as thorough NFL experience in my opinion.
Marrone really didn’t say much in his introductory press conference but one nugget he did throw out there was that he would be looking for coordinators with “thorough NFL experience” especially on the defensive side of the ball.
He followed through with that emphasis on the defensive side of the ball.  The skepticism I had with the Hackett hire was trumped by my excitement over the selection of Mike Pettine as the Defensive Coordinator.
It appears there is a belief around the NFL that the Bills defense was not as bad as the statistics would indicate.  Perhaps the issue was coaching and schemes. 
Some of the coaches who interviewed for the Bills  job were interested in part because they felt there was enough talent on the roster that it wouldn’t be a massive rebuilding project. 
Pettine, who turned down a contract extension from the New York Jets early last season, could have waited things out.  There are a number of teams that have yet to hire head coaches and therefore a number of staffs have yet to be built.  But the 46 year old Pennsylvania native jumped on the Bills offer when Marrone called.
Pettine has been around some very successful defenses thanks to his relationship with Rex Ryan.  Say what you want about Ryan, his loud personality, his bold guarantees and his somewhat creepy Mark Sanchez tattoo, the man knows how to build and coach a defense.
Pettine, who was the first assistant hired by Ryan when he got the job with the Jets, has spent the last 10 years working with Ryan.  He was the Jets Defensive Coordinator for the last 4 seasons and coached with Ryan in Baltimore the 6 seasons prior to that. 
In all 4 years with Gang Green, they boasted a top 10 defense and while Ryan was the mastermind, he gradually gave more responsibility to Pettine who ended up calling the defensive plays in 2011 and shared them with Ryan this past season. The Ravens defenses, with Pettine serving as outside linebackers coach, were in the top 6 from 2005-2008.
Even though Pettine doesn’t have Ryan’s personality, he still gained the respect of the Jets players and he shares Ryan’s aggressive, attack philosophy when it comes to defensive schemes.
“He’s the smartest defensive coach I’ve been around,” Defensive Tackle Mike DeVito told the NY Daily News after the paper reported the possibility of Pettine leaving after the season.  “He’s at another level when it comes to knowing defenses and play calling so obviously he’d be a guy that would be missed.”
For those of you that thought one of Dave Wannstedt’s weaknesses was the inability to make in game adjustments, one Jet believes that is one of Pettine’s best assets.
“His ability to change on the fly is something that stands out to me,” said safety Yeremiah Bell.  “He does a good job of adjustments and seeing what other teams, how they’re trying to attack us.  He’s right up there with the good coordinators who can, after halftime, figure out what they’re trying to do.”  Bell is an unrestricted free agent in March and could be one of a few defensive players interested in following Pettine to Buffalo.
Devito and safety LaRon Landry will be free agents as well.  Linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace and safety Eric Smith might all be salary cap cuts and could be available too.  Pettine is bringing Jets Assistant Defensive Backs Coach Jim O’Neil with him to Western New York.  O’Neil has received some credit for helping Landry produce what turned out to be a Pro Bowl season.
In addition to his years of NFL experience, Pettine obviously has intimate knowledge of a division rival and he was part of a staff that did a better job than the Bills when it came to beating New England.  In Ryan’s 4 years, the Jets went 3-6 against the Patriots including a playoff win at Foxborough in the 2010 post season.
The move weakens a division opponent by taking away Ryan’s right hand man and a key coach on the defensive side of the ball, the strongest part of the Jets.
One league source told WGR Marrone wanted Pettine so badly that he flew to New York right after his introductory press conference on Monday.
Pettine should also give the Bills defense some badly needed creativity.  The Jets used a base 3-4 but played a 4-3 at times in games and mixed in the old Buddy Ryan “46” defense, bringing 8 men up to the line of scrimmage.
They liked to use overload blitzes, sending multiple blitzers from one side of the defense.  New York also had some packages with 7 defensive backs and used a 3 safety nickel package.  According to Football Outsiders, the Jets blitzed 46% of the time in 2010 and 30% in 2011.  According to the Buffalo News the Bills blitzed on less than 20% of the plays last season.
One possible problem Pettine might need to address is the Bills secondary.  Ryan builds his defenses from the back and puts a lot of responsibility on the corners, who need to excel in man coverage, and the safeties.
As far as the Bills corners go, Stephon Gilmore looks like he will be able to handle that challenge but there are question marks all over the remainder of the depth chart at that position.  Look for the Bills to address cornerback early in the draft and perhaps in free agency.
The hiring of Pettine and the secondary friendly scheme might help the Bills convince playmaking safety Jairus Byrd to forego free agency and stick around.  Perhaps Pettine will push the Bills to go after Bell or Landry when the market opens up to bolster the position. 
Jim Leonhard is another name to keep in mind.  The former Buffalo Bill played 3 seasons for Ryan and Pettine and boasts the football smarts that are valued in their schemes.  Leonhard is with the Denver Broncos but will also be a free agent in March.
As much as we talked about quarterback this past season, and understandably so, the defense killed the Bills.  Going into the 2012 season, most of us thought a vastly improved defense would help spur the Bills into a playoff spot.  That might happen one year later, thanks to the presence of Mike Pettine.

Bills Free Agent Rundown
Once the Buffalo Bills complete their work and find a new Head Coach, the organization can move on to one of the other important tasks of the off season, deciding what to do with its own free agents.
The Bills have 13 unrestricted free agents, 3 restricted free agents and 2 exclusive rights free agents.
Here are the Unrestricted Free Agents:
FS Jairus Byrd
RB Tashard Choice
QB Tarvaris Jackson
DL Spencer Johnson
OG Andy Levitre
WR Ruvell Martin
FB Corey McIntyre
CB Leodis McKelvin
DE Shawne Merriman
DE Kyle Moore
OG Chad Rinehart
LB Bryan Scott
QB Tyler Thigpen
Restricted Free Agents:
OL Colin Brown
WR Donald Jones
WR David Nelson
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
TE Mike Caussin
TE Dorin Dickerson
Byrd and Levitre are the most important players to re-sign.  Byrd is one of the few consistent playmakers the Bills have on defense.  The safety led the team in interceptions this season with 5, which was tied for first in the AFC and 7th in the NFL.  The Bills 2nd round pick from the 2009 draft also led the club with 4 forced fumbles.  He was 4th in total tackles and tied for 2nd in tackles for loss.
Byrd has been very durable, missing only 2 games in his 4 seasons in Buffalo.  He has started 57 of the 62 games played.  Since entering the league in ’09, Byrd has 18 interceptions which is tied for 3rd best with Ed Reed.  Only Asante Samuel and Charles Woodson have more picks over the last 4 years. 
Levitre has been Mr. Reliable, starting all 64 games since joining the Bills in 2009.  He is one of only 4 picks from that draft to accomplish that feat, joining James Laurinaitis, Alex Mack and Michael Oher.  Levitre has played almost exclusively at left guard but has showed his versatility, having recorded starts at 4 of the 5 spots on the offensive line. 
Levitre seemed more open to re-signing with the Bills than Byrd.  On locker clean out day, Levitre said he was very happy in Buffalo and enjoyed playing with his fellow linemen.  Byrd, on the other hand, has talked about seeing what is out there on the market.
Keep in mind the Bills can always use the franchise tag to make sure one of those two stays in town.  It would make more financial sense to use the tag on Byrd since his salary for 2013 would be $6.798 million.  If the Bills use the tag on Levitre, the cap number is $9.660 million. 
Of course, they can also reach multi year deals with both players since the Bills will have the cap room.
As far as the other UFA’s, the Bills would probably look to re-sign Kyle Moore, Leodis McKelvin and Chad Rinehart.
Moore, who was signed as a free agent in 2011 and played in 4 games last season, became more of a contributor on defense this season.  He moved into the starting lineup when Chris Kelsay was injured in the game at Houston.  Moore provided a consistent pass rush and ended up with 3 sacks to go along with 24 tackles in 12 games.
McKelvin started the season as the nickel corner, lost the job in September, but found his way back into the starting lineup late in the season due to injuries.  While he has never lived up to his draft status, 11th overall in 2008, McKelvin has been a top level return man.  That, coupled with the mess the Bills have at corner, could lead to the team wanting him back. 
As far as cornerback goes, McKelvin had 1 interception and 3 passes defended this season.  In 64 games over 5 seasons, the Troy State product has just 6 interceptions.
As a returner, McKelvin led the NFL in punt returns with an average of 18.7 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  He was 2 kick returns shy of qualifying in the league stats but his 28.3 yard average would have been 3rd best.  McKelvin has the Bills single season record for kick return yards.
Rinehart has been a valuable depth player on the offensive line.  The 6-5, 321 pound guard joined the Bills as a free agent in 2010.  Rinehart has been in 27 games over 3 years in Buffalo and has made 17 starts, 12 coming last season.  He has proven to be a very reliable player and there has been minimal drop off when Rinehart is called upon due to an injury.
The Bills could let the rest of their free agents walk but they might have interest in bringing back guys like Spencer Johnson and Bryan Scott.  Johnson was signed as a free agent in 2008 and has played in 76 games during his 5  year career in Orchard Park.  The 6-3, 304 pound tackle is part of the defensive line rotation and has been productive in his limited role.  Johnson has 10 sacks, 10 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries as a Bill.
Scott just finished his 6th season with the Bills.  He began his career as  a safety but was moved to linebacker this season and was a regular in the Bills nickel package.  Despite not being an every down player, Scott was 5th on the team in tackles, 2nd in passes defended and his 4 interceptions was 2nd best behind Byrd.  It was also a career high for the Penn State product.
 Tashard Choice was brought in by Chan Gailey and in 2 seasons, had 70 carries for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns.
If Tarvaris Jackson goes elsewhere, he could leave town with quite a distinction.  The player fans called for the most who was never actually was activated for a game. The Bills gave up a 7th round draft pick for what amounted to an insurance policy in the event Ryan Fitzpatrick was ever injured.
Ruvell Martin has had limited contributions as a receiver and also played special teams.  He has good size at 6’4”, 214 pounds but Martin caught just 11 balls for 123 yards and no touchdowns in his 28 games over 2 seasons.
Corey McIntyre is the number one fullback but his notable contributions over his 5 year Bills career have come on special teams.
Shawne Merriman has had a very unimpressive Bills career over 3 seasons.  His stat line is a mere 15 games with 26 tackles and just 2 sacks.
Speaking of an unimpressive Bills career, Tyler Thigpen has probably put on Bills colors for the final time.  Brought in by Chan Gailey to back up Fitzpatrick, Thigpen appeared in 7 games over 2 years but never made a start.  He completed 6-13 for 55 yards and 1 interception.
David Nelson is the priority among the restricted free agents.  An undrafted free agent out of the University of Florida in 2010, Nelson brings size(6’5”, 214) and sure hands.  After catching 31 passes for 353 yards and 3 TD’s in his rookie season, Nelson broke through in 2011 with 61 receptions for 658 yards and 5 touchdowns, which was 2nd best behind Stevie Johnson.  2012 was a lost year for Nelson who suffered a season ending injury in the opener against the Jets.
Donald Jones is coming off his best campaign as a Bill.  Also signed as an undrafted free agent in 2010, Jones had 41 catches for 443 yards and 4 TD’s but the Bills are in a wait and see mode with  Jones since he ended the season on the reserve, non football illness list.
NFL teams have what amounts to a two and half month window of exclusivity to sign their own free agents.  Players can’t hit the open market until March 12th.

Bills Choose Marrone
I’m going with ambivalent.  That would be my answer to the question I am sure is on your mind.  So Howard, what do you think about Doug Marrone?
I found out the Bills had decided Marrone was their guy when a co-worker called me at 5:45 Sunday morning.  The early wake up on a day off plays no role in my feelings here although I may have cursed out the Bills and said something like “you couldn’t wait till Monday?”
I didn’t do cartwheels when I heard the news(not that I could even if I wanted to) nor did I pound my fist into the wall and exclaim “what the (bleep) are the Bills doing?”
My opinion at this point is “okay, lets see what the guy can do.”  He wasn’t my first choice, although I didn’t really have a guy I felt that strongly about among the list of candidates the Bills were considering.
You can debate the merits of Marrone’s selection but you can’t debate the fact this is a different move for the Bills.  They did not go the re-tread route as they did with Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron.
Nor did they go with an NFL coordinator who was getting his first head coaching job as was the case with Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey.
For the first time in the 53 year history of the franchise, the Bills  picked a head coach directly from the college ranks.
The Bills continue getting younger in the upper levels of the organization.  Former team President Ralph Wilson is 94 years old.  Soon to be former General Manager Buddy Nix is 73 and former Head Coach Chan Gailey is 61.  For those that don’t like to do math, that is a combined age of 228.
Russ Brandon, who is now the President, is 45.  GM in waiting Doug Whaley is 40 and Marrone is the elder statesman of the group at 48.  Their combined age is 133, or 95 years younger than the trio they are replacing.
Here’s what I like about Marrone.  He is an offensive minded guy who has developed a quarterback in his last 4 years at Syracuse University.  The most critical player move of the off season will be the person the Bills draft in April as their quarterback of the future.
Marrone developed Ryan Nassib who leaves Syracuse having broken some of Donovan McNabb’s passing records and whose draft stock is rising.  Before the season began, Nassib was considered, by many a mid rounds prospect at best.  Nassib is now being talked about as a 2nd round pick although some mock drafts have him going in round one.
Among the qualities the Bills were looking for in their next head coach, was someone who can change the culture of losing that has been hanging around One Bills Drive for the last 13 years.
Marrone faced the same task at SU back in 2009 when the former Orange player got what he termed his “dream job”.
The Bronx, NY native took over a program that had plummeted to the bottom of the Big East and the Football Bowl Subdivision.  The Orange had a 10-37 record overall and 3-25 in conference play  the 4 seasons prior to Marrone’s arrival in Central New York.
Marrone leaves with a record of 25-25 overall, 11-17 in the Big East and 2 bowl appearances. 
I also like the fact that he worked for Sean Payton, considered one of the top offensive minds in the NFL.  When Payton was hired by the New Orleans Saints in 2006, Marrone was his first Offensive Coordinator.  Payton designed the offense and called the plays himself but Marrone had 3 years to soak up everything he possibly could from Payton.  Marrone ran a pro style offense at Syracuse and utilized a quick tempo, no huddle attack at times.
For those of you that put stock into the idea of someone wanting to be here, Marrone sought out the Bills and was said to be very interested in the job.  One Bills source told me it was a different day for the franchise because a coach was choosing them.
In addition to his ability to change the culture at Syracuse, the source told me the Bills liked Marrone because he is a tough minded, high energy, dynamic coach.  They also did prefer someone with previous head coaching experience.
Last month Sports Illustrated’s Peter King had an item in his Monday Morning Quarterback column about the top 5 college candidates for an NFL job, as determined from his conversations with front office people around the league.  Marrone was on that list, ending up 5th behind Chip Kelly whom the Bills also interviewed, David Shaw(Stanford), Brian Kelly(Notre Dame) and Kirk Ferentz(Iowa).
I like the fact Marrone was drawing interest from other teams as well as the Bills.  He was interviewed by the Cleveland Browns, was scheduled to talk to Philadelphia this past weekend and was going to interview with San Diego this week where he was reported to be a strong candidate.
Like I said, this isn’t a “WOW” pick nor is it a “same old messed up Bills” choice.  Lets term it an “interesting” selection and we’ll see how it plays out.

Bills Interview 3 Candidates
The four men searching for the next Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills had a very busy day on Friday.  The Bills interviewed University of Oregon Coach Chip Kelly, former Chicago Bears Coach Lovie Smith and Syracuse University Coach Doug Marrone.
All 3 interviews took place in Arizona and were confirmed by the Bills at their web site.  They were conducted by President and CEO Russ Brandon,  General Manager Buddy Nix, Assistant G-M Doug Whaley and Senior Vice President for football administration Jim Overdorf.
Kelly interviewed with the Bills following 7 hours of meetings with the Cleveland Browns.  There are various reports that Kelly and the Browns are close to a deal on a contract to make him their next head coach.  Despite that, Kelly told his agent he still wanted to go through the interviews  with the Bills and Philadelphia.  Kelly was expected to meet with the Eagles on Saturday but that might not take place.  There are reports claiming the Eagles are “going in another direction”.
Smith spent the last 9 seasons with the Bears and is the only man to be interviewed by the Bills thus far with a winning record as an NFL head coach.  Smith was 81-63 in the regular season and led the Bears to a Super Bowl berth in 2006.  Smith was said to have expressed interest in the Bills job in part because of the talent he feels the Bills have on the defensive side of the ball.  According to BuffaloBills.com, the “genuine interest” between Smith and the Bills is mutual.
Marrone is being credited with turning around the program at Syracuse.  He has led the Orange to consecutive bowl games and this season SU finished with an 8-5 record.  Marrone does have NFL experience having coached under Sean Payton in New Orleans and Herman Edwards with the New York Jets.
The Bills are expected to interview Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy in Denver on Saturday.  McCoy has been running the Broncos offense the last 4 seasons.  Before that he spent 8 seasons on the Carolina Panthers coaching staff.  McCoy is also expected to interview with Arizona and Chicago over the weekend.
The Bills have now formally interviewed 5 candidates.  In addition to Kelly, Marrone and Smith, the Bills have spoken with former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and Cards Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton. 
WGR 550 and WGR550.com will keep you updated on the Bills search for a new head coach.

Bills Coaching Candidates

Here is some background on the coaches who have interviewed or will interview with the Buffalo Bills for their head coaching position:

Ken Whisenhunt- spent the last 6 years as Arizona Cardinals Head Coach and recorded a 45-51 record in the regular season.  The 50 year old Whisenhunt is the winningest coach in Cards history.  He led Arizona to back to back division titles in 2008 and 2009 and the franchise’s first ever berth in a Super Bowl.  Whisenhunt had just 2 winning seasons in 6 years.  His rise and fall equates  with Kurt Warner’s career in the desert.  With Warner as the quarterback, Whisenhunt’s teams went 27-21 and their offense was ranked in the top 11 all 3 seasons.  Without Warner, Whisenhunt’s record plummeted to 18-30 and his offense was in the bottom ten each of the last 3 years.  Whisenhunt has a relationship with Bills Assistant General Manager Doug Whaley from their time in Pittsburgh.  Whisenhunt was on Bill Cowher’s staff when Whaley was in the Steelers front office. 


Mike McCoy- has been the offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos the last 4 seasons.  The 40 year old McCoy previously worked as an assistant in Carolina for 9 years where his responsibilities ranged from wide receivers coach to quarterbacks coach to passing game coordinator.  McCoy worked with Jake Delhomme who had 89 touchdown passes from 2003-2006, the 5th best total in the NFL over that period.  Delhomme earned a Pro Bowl spot in 2005.  In Denver, McCoy worked with Kyle Orton who had the best year of his career back in 2009 and then led the 7th ranked passing offense in 2010. 


Lovie Smith- spent the past 9 years as Head Coach of the Chicago Bears. The 54 year old Smith was fired after a 10-6 season but his teams have missed the playoffs 5 of the last 6 years.  Smith’s teams have annually had one of the better defenses in the NFL.  This season they finished 3rd in points, 8th against both the run and the pass, 11th in sacks, 6th on 3rd down and they led the league in TD’s scored by a defense.  Smith was 81-63 in the regular season, won 3 division titles and led the Bears to 1 Super Bowl berth.  His downfall was the offensive side of the ball.  Over his 9 years in Chicago, the Bears averaged the second fewest yards per game(even lower than the Bills), they’ve used 11 different quarterbacks and 4 different offensive coordinators.  Smith also couldn’t beat the big boy on the block.  His teams lost 8 of their last 9 meetings with Green Bay.  Smith’s teams also didn’t fare well in December, recording a 17-19 record in the final month of the season.


Ray Horton-Arizona Cardinals Defensive Coordinator the last 2 years.  While Whisenhunt’s offense struggled, Horton’s defense performed more than admirably.  This season Arizona’s defense ended up 12th in total yards, 5th in sacks, 2nd in 3rd down(Bills were last), 3rd in red zone(Bills were last) and they led the NFL in interceptions.  Horton, who played defensive back in the NFL for 10 years, studied under Hall of Fame Coach Dick LeBeau.  Horton played 6 years for LeBeau in Cincinnati and worked as an assistant for LeBeau for 5 years with the Bengals and 7 years in Pittsburgh.  In all, the 52 year old Horton has 19 years of experience as an NFL assistant coach.  He owns 2 Super Bowl rings, one as a coach(Pittsburgh) and one as a player.  Horton was on the Dallas team that smashed the Bills in Super Bowl 27.


Hue Jackson- assistant defensive backs and special teams coach with Cincinnati.  Despite his role with the Bengals this season, Jackson is an offensive minded coach.  He has served as an offensive coordinator with Washington(2003), Atlanta(2007 and Oakland(2010). In his first season with the Raiders, they more than doubled their point total from the previous season.  The 57 year old Jackson was the Raiders Head Coach in 2011 and their offense was 9th in the NFL while they put together an 8-8 record.  Jackson also spent 2 years in Baltimore as the QB coach and worked with Joe Flacco who made the playoffs as a rookie, under Jackson’s tutelage.  Jackson is said to have a close relationship with Lovie Smith.


Russ Grimm- has spent the last 6 years as assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach with the Arizona Cardinals.  Prior to that Grimm was OL Coach for 6 years in Pittsburgh.  That followed a 9 year stretch in the same position with Washington.  The 53 year old Grimm played the line for 11 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He won 3 Super Bowls as a player and 1 as an assistant coach.  Grimm is believed to have turned down a chance to interview for the Bills job when it was open back in 2010.


Doug Marrone- is the Head Coach at Syracuse University and has done a tremendous job of turning around a program that had plummeted to the bottom of the Big East.  Marrone led the Orange to an 8-5 record this season and a bowl game victory over West Virginia.  Marrone is considered an up and coming coach and a good offensive mind.  He does have NFL experience, having served as the New Orleans Saints Offensive Coordinator under Sean Payton from2006-2008 and the NY Jets O-Line coach under Herm Edwards from 2002-2005.


Chip Kelly- the Oregon Ducks head coach is the top coaching candidate in the college ranks.  Over his 4 years in Eugene, the Ducks have gone 45-7.  They have earned 4 straight BCS bowl bids, one of only 4 programs to accomplish that feat.  Kelly has put together one of the most entertaining offenses ever seen with a frenetic pace and explosive production.  Oregon’s up tempo no huddle is a key reason why the Ducks have run the 3rd most plays of any team that has played 12 games this season.  Oregon averaged over 50 points a game this season and in Kelly’s 4 seasons in charge, the Ducks have averaged more than 40 points and 480 yards a game.

Keep it tuned to WGR 550 for the latest information on the Bills search for a new Head Coach.


Wilson Giving Up Control Of Bills

For the first time since he bought the franchise in 1960, Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson junior is giving up organization control.  WGR 550 has learned CEO Russ Brandon will officially be named Team President during a noon news conference today.  It will be carried live on WGR.

WGR has also learned Buddy Nix will be staying on as General Manager in the short term, likely through the April draft.  Nix will then be succeeded by Assistant G-M Doug Whaley.

Brandon, Nix and Whaley will be conducting the search for the new head coach and that search will begin tomorrow when the trio head out on the road to start the interviews.  A league source tells WGR the first stop will be Arizona where the Bills brain trust will interview former Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt and Cards Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton.

Only once before has Wilson given the title of Team President to another individual and that was back in 2000 when it was handed to Tom Donahoe.  But Wilson never gave up organizational control and would always have the final say on all football matters.  Those days are now over with a symbolic passing of the torch to Brandon who has  been told “its your show”.

WGR has confirmed the Bills have been contacted by former Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith who has expressed an interest in the job.  WGR has also confirmed the Bills will interview Syracuse Head Coach Doug Marrone. 

A source also tells WGR the Bills will “take a hard run at Chip Kelly” and that there are no restrictions or limitations when it comes to the search for a coach.  With Wilson removing himself from the day to day operations,  Brandon, Nix and Whaley have complete authority to hire the coach and will not need approval from Wilson, which has been standard operating procedure for the franchise. The Bills would prefer a coach with NFL experience and one that has already been a head coach, pro or college.  They would like a coach who has experience managing a team.

WGR has learned more than 2 dozen coaches have already contracted the Bills to express interest in the position.




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