Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson has emerged as a bona fide NFL wide receiver over the last two seasons, and has become known for an unorthodox route-running style that makes him difficult to prepare for and cover on game days. During mini-camp two weeks ago, both head coach Chan Gailey and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick mentioned that the same unorthodox approach applies to free agent pass rusher Mark Anderson, as well.
"I thought Fitz probably said it best the other day when he said, 'Mark is a pass rusher like Stevie’s a route runner,'" Gailey said on June 15. "There’s a lot of feel into it and lot of quickness, and you don’t know what you’re going to get next sometimes - which is good if it falls within the system. But if it falls without the system it’s not very good."
When Gailey began fitting his offense around performing personnel in the early portions of the 2010 season, he molded his passing offense to Johnson's style. Rather than tell his receivers to run a specific route, Gailey mandates that his receivers be in a specific spot at a particular time, allowing the creative types like Johnson to get there in whatever fashion they see fit. That allows the passing attack to maintain a sense of timing and rhythm without limiting Johnson's ability to create separation with his natural talents.
Anderson, apparently, rushes the passer in much the same way. Reporters on scene to witness him working this spring have noted his quick feet, explosion and sudden changes in tempo while he's been working against tackles, breaking down a blocker in much the same way Johnson can break down a cover corner. But just like Johnson still has responsibilities - he's not simply winging it out there - so, too, does Anderson still need to freelance within the context of the system that defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is implementing. It hasn't been a problem thus far, per Gailey.
"So far, all the little things he’s done have fallen within the system. He looks like he’ll be a force to be reckoned with out there," Gailey opined.
Granted, Anderson has yet to participate in a practice where full contact from said blocker was allowed, as contact was strictly prohibited throughout June's team activities. For a pass rusher coming off of a 10-sack season as a part-time player - and who seems to be coming into his own a bit after a few down seasons - it's lofty praise for Anderson to be compared to Johnson.