It's Friday, which means it's time for the latest edition of the Buffalo Rumblings Mailbag. This week's trio of questions continue the conversation about the new-look linebacker group, but also turn our attention back to the offensive side of the ball for a good chunk of the post, as well. Thanks to everyone that sent questions in! We'll need a fresh supply for next week's post, so if there's anything on your mind that you'd like to see discussed, be sure to pass it along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy the rest of your Friday, Bills fans!
Is Kraig Urbik on the hot seat, and did his play last year contribute to him being on the hot seat, or is it just the talent at hand?
The only indications we have that the right guard situation might be in flux are three snaps that J.J. 'Unga played last season at right guard, when Urbik was fully healthy, and much more recently, Doug Marrone giving some first-team reps to a lineman, Chris Hairston, that he'd barely been exposed to before. In June.
It is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that the fan base is blowing the right guard situation a little out of proportion this summer. Urbik was not great last season, by any means, but he was hardly the liability that Doug Legursky and Erik Pears were. But those guys have effectively been replaced already, and Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood are entrenched in their roles, so by process of elimination, Urbik is probably the guy closest to any "hot seat" on the offensive line, sure.
That said, Hairston had never played guard extensively prior to this summer, rookie Cyril Richardson needs a lot of work, and the rest of the guard depth consists of little-known project types. I would still be surprised if Urbik didn't win the job, but clearly, the expectation is that, for whatever reason, Marrone and the offensive coaches are going to make sure he does exactly that.
Thanks for the question, Raul!
In his offense, what are the traits that Nathaniel Hackett is looking for in each of the skill positions?
Hackett will make it or break it as a NFL play-caller based on how well he can adjust his offense to the personnel on hand. That is true of every coordinator in the league, and it's pretty safe to say that Bills fans will be watching him like a hawk this season, waiting to pounce if unique talents like C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins aren't utilized correctly.
That said, every system has its set of ideals, and that includes in the personnel running it. Hackett's running game is predominantly inside zone, which requires an offensive line that excels with their footwork, both physically and technically (to better create lanes via correct blocking angles) and enough size to sustain and not be overpowered once the angles are created. One-cut runners with short-area burst excel in this system. The passing offense features a lot of shorter routes and is predicated on timing, so receivers need to be quick in and out of breaks and adept at beating press coverage to stay on time and create separation. Slot receivers and tight ends are the outlet receivers, the dependable chain-movers. It mixes in four verticals concepts, just like New Orleans' offense, which means there needs to be a designated deep threat that can command the attention of a high safety just by being on the field.
Coordinating it all is a quarterback that can master packaged plays and, as we saw at Syracuse and at times last season, be athletic enough to handle some read-option work to keep defenses guessing regarding the running game. Naturally, said quarterback must also make quick decisions in the rhythm passing game, diagnose defenses consistently well pre-snap, and be able to accurately place a football up the seam or on deep routes down the sidelines.
So, you know... just a small list of stuff to be good at. Easy, right? Thanks for the question, Nick!
Do you think there is merit to the thought that although we may be without our most talented linebacker this season, that the group as a whole is more talented top to bottom, and could potentially be more productive this year?
There is no doubt whatsoever that the Bills made strides at the linebacker position this offseason. But the only way to consider this year's Bills linebacker group better than last year's is to have a healthy Kiko Alonso in the group, which he obviously isn't.
There's a scheme change to consider, too. Alonso wasn't the only linebacker that played a lot last season; Manny Lawson was the strong-side linebacker for Mike Pettine, playing a very specific role, and he surpassed 60 percent of snaps last season. In the Jim Schwartz system, Alonso would have been near the 100 percent mark again, and Brandon Spikes would have been the player assuming the run-down role at the position. Spikes still has that role, but now the Bills are left scrambling to find some sort of amalgamation of player skills, likely found in a platoon of athletes, that can approximate what Alonso brings to any defense.
If, however, the Bills eventually learn that a Preston Brown or a Nigel Bradham is capable of handling a big role for the foreseeable future thanks to the opportunity afforded by the Alonso injury, then things will be looking rather bright for the team when No. 50 is back in the lineup next season.
Thanks for the question, Pat in Erie!