When it comes to assistant coaches on the defensive side of the ball, Buffalo Bills linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach and defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson stick out like sore thumbs. While head coach Doug Marrone and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine focused on up-and-comers in nearly every other hire on that side of the ball, Driesbach and Henderson are coaching veterans with a combined 64 years of experience.
Of those 64 years, however, only 10 come at the NFL level - and those all belong to Henderson, a former defensive coordinator with the New York Jets and Detroit Lions. Driesbach spent his 36 years in the college ranks, where he's a long-time defensive coordinator, most recently with the Rice Owls.
As Pettine explained on Friday, that level of experience at the college level was desirable for one main reason.
"When you see the transition of offenses towards college-style offenses, that's where, to me, (it) was I think a tremendous thing for us to be able to add Chuck and Donnie - who's coached at the college level - their expertise on defending the spread offenses, given that that trend is well on its way," Pettine told BuffaloBills.com. "One team made it to the Super Bowl doing it. You look at the success of (Robert Griffin III), you look at the success of the Seahawks - it's a copycat league, so it's coming. So defenses are going to need to have an answer to get caught up. The fact that I have two guys that have coached, that have defended that style of offense I think is a tremendous thing."
Buffalo, like many teams in the league, struggled to defend the read-option in 2012. In a 45-3 loss to the Super Bowl bound San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick - who was not the team's starting quarterback at that point - ran four times for 39 yards and a touchdown, while Alex Smith added 49 yards on three carries himself. The issues came to a head in Week 15, when Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson ran nine times for 92 yards and three touchdowns. Even Miami Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill (six carries, 44 yards) gave the Bills problems out of the look.
"The interior runs, the reads that it adds and the option style that that style of offense brings - it's coming," Pettine said. "People have always said these quarterbacks aren't going to be able to handle it from a physical standpoint, and I think these guys out there this year proved them wrong."
While Driesbach was the defensive coordinator at Rice, he practiced daily against an offense that featured an athletic quarterback, operated on spread-option principles and used two tight ends and big, physical receivers to get better matchups on the outside. Henderson was part of a Syracuse staff last season that practiced against Nathaniel Hackett's up-tempo, wide-open offense, and he had extensive experience with the look in previous collegiate coaching stints prior to that.
"There's no substitute for that experience, for actually having defended it," Pettine said Friday. "I can look at all the tape of it, I can study all the college tape, but having guys that have gone through it - that have schemed against it, taught it - like I said, I think it was a tremendous get for us to be able to add not just that coaching experience overall, but in defending that style of offense."