Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A member of the Buffalo Bills defense made comments that were critical of the scheme run by former head coach Rex Ryan.
Jerry Hughes spoke with the media after the Bills’ voluntary veteran mini-camp last week, and he made sure to praise both head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier in his comments to The Buffalo News.
"I think for us, we're going to get a lot more fundamentally sound," Hughes said. “They're [McDermott and Frazier] really focusing on fundamentals, which is great, and for everybody to understand their job and how to execute it properly, which are two huge points that we've focused on this spring."
The obvious dig, here, comes at the expense of the defensive unit’s lack of communication and overall preparedness under the Rex/Rob Ryan duo*. While the defensive unit was fourth in the league in both yards allowed and points allowed under Jim Schwartz in 2014, it dipped to nineteenth in yards allowed in both 2015 and 2016, and fifteenth and sixteenth, respectively, in points during those same seasons.
*Yes, I know I cited the Rex/Rob duo as leading the defense and then linked to Dennis Thurman’s page at pro-football reference. Even though Thurman was the “defensive coordinator” in name, it’s been widely reported that Rob essentially usurped the duties of the defensive coordinator last season.
When asked if the shift in schemes would help the defensive line specifically, Jay Skurski said that Hughes did not hesitate before emphatically replying, “Absolutely!” Hughes continued to praise McDermott and Frazier by saying that “It [the scheme] allows us to kind of play to our strength. Four guys coming off the ball, creating that havoc, closing in on that pocket, putting a lot more pressure on QBs than just allowing him to stand back there and just pick us apart."
Among the other points Hughes made involved praising McDermott as a teacher. “[Coach McDermott is] Actually taking the time to break things down to us, explain the ins-and-outs so that way if we have questions on the field, we can go out there and ask them and really understand what they need from us.” This is a clear swipe at the former coaching staff, as the team often seemed entirely out of sorts with regard to individual defensive assignments.
Hughes is no stranger to battles with coaches. During his time in Buffalo, he was benched to start a game against Pittsburgh, allegedly because he “told off” Rob Ryan. He also had a spat with Doug Marrone during training camp in 2014 over a punishment doled out by the head coach for players fighting during practice.
A return to form from Hughes and the rest of the Buffalo defense is essential if the team hopes to improve on its 7-9 record from last season. Hughes combined for 20 sacks in 2013 and 2014, notching 10 each season, before totaling only 11 in the last two seasons (5 in 2015 and 6 last season). Making sure that everyone is on the same page goes a long way towards realizing that improvement, and it appears that the veteran mini-camp was a step in the right direction.