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Classic Sports Card of The Day

10 Jan

69toppsbarber

1969 Topps football card of former Buffalo Bills’ offensive tackle Stew Barber, who played 9 seasons for the team in their American Football League days in the 1960s. He was originally signed as a linebacker, and played there in his rookie season, recording 3 interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown. He was moved to tackle in his next season and settled in nicely there, as he helped the team win 2 AFL championships and  was named a league All Star 5 times. He stayed with the franchise after retiring as a player, working as a scout and eventually working his way up to general manager.

 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

09 Jan

In part 3 of our review of the Buffalo Bills’ season, we’ll scrutinize the special teams, woeful in 2018, and the defensive side of the ball, which was the strength of the team overall but still has lots of room for improvement. The team was among the league’s best in yards allowed and was strong against the pass, but had some weaknesses too. They were not very good in red zone defense, had various games where their run defense was gashed, and at times couldn’t seem to get a stop at crucial times. The result – a 6-10 record despite having a respected defensive unit. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier did a decent job overall, but at times wasn’t aggressive enough, to the point where head coach Sean McDermott actually took over the play calling duties during a game. The Bills, in 2019, need to strive to elevate their defense from a “respected” unit to an elite, dominant one. Here is our position-by-position look at the 2018 Bills’ defense and special teams:

 

Defensive Line

 

The team employed a revolving rotation along the line, and the best of the players was Jerry Hughes, despite a drop in his sack numbers. Hughes consistently applied pressure on opposing quarterbacks and was fairly solid against the run. If he can find a way to stop letting those QBs escape when he has them in his grasp, his sack total will go up. Free agent Trent Murphy gets an incomplete grade here due to his inability to stay healthy and contribute regularly. At times he looked like a gamebreaker but just didn’t do it consistently enough. A highlight of the 2018 season was the growth shown by Shaq Lawson, who emerged as a force and may be due for a breakout year in 2019. The retirement of Kyle Williams leaves a hole on the interior line and in team leadership, and Harrison Phillips, Williams’ heir apparent, still has a long way to go to match Kyle’s production. Star Lotulelei didn’t produce any numbers at the other tackle spot but the coaches seemed pleased with his play as a run stuffer. Jordan Phillips was brought in during the season after being waived by Miami and provided a dose of enthusiasm, along with some pretty solid play as a backup tackle. Eddie Yarbrough is the other backup at end, and his playing time seemed to be reduced by season’s end. Mike Love earned a promotion from the practice squad late in the season and got some valuable experience that should help him in fighting for a roster spot in 2019. There are a pair of prospects on the practice squad who will get a look in training camp also – Kyle Peko and Robert Thomas, who had a short stint on the active roster earlier in the season.

 

Linebackers

 

The Bills will have 3 solid starters at linebacker next season provided they re-sign veteran Lorenzo Alexander, who is still performing at a high level at an advanced age. The other 2 spots are manned by possible future Pro Bowlers in Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Both showed flashes that they are going to develop into consistent playmakers, and their development is a huge key in this defense, already a respected unit, growing into an elite one. As for LB backups, Deon Lacey has mostly contributed on special teams in his tenure here, and with the bomb squads totally bombing in 2018 the Bills could look elsewhere for a replacement for him. A pair of youngsters, Julian Stanford and Corey Thompson, look like keepers. Both filled in late in the year due to injuries and didn’t look out of place, and Stanford is also a special teamer. There’s one ‘backer on the practice squad about which little is known, Richard Jarvis. He is a graduate of an Ivy League school, Brown, so one can assume he’s an intelligent player.

 

Defensive backs

 

Buffalo was solid in defending the pass in 2018, and a factor in that was the stability of the lineup in at least 3 of the starting spots in their secondary. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who were 2017 free agent gems signed by Brandon Beane, manned the safety positions and although their turnover numbers were down, their play was consistently good. Backups at safety are Rafael Bush, a seasoned veteran, Dean Marlowe, a Carolina Panther retread, and rookie Siran Neal, who came on late in the season to show some spark, especially on kick coverage teams. Lockdown cornerback Tre’Davious White is a future Pro Bowler, while across from him a revolving door developed, starting with the abrupt halftime retirement of Vontae Davis in the second game of the year. The Bills tried a number of options at the spot as the year went on, with Ryan Lewis, Lafayette Pitts and Denzel Rice all getting a shot. The revolving door closed when the Bills promoted undrafted free agent Levi Wallace from the practice squad later in the season. He moved into the starting job opposite White and quietly played well to secure the position, winding up as the top-rated rookie cornerback in Pro Football Focus’ rankings. Another rookie, Taron Johnson, won the important nickel corner job, considered basically a starting position in today’s NFL, and was a revelation. He was also ranked among the top 5 rookie cornerbacks until a shoulder injury ended his season. He is definitely a building block moving forward. Pitts did a good job on special teams and when called upon to play corner, while Lewis’s up-and-down play makes him a question mark to make the team in 2019. Rice is pretty much an unknown entity who will get a better look if he’s brought back next year, as are practice squad members Xavier Coleman and Josh Thornton.

 

Special Teams

 

The disaster that was the Bills’ special teams in 2018 resulted in the ouster of ST coordinator Danny Crossman, who had survived in his position since the Doug Marrone regime. Even the most reliable part of the special teams, placekicker Stephen Hauschka, was inconsistent near the end of the season after being blindsided on the return of a blocked kick. The Bills went through 3 different punters in 2018, and after cutting Colton Schmidt a couple of times it’s safe to say the current regime is done with him. Matt Darr, who finished the year as the punter almost by default, was terrible and likely won’t return to compete for the job next season. The coaches seem to be high on the pair of punters who wound up on injured reserve, Corey Bojorquez, who they snatched off waivers from New England, and Corey Carter, who was injured in training camp. That pair will fight for the job in camp. The Bills got almost nothing from their kick return units, and their kick coverage teams were worse. Taiwan Jones, before he was hurt, Marcus Murphy, Isiah McKenzie, Deonte Thompson, Ray Ray McCloud, Micah Hyde and Victor Bolden all took turns returning kicks and none of them did much to win over the coaches, although Hyde was pressed into duty there mainly because there was no one else capable. The coverage teams need a major overhaul in both coaching and personnel. The firing of Crossman got half of that accomplished.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

09 Jan

toledo97now

Logo of a college football team that plays in the Mid-American Conference, the University of Toledo Rockets. In existence since 1917, the program has been an independent in its’ early years and a member of various conferences, winning 14 conference titles and 10 bowl games. Rocket alumni who have gone on to pro careers include Bruce Gradkowski, Kareem Hunt, Emlen Tunnell, Chester Taylor, Mel Triplett, Lance Moore, Andy McCollum, John Greco, Brett Kern and Curtis Johnson.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

09 Jan

2011scorekylewilliams

2011 Score football card of recently retired NFL defensive lineman Kyle Williams, who enjoyed a 13 year career with the Buffalo Bills. Entering the league as an unheralded fifth round draft pick in 2006, the big DT carved out a solid career with the Bills, quickly earning a starting position and eventually becoming the conscience and the heart and soul of the Bills’ locker room. Williams, recently added to this year’s Pro Bowl roster, is now a six-time participant in the annual All Star game. He has been a shining light in what has been mostly a losing era in Buffalo football history.

 

 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

08 Jan

This is part 2 of our four-part series dissecting the just-completed 2018 Buffalo Bills’ season. In this section, we’ll examine, position by position, the team’s offense, which was a major anchor on any chance of team success. Here’s our assessment:

Quarterbacks

 

From opening day until the season’s completion, the quarterback position underwent a complete overhaul in 2018. Not even counting the trading of Tyrod Taylor before the season, the QB room at season’s end looks nothing like it did at the beginning. A.J. McCarron, signed as a free agent to mentor rookie Josh Allen, failed in that role and also failed to win the starting job he was expected to, so the Bills cut bait on him and traded him to Oakland. Nate Peterman actually won the job in the preseason and the plan was to play him while Allen sat and learned. Peterman totally washed out, was waived and Allen took the reins sooner than expected. He had an up and down year but showed continued progress as the year went on and looks to be ready to take major strides in 2019. More importantly, GM Brandon Beane finally got the quarterback order right, bringing in seasoned veterans Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley in-season to mentor Allen. Both Anderson and Barkley have signed extensions to stay with the team, so, entering 2019, for the first time in years, the Bills’ QB situation appears to be stable.

 

Running Backs

 

The failure of the rushing attack was a major disappointment in 2018, resulting in the firing of running game coordinator/offensive line coach Juan Castillo. LeSean McCoy, really through no fault of his own, had the worst season of his pro career. Also, there was little effort to include McCoy in the passing attack, where he can be a dangerous weapon. Fullback Pat DiMarco is little used as a runner but his blocking ability is still valuable. The Bills insist McCoy is part of their plans for next season, and he can be a force to reckon with if the team can improve it’s offensive line play. The backups here are fairly dependable if not spectacular. Chris Ivory is a good short yardage power back, and Marcus Murphy can contribute, although he had injury issues this season. Keith Ford didn’t show much after being promoted from the practice squad for the last few games, and was even inactive for the finale. Taiwan Jones will return after finishing the year on injured reserve, but he’s almost strictly a special teamer. The Bills almost certainly, whether they keep McCoy or not, will look to upgrade the running back stable in the off-season.

 

Receivers

 

Just like the quarterback position, the wide receiver spot changed dramatically as the season progressed. The Bills parted ways with Kelvin Benjamin, a big target with little appetite for fighting for contested balls or even catching easy ones. They also released Andre Holmes, an aging veteran whose main contribution was on special teams. They infused the receiving corps with some youth and speed by signing Isiah McKenzie from Denver’s practice squad and promoting undrafted free agent Robert Foster from their own practice squad. Both helped Allen put some life in the passing game, especially Foster, who emerged as a major deep threat. McKenzie made most of his noise on jet sweeps in the running attack but also had his moments as a receiver. His production waned a bit at the end of the season but he certainly earned a chance to battle for a 2019 roster spot. Zay Jones progressed nicely as the year went on, developing a good chemistry with Allen and showing he will be a big part of the team’s future plans. He does need to work on being a more consistent performer, so 2019 will be a big year for him. The rest of Buffalo’s receiving corps consists of 30 year old free agent to be Deonte Thompson, a stop-gap fringe player who won’t be back, late round draft pick Ray Ray McCloud, who wasn’t much of a factor, and a group of street free agent signees that includes Victor Bolden, Da’Marri Scott, Cam Phillips and Tanner McEvoy. Is there another hidden gem among this group? McEvoy stands out in that he has some past NFL experience, including on special teams, where these guys will have to earn their way onto the roster. The Bills also recently took a flyer on a player who is the top receiver in the Canadian Football League, signing D’haqille “Duke” Williams for next season. He had a troubled college career at Auburn but apparently cleaned up his act while playing up north for the Edmonton Eskimos. At tight end, the pickings are even more slim. Veteran Charles Clay has been a big disappointment, to the point that he was a healthy inactive at the end of the season. He is an almost certain candidate to follow in Benjamin’s footsteps and be released. The only other players at this position are developing projects – Jason Croom, who shows the most promise, Logan Thomas, a converted quarterback who flashed signs of progress at times but was a penalty liability on special teams, and practice squad members Kyle Carter and Keith Towbridge. This is another position that sorely needs an upgrade if Josh Allen is going to be able to continue on an upward trend in his development.

 

Offensive Line

 

This is an area of the team that is in the most need of improvement of any position group, through positive progression of young players and the addition of better options through the draft or free agency. OL coach Juan Castillo was fired shortly after season’s end so the team clearly sees a need for not only better play on the line but better coaching/teaching also. Looking across the team’s line, there is need for improvement at every position. Left tackle Dion Dawkins, who had a solid rookie season in 2017, regressed this past season. The team has to decide whether he needs better coaching or if he needs to be moved over to right tackle and a better option found to man the left side. Rookie Wyatt Teller displaced Vlad Ducasse at left guard as the season wore on, and he showed enough promise there to be expected to hold down the job, especially if a better line coach is brought in to speed his development. Free agent Russell Bodine, signed to replace Eric Wood after a neck injury forced him to retire, wasn’t anything spectacular and ended up the year on IR. Backup Ryan Groy is a free agent, as are the other starters on the right side, guard John Miller and tackle Jordan Mills. We can easily see the team moving on from all 3 of them to try and upgrade the offensive line play and depth. The line play was so inconsistent in 2018 that the backups got plenty of opportunity to show what they had to offer at various times. Ducasse, for one, likely played his way off the roster. He was a healthy inactive late in the year, a clear signal the team is ready to move on from him. Jeremiah Sirles saw playing time at guard and tackle and also as an extra lineman on running downs. He is also a free agent, and it’ll be interesting to see if the coaches thought enough of the versatility he showed to bring him back. Conor McDermott has been a fringe player as a backup guard/tackle for a couple of seasons now, and will be in a major battle to hold his spot again in training camp. Ike Boettger fought his way into the lineup at the end of the season also, putting himself in position to earn a spot next year. There’s one lineman on the practice squad, Andrew Lauderdale, who also figures in the mix. There really is not one standout player among the offensive linemen on the roster, so the Bills will clearly be adding new faces to this group entering 2019.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

08 Jan

SDFleet2

Here is another logo of a team about to begin play in the new Alliance of American Football in the spring of 2019, the San Diego Fleet. The team will be coached by former NFL coach Mike Martz, and their roster includes players with NFL pedigrees like Bishop Sankey, Josh Johnson, Gavin Escobar and Ron Brooks. They also have the rights to linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who retired from the Buffalo Bills at age 23 citing concussion concerns and seems an unlikely candidate to actually play.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

08 Jan

63fleerboroberson

1963 Fleer football card of former pro football flankerback Irving “Bo” Roberson, who was a star receiver in the old American Football League in the early 1960s. After winning a silver medal at the 1960 Olympics in the long jump, he joined the San Diego Chargers for a year before moving on to the Oakland Raiders, where he had his most success, from 1962 until 1964. He was traded in-season in 1965 to Buffalo after injuries decimated the Bills’ receiving corps, and became a major contributor to the team winning the AFL championship that year. Roberson had a successful life after football, earning a Ph.D. and working as a psychologist with the Los Angeles Unified School District. He is the only person with an Ivy League degree (Cornell), a Ph.D., an Olympic medal and a career in pro football.

 

NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

07 Jan

The 2018 Buffalo Bills’ season ended recently with an expected result. After deciding to jettison quarterback Tyrod Taylor last year in order to draft their franchise QB, the Bills took a step back while hoping to take 2 steps forward next season, now that a year of taking the lumps that go with playing a rookie signal caller is over. This is part 1 of our annual four part series reviewing the Bills’ season, starting with the management and coaching. GM Brandon Beane was aggressive in the draft, using draft capital obtained in trades to wheel and deal and pick up 2 important future pieces for the franchise – quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Beane also grabbed a couple of other useful players in Harrison Phillips and Taron Johnson, with the jury still out on the later round choices. In free agency, Beane hoped to repeat the success he had in 2017, signing a player coming off a major injury in Jordan Poyer, who became a solid defensive contributor. The 2018 model, edge rusher Trent Murphy, didn’t deliver the same result as he fought off injuries all year. The team got mixed results from the likes of Rafael Bush, Russell Bodine, Star Lotulelei and Ryan Lewis. The decision to bring in AJ McCarron as a “bridge” quarterback was a mistake, although Beane managed to fix the error by dealing McCarron for a draft pick.  The GM has a huge task ahead of him to replenish the roster this off-season as the expectations will rise considerably next year.

Speaking of expectations, coach Sean McDermott has to produce a winning club on the field in 2019. “Trusting the process” will only fly for a certain time with ownership and the fan base and the young coach, who I believe is the right person for the job, must produce wins next year. As Bill Parcells used to say, you are what your record says you are. In two complete seasons, McDermott’s mark is 15-18, including the playoff loss in Jacksonville last year. That lumps him in with other head coaching mediocrities the Bills have cycled through over the years. Also, there are 2 other glaring weaknesses in the coach’s resume so far. One is his record against the AFC East measuring stick, Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots. McDermott’s Bills are 0-4 and produced only 1 garbage time touchdown, in the late-season encounter  this year, in the 4 meetings. The other is the team’s penchant to suffer blowout losses. Although there were a lot of tough circumstances to explain some of the beatdowns, like the quarterback carousel and injury issues, McDermott has to start winning regularly next year now that he has his young QB in place. His record may line up with the other coaching failures we’ve had here in Buffalo, but I do believe McDermott has firm control of his locker room and has fostered a solid team-first attitude among the players. He and Beane appear to be on the same page with a good plan, but that must translate to wins in 2019.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

07 Jan

SACommandersAAF

Logo of a football team set to play in the new Alliance of American Football, the San Antonio Commanders. The new team’s general manager is former Dallas Cowboy Darryl Johnston, and they will be coached by Mike Riley, a successful college coach. Some players they have procured for the inaugural 2019 spring season are Logan Woodside, Aaron Green, Cyril Richardson and Demarcus Ayers.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

07 Jan

60fleertomoconnell

1960 Fleer football card of former pro football quarterback Tommy O’Connell, who had a brief pro career with 3 different teams. He played one season for the Chicago Bears in 1953, returned to join the Cleveland Browns for the 1956 and ’57 seasons, retired to become head coach at Drake University in ’59, then was lured back to play for the Buffalo Bills in the old AFL in 1960 and ’61. His best season was in ’57 when he replaced Otto Graham in Cleveland, led the Browns to the Eastern Division title and was named to the Pro Bowl. O’Connell, who died in 2014, was the father of former hockey player and general manager Mike O’Connell.