November 21, 2014

NFL Story
By Howard Balzer, The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: February 20, 2014 03:51:31 PM


Bills' Marrone reacts quickly to change

INDIANAPOLIS -- Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone had to react quickly when defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was named head coach of the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 23. Four days later, Marrone introduced Jim Schwartz at a press conference as the replacement for Pettine.
Schwartz had been fired as the Detroit Lions head coach the day after the 2013 season ended.
Speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine Thursday, Marrone called Schwartz "a good fit" and added, "We'll try to make this transition as easy as possible for our players. We don't want to trash one thing to go to another."
Marrone noted that both Schwartz and secondary coach Donnie Henderson have worked under current Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, and believes that will help the transition.
One important piece of that defense is safety Jairus Byrd, who played last season for the franchise tender. The Bills haven't ruled out franchising him again, although the price this year would be $8.29 million instead of the $6.9 million it was in 2013.
Marrone was adamant in stating he hopes Byrd is back.
"I told Jairus I have nothing but great things to say, nothing but great things to recommend. Now that goes to (general manager) Doug Whaley and it goes to management and they try to come up with something and see what's best for both parties.
"I love him, I really do. He did an outstanding job for us."
As for the offense, especially second-year quarterback EJ Manuel, Marrone said because of a knee injury, "He played last year and really didn't practice that much. If you think about all the players that played in the league, he probably practiced the least and played.
"For us, the priority, just like all the players, is to make sure that we keep him healthy. It's important for us, important for his development."
Marrone insists Manuel is trending up, and will benefit by additions to the coaching staff. Todd Downing, who worked with Manuel at the Senior Bowl in 2013, was hired as quarterbacks coach and Jim Hostler joined the staff as a senior offensive assistant. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett doubled as the quarterbacks coach last season. Downing was the quarterbacks coach previously in Detroit on Schwartz's staff.
Marrone coached previously on the same staff as Hostler with the New York Jets.
"We're excited about it," Marrone said, "because when he was in there, with the lack of time that we had, there were things that he did very well. Those additions should help us stay ahead and keep going."
In 10 starts last season, Manuel completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 1,972 with 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 77.7.
Marrone said it's also possible the Bills will look for a veteran quarterback in the offseason. The quarterbacks on the roster last season, Thaddeus Lewis and Jeff Tuel, had just one career start before 2013. That was for Lewis with the Browns in 2012.
The Bills' head coach also said he made sure to clear the air with wide receiver Stevie Johnson regarding a report last month that claimed Bills coaches have concerns about Johnson's belief in the team concept.
"I wound up texting Stevie and he got back to me, we had a great conversation," Marrone said. "I told Stevie, 'Listen, I'm excited about getting started with you. I'm excited about you coming in and being healthy and getting this team going. Whatever else you're hearing is not coming from me. But if you hear anything else make sure you call me.'
"It was a good positive conversation we had in the last week. After that happened, I found something with CBS Sports that didn't really quote a source from the Bills. That kind of stuff concerns me. You don't want distractions like that for your players in the offseason."
However, the Buffalo News reported that buffalobills.com writer Chris Brown talked about the concerns about Johnson during an interview on WGR Radio.
Brown said, "I don't know that anybody on the staff thought that they could effectively get in his head, relate to him, know what he was feeling, thinking all the time. I think it's because Stevie's just a different breed of cat. I don't think it's any reflection on this coaching staff. I think this coaching staff did a really good job of kind of aligning themselves with the players, where they felt they were all in this thing together and they were all allies.
"But I think Stevie's a hard guy to reach, and when you're trying to build a thing where it's all for one and one for all, and it's hard to reel a guy into that, it makes you wonder just where they feel they're going with him."

Howard Balzer is an award-winning writer and broadcaster who has covered the National Football League for more than three decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange and co-host on SiriusXM NFL Radio


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