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NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - INSIDE SLANT
Kiko Alonso had a magnificent rookie season for the Buffalo Bills. The second-round draft pick was plugged in as the starting middle linebacker from day one, and went on to play every defensive snap, a total of 1,145.
Not surprisingly, he led the Bills in tackles (159), was third in the league, and earned recognition on the NFL's all-rookie team and was runner-up to the New York Jets' Sheldon Richardson as defensive rookie of the year.
This year, Alonso is going to make the shift to weak-side linebacker in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's 4-3, a position that should be an even better fit for the player. On the outside, Alonso can get out into space and use his speed to pursue plays.
It will be interesting to see if Alonso can still be an ironman. By the end of last year it was obvious that he wasn't moving quite as well as he was the first three months, and it turned out that he had a hip injury that required postseason surgery.
"Everyone's hurting in December," Alonso said. "You've just got to push through it. That's part of the game."
The Bills really didn't have a viable option at middle linebacker last year to back up Alonso, so it wasn't prudent to take him out. However, given the way he slowed down at the end of 2013, the coaching staff might try to spot him a few plays per game. Of course being the competitor that he is, Alonso wants no part of that.
"I hate coming off the field," he said. "If the defense is on the field, I want to be on the field."
Right now, he is not on the field. Alonso hasn't done much in team drills so far in the OTA workouts, and that's by design as he recovers from the surgery.
"It's been nice to get that time off and relax," he said. "Now it's time to get back to work. I feel great. I've had a great rehab, and I'm just trying to get stronger."
From what he has seen and learned about the new defense, Alonso feels like he'll be in for another big year, and he's hoping he will be more involved during the Bills' mandatory mini-camp next week.
"I think I'm going to be doing a lot of similar stuff," Alonso said. "I'm just excited to move to the outside in this new scheme. It's a great scheme, obviously. Coach Schwartz is a great coach."
Schwartz has not seen Alonso do much in person yet, but he saw the tape from last year, and he knows he's got a terrific player on his hands.
"We have talented players on all three levels of our defense," said Schwartz. "A lot was made of our Pro-Bowl players up front, but a young player like Kiko Alonso; even though Kiko hasn't been out here full time, he's been out there just doing a little bit with some individual and some 7-on-7 here and there. He's on the progression like a lot of other young guys."
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - NOTES, QUOTES
--New Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been busy installing his new scheme during the OTA sessions, and while his players are only wearing shorts, he said it's easy to see that the group he inherited from Mike Pettine has talent.
"We have talented players on all three levels of our defense," he said. "The only thing we're really evaluating now with players is their ability to grasp schemes and things like that. The stuff you're seeing on the practice field, we're not judging the players on finishing plays. It's a non-competitive situation. We want to learn their role in the defense and we want to learn how everything fits together. They are being judged on that and their work ethic. The on the field stuff is all about technique right now. When we get to training camp you'll start judging them more on wins and losses."
Schwartz spent the previous five seasons as head coach in Detroit, but when asked what it's been like to transition back to being a coordinator (which he did for eight years with Tennessee), he said it really isn't that much of a change for him.
"I've never strayed very far from defense, even as a head coach," he said. "I've stayed in meetings and stayed in walk-throughs and calling plays. Being in the practice that way, so it's not that much of an adjustment. It's exciting to go back to work and it's exciting to get on the field and be able to put our hands on these players. Each step along the way we've done a little bit more. We can see the progress from the guys."
Schwartz took a playful jab at the horrible winter people in western New York had to endure, but he turned that into a positive because it worked out well for him as the new guy on staff. "We spent an awful lot of time together," Schwartz said. "That's one of the good things about being here in Buffalo. The weather was so bad, we had plenty of time as coaches to stay together. When that snow was rolling and it was five degrees outside, we were holed up in the room, watching all their stuff from last year. One thing I would say is that players do have a clean slate. They come back, and whether they had a really good year or a really bad year last year, they have a chance to prove themselves all over again. There's no doghouse from last year, and there's no penthouse from last year. They have to prove themselves every year in this league. That's this business."
--By the end of the first week of OTAs, tight end Scott Chandler, who had minor offseason knee surgery, was back working in the team segments of practice, and that continued in the second week on a limited basis. In 2013, he was coming back from a more serious ACL repair, and he admittedly rushed his return to the team, perhaps anxious to prove himself to what was then a new coaching staff. Even though he survived the season and played in all 16 games, he's taking things a little slower this time.
"I pushed it pretty quick last year and I think it's good to not do that again," he said. "I got all 16 games in last year and that's the goal. I'm progressing back in rehab and stuff, feeling a lot better. It has been a big step for me; got to get in there a little bit more with the team work."
--The Bills' season-ticket sales have already surpassed 44,000, highest since 2009 when the number was 55,194, which is pretty impressive for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 14 years. Part of the bump may have to do with the drafting of Sammy Watkins, and some of it may be that fans are anxious to see games in the refurbished Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills sold 42,540 season tickets in 2013, which was a slight drop from 2012 when they sold 43,625.
--The team will spend a little more time in training camp at St. John Fisher College in the suburbs of Rochester, due mainly to all the construction work taking place at their home base on One Bills Drive. Also, the Bills are participating in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton on Aug. 3, so they will begin practicing on July 20. Their stay at camp will extend a full month, to Aug. 21, though there will be a six-day absence in August when they travel to Latrobe, Pa. to conduct joint practices with the Pittsburgh Steelers before playing the Steelers in a preseason game Aug. 16 at Heinz Field. Last year, the Bills began work at St. John Fisher on July 28 and were there just a bit over three weeks.
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Bills picks:
Round 1/4 -- Sammy Watkins, WR, 6-1, 211, Clemson
--The Bills made a bold move to go up and get him at Cleveland's spot, and it cost them a first-round pick in 2015, but he was clearly their highest-rated player on the board. Just as important, he fills a need as the Bills have lacked a dominant, go-to receiver. Watkins had dazzling freshman and junior seasons, while his sophomore year was interrupted by a two-game suspension due to a marijuana possession charge. Watkins learned from that mistake and returned to first-team, All-America status as a junior, after being just the fourth first-year freshman to earn first-team status. He finished his career with 240 catches for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns. He will very likely start on opening day, especially now that Stevie Johnson has been traded.
Round 2/44 -- Cyrus Kouandjio, T, 6-7, 322, Alabama
--The native of Cameroon came to America when he was 4, played soccer into middle school, and then switched to football in high school. He and his brother, Arie, both played for Nick Saban at Alabama. He played as a freshman in 2011 but suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee and missed the final third of the season. Came back to start the final 26 games of his career, and the Bills were told he never missed a practice either. Was a consensus first-team All-America in 2013, but his knee issue gave some teams pause. Dr. James Andrews ultimately wrote a letter to explain that the knee was fine and would not hinder Kouandjio. Has very long arms which make pass rushers take a wider arc to get around him. He should compete immediately for the starting right tackle job with Erik Pears.
Round 3/73 -- Preston Brown, MLB, 6-1, 251, Louisville
--The Bills took the 6-foot-1, 251-pound Brown in the third round with the 73rd pick overall, and he should be able to come in and become the primary backup at middle linebacker behind Brandon Spikes. The Bills really don't have a true middle linebacker on the team other than Spikes, so Brown will get plenty of reps in training camp at the position. However, he also played some outside linebacker in college, and he can be a useful member of the special teams, so the Bills will likely get some mileage out of Brown in his rookie season. His production was certainly high at Louisville as he made 301 tackles, all but 10 of those in his final three years. He also made two fumble recoveries, one interception and seven sacks.
Round 4/109 -- Ross Cockrell, DB, 6-0, 190, Duke
--He started 49 games at Duke, recording 233 tackles, 12 interceptions and 42 pass breakups. Was a durable player who played 3,536 snaps in his college career. A two-time first team All-ACC, he graduated a year ago with a degree in political science. His father played at Columbia, so he's probably going to be the smartest guy in the room when he arrives. He figures to contribute to special teams, and perhaps battle for a backup position in the secondary.
Round 5/153 -- Cyril Richardson, G, 6-5, 343, Baylor
--He had weight issues his senior year that prevented him from being a much higher pick. Was the leader of a line that blocked for the NCAA's top offense, which averaged 52 points per game. He was a finalist for the Outland Trophy, but some scouts said he lacked good movement and could be beaten by faster pass rushers up the middle. At left guard he was credited with 83 knockdown blocks. As a child, his family was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and they wound up in Fort Worth, Tex.
Round 7/221 -- Randell Johnson, OLB, 6-3, 242, Florida Atlantic
--Johnson recorded 41 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a senior when he played in every game and was named his team's Iron Man of Year. Part of that came from the fact that he played on almost all of the special teams units, as well as on defense. That's where he'll have to make his mark in the NFL. He showed strong footwork at his pro day. One of his greatest gifts is his wingspan as his 34-inch arms are lengthy for a man who stands 6-foot-3, and they enable him to get his hands on some balls in pass coverage.
Round 7/237 -- Seantrel Henderson, T, 6-7, 331, Miami
--Was touted as a first-round talent, but his stock fell after three positive marijuana tests at Miami and he openly admitted to his drug use at the Scouting Combine. Bills general manager Doug Whaley made it very clear that he's got one shot, and if he stays straight, he could be the steal of draft. Henderson is a big man, but he moves like a linebacker, likely due to his basketball background as he had Division I scholarship offers to play basketball. He often dominated games with 58 knockdown blocks and 10 touchdown blocks.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--FS Jim Leonhard (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--WR Sammy Watkins (1/4): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T Cyrus Kouandjio (2/44): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Preston Brown (3/73): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Ross Cockrell (4/109): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Cyril Richardson (5/153): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Randell Johnson (7/221): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T Seantrel Henderson (7/237): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--K Dan Carpenter: UFA; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Mike Caussin: Potential RFA; terms unknown.
--TE Scott Chandler; UFA; terms unknown.
--WR Chris Hogan: ERFA; $495,000/1 yr.
--OL Antoine McClain: ERFA; $495,000/1 yr.
--P Brian Moorman: Potential UFA; $955,000/1 yr.
--FB Frank Summers: ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--WR Ramses Barden: FA; $1.475M/2 yrs.
--RB Bryce Brown (trade Eagles).
--RB Anthony Dixon: UFA 49ers; $3.5M/3 yrs, $750,000 SB.
--QB Dennis Dixon: FA; $1.475M/2 yrs.
--CB Corey Graham: UFA Ravens; $16M/4 yrs.
--LB Keith Rivers: UFA Giants; $4.05M/2 yrs, $1M SB.
--LB Brandon Spikes: UFA Patriots; $3M/1 yr, $900,000 SB.
--G Chris Williams: UFA Rams; $13.5M/4 yrs, $5.5M guaranteed.
--WR Mike Williams (trade Buccaneers).
--DE Jarius Wynn: UFA Cowboys; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Jairus Byrd: UFA Saints; $54M/6 yrs, $11M SB/$27.9M guaranteed.
--DE Alex Carrington: UFA Rams; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Kevin Kolb (released/failed physical).
--LB Arthur Moats: UFA Steelers; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--T Thomas Welch: Not tendered as RFA/Saints; terms unknown.