Bills news, notes: Former Ram safety signs with Buffalo; McDermott to call defensive plays
Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott ended all speculation about who would be calling the defensive plays in 2023 with coordinator Leslie Frazier stepping away for the season.
It’s McDermott, not that this is a surprise because from the moment it was learned at the NFL Scouting Combine of Frazier’s decision, McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane hinted that the head coach would take on the responsibilities.
“I’m gonna be the play-caller but at the same time, have tons of confidence in the guys that we have around me that if I need to toss it to them from time to time, I can do that,” McDermott confirmed to reporters Monday morning at the annual coaches breakfast at the NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix.
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Obviously, McDermott earned his stripes in the NFL as a defensive coordinator for the Eagles and Panthers. The issue will be that when he does this for the Bills, he’ll also have the huge responsibilities of being the head coach, someone who has to be in tune with all three phases during the week, and on game day.
“It’ll be different,” McDermott said. “It’s been a little bit since I’ve done it. And then you add the head coach piece on top of that, but it’s been done before. I anticipate still doing everything else. I mean, maybe cut a little piece of the pie off and share it over here or over there, but outside of that, I’m pretty comfortable with what that entails.”
Later, Beane also met with reporters. Here are some of the highlights of what the coach and GM said:
Things are certainly looking up at safety
Several hours after McDermott’s breakfast time was up, but before Beane met with reporters, the Bills signed safety Taylor Rapp to a one-year contract. That comes on the heels of their re-signing of Jordan Poyer to a two-year contract. Suddenly, a position that seemed to be vitally thin heading into free agency looks pretty strong with Poyer and Micah Hyde being reunited, and Rapp joining the team.
“Excited to get him into our culture, our system, he’s a really good player,” Beane said. “Did well for the Rams, obviously part of their championship run. We spent some time with him at (the University of Washington) when he was coming out and really think his skill set fits our defense.”
Speaking specifically of Hyde and Poyer, McDermott said, “I think they’re both champing at the bit to get back out there, have a good offseason, get into Buffalo in the spring, help lead our team. And really get their bodies ready to go. When you’re not dealing with that contract situation now like Jordan was (offseason), your mind’s a little bit clearer than when you are.”
Rapp was a player I thought the Bills should consider as a possible replacement for Poyer if he signed elsewhere. He’s a 2019 second-round pick of the Rams who has started 48 of the 57 games he has played, made 330 tackles, nine interceptions, one forced fumble and three recoveries.
The 25-year-old missed seven games in 2020 with an injury, but he returned to play a key role for the Rams’ Super Bowl winning team in 2021. He started all 17 regular-season games, got hurt and missed the first three playoff games but returned to play part-time duty in the championship victory over the Bengals.
He was back as the full-time starter in 2022 and Pro Football Focus graded him as the 20th-best safety in the league. The 6-foot, 208-pounder was on the field for 95% of the defensive snaps, made two interceptions, 92 tackles, and allowed a completion percentage of 72.7. His 7.5-yards per catch allowed average was tied for second-best among all safeties. For comparison, Poyer ranked 11th at 8.9 yards and gave up a 72.9 completion percentage.
Rapp played primarily free safety, but he was down in the box as well, and even saw snaps in the slot, so the versatility is there, and he has excellent size for run support.
Cool the jets on the DeAndre Hopkins rumors
Beane was asked about all the speculation regarding the Bills being repeatedly named as a favorite to land the wide receiver in a trade, and not surprisingly, he shot that down pretty quickly.
“He’s on the Arizona Cardinals, and I know the social media world … what I would say is social media is social media, don't take that too far,” Beane said. “We’re always going to look for talent and so we’re going to look at anything and everything. Our name gets thrown into the hat, a lot of things that one person made one call and they’ve looped us in that we’re all over them and we’ve offered them a contract. It’s funny sometimes.”
Damien Harris should bring a new dimension to the run game
McDermott is well aware of what Harris can do when he’s healthy because he watched the former Patriots running back rush for more than 100 yards in three games against Buffalo since 2020. He also knows that one of the concerns with Harris is his injury history which has limited him to 38 games in four years.
“I just love the combination of size, some power and speed,” McDermott said. “Now, listen, he’s got to stay healthy, because it’s great to have all of that, but if you’re not healthy, you’re not helping us. So we’re going to have to do our part to help him with that and help manage those areas, and he’s going to have to do his part in that, as well, but I think that was a good pickup for us.”
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It will be a wide open competition at middle linebacker
Following up on what Beane said about the vacant middle linebacker position now that Tremaine Edmunds has moved on to Chicago, McDermott said everyone will have a chance to win the job. Either someone already on the roster, a potential free agent, or maybe a draft pick.
“You never replace a player like Tremaine,” McDermott said. “For the guys that we have at the middle linebacker position, they deserve a shot. Our guys that are in the locker room deserve a shot, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Those guys would be Tyrel Dodson who was just re-signed to a one-year deal; Terrel Bernard who was a third-round draft pick in 2022; and Baylon Spector, a seventh-round pick in 2022. Now, that doesn’t feel like much, so the Bills new middle linebacker may not be on the roster yet.
“It’s a unique position because of the load that comes with it, the responsibility, not just making your own plays, but getting us lined up, knowing how we want to look defensively, the philosophical approach,” McDermott said. “There’s a lot that goes into it, and it’s a lot for a young player, but there’s also a first time for everyone.”
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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills news: Taylor Rapp signs; McDermott to call defensive plays