Sunday, February 23, 2014
Top takeaways from scouting combine
By Mike Rodak
Sunday marks the final day of access to players, coaches, and general managers at the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley both spoke to reporters last week, providing a few nuggets as the team progresses through the offseason.
Here's our biggest takeaways from Marrone and Whaley:
1. Bills won't draft a quarterback in the first round: Typically general managers will shy away from ruling out any options in the draft, but Whaley made it clear Friday that the Bills will not select a quarterback with their first-round pick. "With the way our roster's set up right now, besides quarterback, we could go with any position," Whaley said, according to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. The Bills don't seem keen on the idea of drafting a quarterback in the first round in back-to-back seasons, which is an idea that has been bounced around since EJ Manuel suffered his third knee injury in December. While Whaley shut the door on that possibility, the debate remains the same: How should the Bills go about hedging their bets with Manuel, and are they making a mistake by not leaving the first-round possibility on the table?
2. Marrone reaches out to Stevie Johnson: One of the more complex personalities within the Bills' locker room is wide receiver Stevie Johnson, whose long-term future with the team has been clouded by a large roster bonus due next month. Johnson played through several injuries last season, one which ended early after the death of his mother in December. On Thursday, Marrone was asked about a report that the coaching staff had trouble connecting with Johnson last season. Graham lays out the background to the question and Marrone's answer.
3. Bills meeting with Byrd's agent: The Bills continue to take the stance that they want safety Jairus Byrd, who is set to become a free agent next month, back with the team. They met with Byrd's agents Saturday, as noted by Graham, which is a fairly common occurrence between teams and agents at the combine. Still, Whaley publicly continued to express interest in a long-term deal with the three-time Pro Bowler. "We as an organization, again, we're going to leave every option open for Jairus, because we would like him back," Whaley said. The Bills have until March 3 to assign Byrd the franchise tag.
4. Dareus extension on radar: Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus made his first Pro Bowl last month, and despite being benched for parts of the final two games after being late to team meetings, the Bills are apparently interested in keeping the former third-overall pick around for the long-term. Whaley was asked about the possibility of a contract extension for Dareus, and said: "It’s on our radar, but right now we prioritize things." Dareus, like other first-round picks, has a team option in his deal that would keep him under contract through the 2015 season.
5. Whaley would take the "bigger guy: This year's quarterback class is considered stronger than last year, when the Bills took Manuel off the board at 16th overall. WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia relays an exchange where a reporter asked Whaley how he would rank Manuel if he was part of the 2014 draft class. "Oooh. Good question," Whaley said. "I would have to say he would be talked in the top tier of those guys. Just with his size and athletic ability, you looked at the measurements now, there was only one guy close to his size and that was Blake Bortles at 6-5, and AJ McCarron was over the 6-3, so he's in there. I'm a big proponent that everything equal, you go with the bigger guy."
6. Mario Williams' cap hit a "non-issue:" Few NFL players will eat up more salary cap space this season than defensive end Mario Williams. The Pro Bowler will account for $18.8 million against the cap, but Whaley downplayed the possibility that the Bills would restructure Williams' contract. "At this time, non-issue. We're comfortable where it is right now," Whaley said, according to Buscaglia.
7. Kiko on the move? When we spoke to former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine last season about Kiko Alonso, Pettine pointed out that Alonso could play any of the linebacker spots within the defense. While the Bills' best bet is to keep Alonso -- who did not come off the field last season -- as their "Mike" linebacker, Whaley didn't rule out the chance of moving Alonso to outside linebacker in Jim Schwartz's scheme. "He would excel there, just like he excelled at middle linebacker," Whaley said, according to Graham. "But either way -- middle linebacker, 'Will' or 'Sam' -- we think this guy's going to have a bright future."