Friday, January 31, 2014
What did we learn about Bills in January?
By Mike Rodak
Believe it not, the Buffalo Bills are already one month into their offseason.
There's still nearly six months until training camp, but it's worth taking a look back at the last month and asking this question: What did we learn about the Bills in January?
Here's our recap:
Bills' fears of losing Mike Pettine realized: We first explored the possibility of former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine becoming a head coach late in the season, following a 19-0 shutout win over the Miami Dolphins. Several teams filled their head coaching vacancies early in January without interviewing Pettine, but as the Cleveland Browns' coaching search dragged on, Pettine became a top candidate. The Browns hired Pettine on Jan. 23, leaving the Bills without the coach who turned around their defense this season.
Bills didn't waste time replacing Pettine: Just one day after Pettine departed for Cleveland, the Bills executed their contingency plan, moving swiftly to hire Jim Schwartz. Among the options on the coaching market, it's hard to view Schwartz as anything but the top choice. While Schwartz may not have a long-term future in Buffalo -- he could be back in the mix to become a head coach as soon as next offseason -- he is a veteran coach who could help maximize the talent the Bills have on defense.
Help on its way for Hackett: The Bills have effectively acknowledged that they needed more help on their offensive coaching staff after that unit struggled for most of this season. While offensive coordinator Nate Hackett assumed the role of quarterbacks coach this season, the Bills added Todd Downing in that role, helping to tutor EJ Manuel next season. They also hired former Baltimore Ravens receivers coach Jim Hostler as a "senior offensive assistant," adding another veteran coach to their staff. Ike Hilliard, who held the role of receivers coach last season, was fired immediately after the season and has yet to be replaced.
Continued concern over Manuel's knees: After missing the final two games of the season with a sprained LCL in his left knee, Manuel underwent a "minor procedure" after the season and is currently rehabbing. "Minor" or not, Manuel's knees are a major concern for the Bills. His three knee injuries -- including a meniscus tear in August, he revealed this week -- limited him to 10 games this season. That can't happen again next season if the Bills want to take a step forward. Manuel's rehab and development will be in the spotlight throughout the offseason.
Moorman re-signed: There's still over a month until free agency begins and the Bills' free-agent class is among the smallest in the NFL. They already made one decision on a player with an expiring contract, re-signing punter Brian Moorman to a one-year deal at the veteran minimum. The Bills' special teams units were ranked 31st by well-respected Dallas Morning News writer Rick Gosselin, so it would not be surprising if the Bills brought in competition for Moorman, who turns 38 next week.