New Orleans Saints: doug marrone

New Orleans Saints safety Jairus Byrd drew some lofty praise from his former coach -- and from one of his former rivals -- Tuesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando.

The AFC coaches were available to the media on Tuesday morning, so Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone and New York Jets coach Rex Ryan were both asked about Byrd. Here are some video clips, courtesy of NewOrleansSaints.com.

Marrone said the Bills made a competitive offer to try to keep Byrd. But he said if they had to lose him, he was “actually happy” that Byrd landed in New Orleans -- both because the coach is in the AFC and because he knows it will be a good fit for Byrd.

Marrone, a former offensive coordinator with the Saints, said he told Sean Payton he’s getting an “awesome player” both on and off the field. Here are some more quotes via The Advocate.

Ryan said he’s happy, too.

“I’m glad he’s out of our division. I’m also glad for my brother,” said Ryan, whose twin brother Rob is the Saints’ defensive coordinator.

Double Coverage: Bills at Saints

October, 24, 2013
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Williams-BreesUSA TODAY SportsMario Williams and the Bills' defense will attempt to slow down Saints QB Drew Brees.
The New Orleans Saints (5-1) are one of the NFL's most dominant home teams (3-0 this year, 32-11 since 2008). They've also won four straight games following bye weeks. So Sunday's matchup against the Buffalo Bills (3-4) certainly seems like a favorable one.

However, the Bills have proven to be a tough out. They're coming off of a 23-21 victory at Miami. All but one of their games has been decided by a touchdown or less. And they'll bring one of the NFL's most disruptive pass rushes into the Superdome, led by Mario Williams.

Injuries will be a key issue, especially on offense. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (foot) and Bills running backs C.J. Spiller (ankle) and Fred Jackson (knee) all are battling ailments.

ESPN.com Saints reporter Mike Triplett and Bills reporter Mike Rodak break down the matchup:

Triplett: I saw that Williams and the Bills' pass rush certainly delivered last week with a game-changing sack and forced fumble in the fourth quarter to beat the Dolphins. How good is that pass rush? And do you think the Bills' defense overall is capable of slowing down Drew Brees and the Saints' high-powered offense?

Rodak: Mike, the pass rush has been the strength of what has been a banged-up defense. Williams has 10 sacks this season and the Bills are disrupting 20.1 percent of opponent dropbacks (measured by sacks, passes defensed, interceptions and batted balls), which is second to the 7-0 Chiefs (26.5 percent).

As for facing the Saints' offense, I think the Bills are better equipped for the challenge now than they would have been earlier this season. With Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore back from injuries and being eased into action, the Buffalo defense will have its best playmakers on the field. Still, we're talking about a middle-of-the-pack defense that has yet to have everything click. The run defense has struggled and the Bills have shown a tendency to give up the big play at times. The Saints will have their chances.

I haven't had a chance yet to watch the Saints live this season, but I can tell you that those who were left in the Ralph Wilson Stadium press box two weeks ago had their eyes glued to that Saints-Patriots thriller. If the Saints pull that out, they're 6-0. Can we attribute their success early this season entirely to Sean Payton's return, or is there more to it?

Triplett: Payton's return is a huge part of it. Essentially, the Saints have been proving that their 7-9 season in 2012 was a fluke. I think many people nationally forgot just how good this offense was in 2011, when Graham and Darren Sproles emerged as weapons for them. They went 13-3 that year and set the NFL record for yards gained. Now, they're back in their comfort zone with Payton back as one of the NFL's best game planners and motivators.

This year, the biggest surprise is how well the defense has been playing after such an abysmal performance in 2012. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, young pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette and the entire secondary have been huge for them. And I think it's legit.

Speaking of coaches, Mike, I have to ask about the impact Doug Marrone is making there. He has ties here after serving as Payton's first offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 2006-08.

Rodak: Indeed, Marrone does have ties to New Orleans, not only as a coach, but also as a player. He was asked about it Monday and, probably trying to keep the focus on this week's game, didn't wax nostalgic about his time there, but simply said it was a good experience in his progression to becoming an NFL head coach.

As far as what he has done in Buffalo, I'd say it's so far, so good. But naturally as a first-year coach, the jury is still very much out on him. A lot will depend on how EJ Manuel performs when he returns this season and then beyond. But most importantly, Marrone has been able to avoid distractions or controversy, like what we saw with the Greg Schiano-Josh Freeman situation after Schiano made the jump from the college game. This seems to be a tight-knit locker room and a team that has closely contested each of its games this season.

Mike, there's a pair of recent first-round picks in Kenny Vaccaro and Jordan who have helped anchor the new-look Saints defense under Ryan. Tell me about what they've done, but also about what holes on defense the Bills might exploit.

Triplett: Jordan has been the Saints' defensive MVP so far. In fact, he was probably their defensive MVP last year, too. But this year he's starting to gain national attention for the impact he's making as a power pass-rusher and standout run defender. He's a big athlete at 6-foot-4 and about 290 pounds. So he's a good fit at 3-4 end but also at 4-3 end, where he's essentially lined up for most of this year since they play so much nickel and dime. Jordan has five sacks, a forced fumble and 24 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

Vaccaro, meanwhile, has been fun to watch since Ryan moves him around so much (deep safety, in the slot, blitzing, sometimes even at linebacker and corner). It's similar to the way the Pittsburgh Steelers use Troy Polamalu, though Vaccaro is obviously not at that level yet. He's still developing, but he's played almost every snap this year and has made several impact plays.

If the Bills' run game is going strong, that could give the Saints a few problems. Their run defense hasn't been their strength. But it's something they've been willing to sacrifice while making it a priority to prevent big plays. The Bills need to keep this game close so they're not forced to play catch-up -- which is no easy task. Do you think they've found some stability with Thad Lewis at quarterback? Or might we see Matt Flynn instead this week?

Rodak: They've definitely found some stability with Lewis at quarterback. While I don't think there's much of a chance that Lewis remains the starter when Manuel returns, it's not a stretch to say that Lewis has actually played better than the rookie. He has shown better accuracy on some of his passes and also seems more willing to drive the ball downfield when he needs to. His statistics haven't blown anyone away -- he ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in QBR in each of his two starts -- but the Bills seem more than happy with what they're getting out of him.

Flynn was inactive Sunday against the Dolphins, six days after arriving in Buffalo. I think the Bills would ideally like to have him as their backup instead of undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel. But as far as surpassing Lewis, I think that would take a collapse by Lewis over the next few games and an impressive showing by Flynn in practice.

Mike, how do you see this game playing out? Do you expect Graham to be available for the Saints?

Triplett: I think Graham will be highly questionable all week. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he's out or limited, which would obviously put a dent in the Saints' offense. But I still think Brees has enough weapons -- starting with Sproles, Marques Colston and Pierre Thomas in the passing game -- to move the ball and put up close to 30 points or more.

If New Orleans scores early and forces Buffalo to play catch-up, the Bills could really be in trouble. And if the Saints are the ones who have to play catch-up, they've proven they can do that. Buffalo's best chance is to control the clock with its run game, win the turnover battle and force the Saints to settle for field goals.

Marrone-Payton connection still strong

October, 24, 2013
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's been five years since Doug Marrone served as the offensive coordinator in New Orleans, but when he heard the familiar voice of New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton on a conference call with Buffalo Bills reporters Wednesday, he couldn't resist the chance to poke fun at his former boss.

"This is Doug Marrone from the Bronx Times," the now-Bills head coach said, leaning into the speakerphone.

"I recognize that voice," Payton responded. "They just let anybody in there, don't they?"

Earlier in the call, Payton noted that Marrone -- along with Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen -- were among coaches who helped get the "program" off the ground in New Orleans. The Saints wound up winning a Super Bowl the year after Marrone departed for Syracuse in 2009, but the two maintain close ties.

"Sean and [general manager] Mickey [Loomis] and the guys there made me feel more a part of [the Super Bowl win] than I probably was," Marrone said. "They called me, invited me, come to the Super Bowl. Asked me if I needed anything. ‘Miss you, you’re a big part of this, we want you to know.’ I think that’s the type of people they are. They’re just good people. They didn’t have to call; they didn’t have to say anything. They didn’t have to make me feel that way. Those are the types of people they are and I have a great appreciation for that."

Marrone said he couldn't make the trip for the Saints' win over the Indianapolis Colts because he was on the recruiting trail, but had he had time, he would have joined Payton in Miami.

Shortly after Payton and Marrone joined the Saints in 2006, they invested heavily in Drew Brees, who arrived via a free-agent deal from San Diego. Brees has gone to six Pro Bowls since and is held in highest regard by his former coach, Marrone.

"[The success of the Saints offense] starts with Drew. I think he’s an outstanding competitor. I was very fortunate to be around him," Marrone said. "Many people don’t know that he defeated Andy Roddick in tennis when he was in high school. That’s the type of athlete and competitor that he is."

Now running the show in Buffalo, Marrone has taken on the challenge of developing a rookie quarterback, EJ Manuel. In doing so, he hopes to draw the experience of coaching Brees from 2006-2008.

"When you think about it, people like Drew, and I can’t speak for Tom Brady and Peyton Manning because I haven’t been around them in that type of setting, but when you look at what does a quarterback need to do to get himself ready, how does he handle his business off the field as well as on the field, how about his leadership?" Marrone said. "I always feel fortunate to be with someone like that because at least you know how it should be done."

With an injury sidelining Manuel for the next several weeks, Marrone must prepare Thad Lewis, in just his fourth career start, to go head-to-head with Brees in the Superdome.

It's not an easy task, but for Marrone, whatever success he achieves as a head coach he will one day trace back, in part, to his days in New Orleans.

"I always appreciated, one Mr. Benson and I were kind of back to back, I always appreciated what he did for me," he said. "Sean and I, we had a working relationship and we had a close friendship. To be close to him and see what he went through as a head coach was obviously very helpful. ... I was very fortunate to have that and it’s been a big part of who I am today and what I’ve learned."
METAIRIE, La. – Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone was once declared “America’s friendliest football coach” by ESPN The Magazine, when he agreed to record two personalized voice-mail messages for a fictitious fan while working at Syracuse. And Marrone has always had a friendly rapport with the New Orleans media – including a humorous conference call on Wednesday.

But “friendly” is not the first word that comes to mind when the New Orleans Saints’ veteran offensive linemen think back to Marrone’s years as their offensive coordinator and offensive-line coach from 2006 to 2008. When asked if he used to think Marrone was too nice to become an NFL head coach, Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief practically did a spit take.

“Too nice?!” Strief said. “There’s a lack of perception right there.”

[+] EnlargeDoug Marrone
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltDoug Marrone was on the coaching staff that rebuilt the Saints in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He'll return to New Orleans on Sunday as the Buffalo Bills' head coach.
He was at least partly joking.

Both Strief and guard Jahri Evans remain close with Marrone and insist he was instrumental in their development during those years. They both described him as a great teacher and great coach.

“It’s hard to say enough good things about what he meant to me and to Jahri,” Strief said.

But they also remember Marrone as a “grinder” who worked around the clock and never let up on his players – especially in that first year of the team’s rebuilding project under new coach Sean Payton in 2006, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“Yeah, we must have been a steppingstone for him,” Evans said, laughing, when asked about Marrone’s “nice guy” reputation.

Evans also credited Marrone for teaching him the technique and fundamentals that helped turn him into a four-time first-team All-Pro.

“He was a good coach for me, telling me, ‘Hey, you’re doing good out there. But imagine how much better you could be if your technique was sound, if you took this step and not that step,’ and just not really letting you slide on it,” said Evans, who became a starter as a rookie out of Division II Bloomsburg in 2006. “The best way I can explain him – and not all coaches are like this – you could make a great block but something technical was wrong. Your first step, your second step, your hand placement. And he wouldn’t talk about the good block you had, but talk about the technique which could have not allowed you to have a good block.

“So just that mind frame of him knowing in Year 6 or 7, that might not work. Or late in the fourth quarter of a game, when you’re tired and not as athletic as your first snap, you’ll rely on your technique.”

Strief compared Marrone to his college coach at Northwestern, Randy Walker, who Strief said had the perception of being a “mean, tough guy.”

“Ultimately, a lot of times those guys that are tough want you to be good, and they want to push you, and they want to drive you,” Strief said. “As a young guy in this league, I think I kind of saw it as, ‘Man, this guy’s rough, he’s really hard on me.’ And yet [Marrone] walks away, and the same as when I left Northwestern, you realize, ‘Boy that guy made me a lot better by pushing me to points that maybe I wouldn’t have done on my own.’”

Strief continued: “Then when he goes to Syracuse and gets that job, you immediately see that different personality, you know, his character kind of come[s] out. And I think he really thrived in that role. Honestly, it was probably a better fit for him than being a coordinator. I think he’s a natural kind of leader. And it’s good to see him succeed.”

Payton said it “absolutely” struck him early in his relationship with Marrone that he might become a head coach one day. And he said he was very fortunate to land Marrone on that first staff. Marrone had to get out of his contract as the New York Jets’ offensive-line coach to take the promotion to offensive coordinator in New Orleans.

“That initial staff, a lot of those guys came with promotions. We weren’t winning many jump balls, if you will, in the hiring process,” Payton said – again, only half-joking. “He was very involved in our talent evaluation. He was very thorough and is a great worker. … He was a big part of us having early success, and it’s good to see him doing the same there.”

Naturally, Marrone also looks back on those years in New Orleans fondly. He spoke very highly of the relationships he developed with people such as Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis, and he marveled at what it was like to be a part of the city in the wake of Katrina.

“I say this all the time, having gone down there post-Katrina and having really been a part of something that special is always going to be a special part in my life and in my family’s life,” Marrone said. “What everyone did and the resiliency of the people to build back a region, and I tell that to people all the time, was just an unbelievable, incredible experience.”

Get to know the Buffalo Bills

October, 21, 2013
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A home date with the Buffalo Bills (3-4) certainly seems like a favorable matchup for the New Orleans Saints (5-1). But the Bills have proven to be a tough out this year -- even while dealing with a barrage of injuries at key positions like quarterback, running back and in the secondary. All but one of their games has been decided by seven points or less.

The Bills just pulled out a come-from-behind 23-21 victory at Miami this past Sunday. Fittingly, the turning point came when defensive end Mario Williams sacked Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and forced a fumble. Williams has been the Bills’ best player with 10 sacks this year, and Buffalo’s pass rush has been the strength of the team.

The Bills’ offense has been more hit or miss. But fourth-year journeyman quarterback Thad Lewis has done an admirable job keeping the team competitive the past two weeks after rookie starter EJ Manuel suffered a knee injury. Lewis will likely start again Sunday, but recently-signed veteran Matt Flynn is also a possibility.

Here are a few more details on the Bills:

This week’s game: Bills (3-4) at Saints (5-1), 1 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

Series history: The Saints lead the all-time series 5-4, and they haven't lost to Buffalo since 1998. The Saints have won three straight, including their last meeting in Buffalo in 2009, 27-7. ... This will actually be the first time they've played in the Superdome since that 1998 game. The last "home game" for the Saints in the series was in San Antonio's Alamodome in 2005, where the Saints had evacuated after Hurricane Katrina.

Worth noting: First-year Bills coach Doug Marrone spent three seasons as the Saints’ offensive coordinator/offensive line coach from 2006-08 before going back to college to become Syracuse’s head coach. Marrone was part of Sean Payton’s first staff in New Orleans in ’06 and helped build the foundation for their Super Bowl squad.

Three players to know on offense:

QB Thad Lewis: A former undrafted free agent from Duke, Lewis spent time with the St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions before being traded to Buffalo in late August. He took over as the Bills’ starter in Week 6 and kept them close in a 27-24 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals with two touchdown passes, zero interceptions and a touchdown run.

Lewis suffered a foot injury in that game, and he wasn’t quite as effective in the win over Miami, with no touchdowns and one interception. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is known as a mobile quarterback with a strong arm. He has thrown for 418 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions and run for 30 yards with one TD this season.

RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson: Spiller is a dynamic athlete who was expected to be the Bills’ featured weapon this year as a runner and receiver. But a nagging ankle injury has limited him to 362 rushing yards, 36 receiving yards and one total touchdown. Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Jackson has found the fountain of youth -- even while dealing with a nagging knee injury of his own that was aggravated during the win over the Dolphins. Jackson has run for 380 yards and five touchdowns, while catching 25 passes for 215 yards.

New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich recently used the duo as a comparison for the Saints’ versatile tailbacks, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. However, the Bills are more of a run-first team. They rank fifth in the NFL with 140.4 rushing yards per game.

Three players to know on defense:

DE Mario Williams: The former No. 1 pick in the NFL draft by the Houston Texans is off to the best start of his eight-year career. His 10 sacks are the most in Bills history through seven games -- one better than Hall of Famer Bruce Smith’s best start. And his sack-fumble in the final minutes Sunday at Miami led directly to a victory. The 6-foot-6, 292-pound athlete had a decent season last year (10.5 sacks) after signing a blockbuster free-agent deal with the Bills that was reportedly worth up to $100 million. But this year, he’s really starting to pay dividends.

LB Kiko Alonso: The second-round draft pick out of Oregon is making a strong case for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year honor. The 6-3, 238-pounder is tied for the league lead with four interceptions and ranks third with 70 tackles. He also has a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

S Jim Leonhard: The ninth-year veteran wasn’t able to crack the Saints roster at a deep position this summer. But it’s no surprise he quickly found a home. The active 5-8, 188-pounder has three interceptions this season, all in the past five games. He has started three of the past four games. He has also been a part-time punt returner.

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