ORCHARD PARK, NY – The message: “building a winning culture,” boomed through the Bills practice facility on the day Sean McDermott was introduced as the team’s 20th head coach. Two months later that process has begun, as McDermott attempts to assemble a winning roster, and there’s already an obvious characteristic the former Panthers defensive coordinator is looking for in his players.
For example, the Bills entered the offseason in desperate need of defensive backs, which became a more pressing issue with CB Stephon Gilmore’s departure to New England and the release of safety Aaron Williams on Thursday. To address these ever growing voids in the secondary, Buffalo went out and signed two versatile safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer.
“I’m a defensive back that can return punts,” Hyde said of his official position. “I’ve been asked [what I am] plenty of times and I’ve said nickel [corner], no…maybe safet…no. So I don’t have an exact answer for it, so it’s just ‘defensive back.'”
Hyde, who entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2013, spent the first four years of his career bouncing between cornerback, safety and punt returner for the Packers. That versatility is exactly what the Bills needed given the depressing state of their secondary. Now, they have a guy who can play anywhere in back end of the defense.
So which position do the Bills have in mind for Hyde?
“We talked a little bit earlier, basically it’s whatever I can do to help the team,” Hyde explained. “They know I’m a versatile guy and I can do a bunch of things whether it’s returns, safety, corner, nickel position; whatever it may be. I’m here to help the football team and I wanna win.”
Poyer’s versatility was evident back high school, where he played baseball, basketball and football at Astoria High School in Oregon. As a senior, he was named the state’s player of the year in football – get this – on both sides of the ball. He earned the same honor in baseball that year as well, before being draft by the Florida Marlins. The guy could have played another sport professionally – how’s that for versatility?
“Wherever they have me, whatever they want me to do, I’m willing to do it,” the former Philadelphia Eagles seventh-round pick said. “I believe that I could return punts. I think every athlete believes they can do everything out there. I’m just here, wherever they want to put me, wherever they think I’m suited best, I’m excited for it.”
Signing players who can wear several hats didn’t stop on the defensive side of the ball either. Buffalo also went out and added fullback/running back Mike Tolbert and former Atlanta Falcons FB Patrick DiMarco.
Tolbert, who grew close to McDermott during their five years together in Carolina, can serve as a lead blocker for LeSean McCoy, or that bruising goal line back that the Bills lacked last season.
“I like to call myself multi-faceted,” the nine-year vet said of his skill-set. “I feel like I can run the ball, I can block obviously because I played fullback at a high level. I’m a great pass-catcher, I can pass-protect, I run routes, I play special teams, I do it all. I’m a versatile player and Coach McDermott has seen that in the past five seasons in Carolina and that’s of the big reasons why I think he brought me up here.”
As for DiMarco, he’s been one of the NFL’s top blocking fullbacks for several years now, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2015. But what makes DiMarco versatile is his ability to also catch passes out of the backfield.
“I did some third down protection stuff in Atlanta these past few years,” the 27-year-old remarked. “Catching the ball in the backfield, it doesn’t happen much but when your opportunity is called you have to make plays. Ball’s thrown, make a play, make a guy miss – do whatever I can to better the team and when the opportunity’s called, I’ll hopefully make plays.
Over the last three seasons, DiMarco has caught 29 passes for 224 yards and 4 touchdowns.
To be the top rushing team in the league but also the weapons that you have around you – I mean, the young talent and the defense starting to play better and better – opportunities are endless,” DiMarco said of joining the Bills.
As great as FB Jerome Felton has been leading the way for the Bills top ranked run game these past two seasons, he wasn’t a threat in the passing game. With Dimarco, Buffalo’s offense has both, which should create quite the headache for opposing defenses.
And that’s just a few of the versatile players Buffalo has targeted this offseason.
There’s LB Lorenzo Alexander, who returns to the Bills after a renaissance season in 2016 and has played just about every position imaginable over the course of his 12-year career. Offensive lineman, defensive lineman, linebacker, fullback, on top of special teams; you name it he’s played it.
The Bills obviously valued offensive lineman Ryan Groy’s versatility enough to tender him at at the original-round level (one-year, $1.797 million). His ability to play anywhere along the O-line came in handy last season after center Eric Wood suffered a broken leg in Week 9.
Even new kicker Stephen Hauschka has more versatility than Bills fans are used to from a kicker, given his ability to handle both the placekicking and kickoff duties.
This “versatility movement” is not a coincidence. It’s all part of McDermott’s master plan to build a winning culture in Buffalo.
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