Follow Michael on Twitter
One of the many things I like about twitter is that if you follow the right people you'll learn a lot. I work in a business where it's important to hire people smarter than you. There is a great saying that goes, "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room". That is so true. One of the people who I enjoy following and learn a lot from is Chris Trapasso from Bleacher Report. I'm sure many of you who read this know who Chris is. For those that don't, Chris is a very knowledgeable football writer. Not just Buffalo Bills, but football in general. He is all football all the time, and that's good because so are the majority of Bills fans in this area. Chris is a great follow on twitter, especially around this time of year, all year around actually. His twitter feed is filled with smart opinions on the draft, free agents, and the schemes of football. I asked Chris if he would do a quick Q&A with me and he happily obliged.
We hit on everything from the Senior Bowl (which he attended) to the Draft to the Buffalo Bills. It was great to do this because there wasn't a 140 Character limit, and I was able to ask a lot of questions I wanted to know the answers to:
1. You had the opportunity to attend the Senior Bowl this year? How did that come about?
– I really wanted to go last year, so I made it one of my goals to get to the event in 2014. When the bowl season hit, I realized there'd be no harm in at least filling out an application online. After I did, I received a "Credential Accepted" email from the Senior Bowl folks. Then, I booked the cheapest flights I could find—they were outrageously early in the morning—and snagged the cheapest (but not cockroach-infested) hotel.
2. The Senior Bowl is a pretty big deal, it kicks off the draft season, and every scout, GM, Coach, and NFL draft guru is in attendance. What information, if any, were you able to gather from your conversations with them, in regards to players, sleepers? Also, who was the biggest "name" person you met and spoke with?
I really think we must remain cognizant that draft season = smokescreen season, therefore I don't take anything I read or hear from team sources, scouts, general managers or coaches as gospel, but I'm totally fine with media "reporting" tidbits they get.
I tweeted everything I heard or gathered while I was in Mobile, but a few things were very interesting at the time.
I got to Ladd-Peebles Stadium an hour early for Monday's North practice—I mistakenly looked at my computer's clock, which was still on EST—and happened to walk in with a Falcons scout. I think he was a scout, because he was an older guy and had "Atlanta Falcons" on his credential. Maybe he was an assistant coach? I approached him to ask the obvious question but what I believed was a decent icebreaker—"are you here with the Falcons?" He responded affirmatively and starting yapping.
He said "we couldn't catch a break on the injury front," and "we couldn't block anyone and everyone could block us."
He ended by saying, "I obviously won't make the final decision, but I think we're pretty high on Anthony Barr."
That was a cool experience to start the week. I found it intriguing that some scouts apparently talk to the media, while others are extremely tight lipped. I tried to talk to two Bills scouts. They were nice but declined to offer anything and said, that's "just a direct order from Mr. Whaley."
3. What players stood out to you at the Senior Bowl? Was there a player that you watched live that you said to yourself "Yup, he'll be a 10 year player"?
Pitt's Aaron Donald and FSU's Christian Jones. Donald lived in the South team's backfield all week and took the majority of his practice reps against All-American guard Cyril Richardson from Baylor. He's Kyle Williams and/or Geno Atkins. Take your pick. Low center of gravity. Incredibly strong. Quick. Non-stop motor.
Christian Jones played every linebacker position, and was probably the best pass-rusher outside of Dee Ford. But he moved fluidly in the coverage drills, knocking down a few passes and never getting noticeably beat in coverage. His exceptional versatility was what I was expecting to see from Kyle Van Noy.
4. Before we get into the the NFL Draft, since it's that time of year, let's discuss the NFL 2013 season. I'd like to talk Seattle Seahawks specifically. I don't think their defense will go down like the 1970's Steelers, 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens, 2002 Ravens, but you would he hard pressed to find a secondary better than the 2013 Seahawks. When you watched Seattle this past season what impressed you the most about them? Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas are the best Safety duo I can remember. What did you see schematically that makes them stand out?
You're totally right about the secondary—awesome from nickel corner to free safety. To me, the most impressive aspect of their defense was the way the front four got home without much blitzing at all. Bills fans remember—and would probably like to forget—Dave Wannstedt's 4-3 scheme that was essentially blitzing-averse.
I don't think the Seahawks were necessarily Wannstedt-esque on the blitzing front, but their defensive linemen frequently pressured the opposing quarterback with old fashioned power, persistence and simply beating their men one-on-one.
5. This is a QB driven league. If you don't have a franchise QB, as Bills fans know, you're not winning nor succeeding. Brady, Manning, Brees will be a year older in 2014, and showed no signs of slowing down in 2013. Are they still the best 3 QB's in your mind? Who are your Top 10 QB's in the NFL right now?
It's hard to not pick Peyton Manning after the record-shattering season he just completed, but, when healthy, I think the best quarterback in the NFL is Aaron Rodgers. He's the most accurate at all levels of the field, has a pretty big arm and routinely exhibits the subtle pocket movement we always hear about that allows him to drift away from pressure.
What sets him apart from those other signal-callers is his athleticism. He throws on the run as well as anyone and can scramble. Manning, Brady and Brees simply can't. Those four are the finest in the league–the unquestioned elite of the elite.
6. I really thought the Bills botched their QB situation. When Kevin Kolb went down with that knee injury on the mat in Training Camp, and they just went with Tuel and EJ that turned disastrous. The Bills can not enter this 2014 season with just EJ, Thaddeus, and Tuel. What veteran QB's should they look at in Free Agency? And do you think they'll eventually sign one?
I think they'll look to add a veteran QB in free agency, but I'm fine with Thad Lewis as the backup behind EJ Manuel.
Backups and backups for a reason. Lewis wasn't great, but he wasn't atrocious either. Jeff Tuel, well, I can't get behind him as anything more than an absolute emergency starter like he was against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.
7. What are the things, technique wise, that EJ Manuel needs to work on? I really think EJ can be good enough to lead this team to the playoffs, but there were times last season that he looked totally confused in the pocket and lost on the field. I know a lot of that has to do with him being a rookie, and the injuries slowed him down, but there were a lot of times when he just didn't look the part. Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh games stand out.
Footwork, first and foremost. It's boring, and I'm not going to pretend I totally understand precisely how a quarterback's feet should move under him before, during and after he throws. But because he's very athletic and has a strong arm, I think he had a tendency to throw off balance too often and made the assumption he could still deliver the ball accurately and with the proper velocity and touch without his feet set.
That can't happen in the NFL. Personally, I think he works better as a traditional "drop back" quarterback, which allows him to see the entire field a split second after the snap.
I think if he dedicates himself to throwing with more "textbook" fundamentals, especially in his lower half, he can take a significant step forward in Year 2. Lastly, I haven't read anything that makes me believe he's lazy. In fact, everything I've read discusses how driven he is to become a successful quarterback. That's huge.
8. I have such a love/hate relationship with the NFL Draft. I love the 2-3 weeks leading up to the draft, but I despise the 2-4 months leading up to those 2-3 weeks. Twitter has forever changed the draft. Anyone with YouTube access, and a keyboard is suddenly an NFL scout. The NBA has their draft one week after the season ends. Teams scout year round and that's including international players. Football, College and Pro, is a year round business. With the way we live today, technology, easier more comfortable ways to travel, why does the NFL feel the need to drag this process out? I understand the NFL is in the money making business, but do teams and scouts really need from August until April to scout and evaluate these players?
I hear you. And, really, I don't think so. I think it's primarily a (smart) money-making scheme by the NFL to build excitement. I truly believe the draft could be held in March and the "proper" evaluations could be made. I forgot to mention this earlier, but although I got "shut down" by two Bills scouts, I did have a little chat with a national Bills scout when I registered for the Senior Bowl and got my credential. I purposely didn't ask him for any "info," and the conversation went rather smoothly. He did tell me that the Senior Bowl is the "cherry on top" of the scouting process and "we already have our board pretty much set."
9. Best Player Available (BPA) vs Need. This is a hot topic for Bills fans since Buffalo has been selected to pick in the top 10 the last 4(!!) years. (I say selected because they had a top ten pick in 2013 and traded back to 16). I've always been a BPA guy no matter of position (unless you already have a QB). The Bills are picking 9th and could use a TE, OT, and WR. The best OT in this draft, I think we can agree is Greg Robinson from Auburn. It's more than likely Robinson will be off the board when the Bills pick, IF he is there at 9, they better RUN the card up. So let's say Robinson is gone, and Sammy Watkins, Eric Ebron, and Jake Matthews are available. Wouldn't you rather have the #1 ranked TE or #1 ranked WR than the 2nd best rated OT? If I had to lean one way, I'm leaning Watkins. He doesn't have the height Bills fans covet, but Watkins is a legit play maker and will make EJ a lot better QB. My dream scenario is Watkins Round 1 and Troy Niklaus, TE from Notre Dame, in RD 2. Tackle is just so deep in this draft, I'd rather wait till rounds 3 or 4 to grab one. Discuss.
You need to send that paragraph into Doug Whaley. He could use an assistant GM. All joking aside, I think there's a lot of sound logic to your scenario there. Recently, I've gone on the (Twitter) record saying I'd draft Mike Evans over Sammy Watkins if I were running the Bills.
But about a month ago, I went on Twitter rant about the idea that teams often "build" a strength instead of simply having one good player who does one thing really well at one position.
If they drafted Watkins, they'd be continuing the "need for speed" draft philosophy they began last year, and I wouldn't hate that. However, with Watkins, Spiller, Goodwin, (Graham) and Woods, I'd like to see more bubble screens, quick slants, jet sweeps—basically anything to get the ball in the hands of those tremendously dynamic and fast players as soon as possible after the snap.
The deep ball is fun, but even if your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, it's low percentage play.
I'm in love with Troy Niklas and truly believe the Bills would love to snag him in Round 2. Young. Gronkowski size. Best blocking tight end in the class. I just think he can help a team in many ways. I can't get a grasp on the offensive line. Last year, Doug Marrone was adamant about not needing All-Pro players on the line, then he dealt with the Colin Brown abomination and "eh" play from Doug Legursky and Erik Pears all season.
Would Marrone want that blue-chipper at RT? Or would he "settle" for, like you said, a mid-round pick there? I'm just not sure.
10. Let's talk secondary. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, Safety Alabama, and Calvin Pryor, Safety Louisville, are two interesting prospects. Talk to us about them, who do you like better? The Bills could also use another CB (wash rinse repeat) in the latter rounds. Talk us about some mid to late round guys we should keep an eye on.
I have a good friend who's a big FSU fan, so I watched basically all the Seminoles games this past season. LaMarcus Joyner is a cornerback who I think could make a Jairus Byrd-type switch to safety at the next level. If not, I think he could be a versatile secondary member who plays multiple positions. Pierre Desir was a standout at the Senior Bowl but has become a hot name as one of those larger cornerbacks. I doubt he's there "late." Honestly, though, it's hard to get a real grasp on safety prospects because of those damn TV angles.
11. If the Bills don't re-sign Jairus Byrd a big hole is left in that secondary, and the staff is seems to be a lot higher on Jonathan Meeks and Duke Williams. What happened to Da'Norris Searcy? His play really seemed to diminish last season. Talk to us about that..
Well, Joe Buscaglia interestingly pointed out a recent Doug Marrone quote in which he didn't mention Searcy as safety they'd like to try out in 2014. He was a frequent coverage liability, but I think he's the perfect safety to play in Aaron Williams' role to keep him fresh. It's hard for me to comment on either Jonathan Meeks or Duke Williams because of their lack of playing time last season.
However, I either think Byrd will be back or the Bills will draft a safety if they trade him (they'll have extra picks).
12. The Bills had no choice but to revamp the defensive coaching staff this off season. What areas do they need to address in, not only the draft but Free Agency to end this miserable playoff drought?
Linebacker, linebacker, linebacker. Kiko Alonso has a bright future. He really does. He could be All-Pro material if the Bills move him to the weakside, something I think they'll do. We can all agree that Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, and now, Alan Branch, are good, right?
Well then why has run stopping been one area in which Buffalo has struggled since Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher left?
They need a Brandon Spikes or Shayne Skov type. A big linebacker who might be bad in coverage but asserts his will against the run and, at worst, opens free lanes for the rangy Alonso to make tackles. Linebacker is an enormous need.
13. How often do you go back and re-watch NFL games on Rewind? And what do you look for, or better yet, what should fans be looking for when going back and re-watching games?
Occasionally, I'll get assigned to a legitimate "film review" article for Bleacher Report, but I always re-watch every Bills games.
First, I check the "controversial" plays to see if the guy who everyone thought made a spectacular or horrible play really did make a spectacular or horrible play.
After that, I typically hone in on the offensive and defensive lines. I think that's an area in which we—or maybe just I—tend to disregard during the fast action of a live game (disclaimer: Erik Pears was bad last season).
I try not get enthralled in "THE QB MISSED AN OPEN RECEIVER" gripes, because I don't know reads, but I do like tracking on-target/off-target throws as well.
14. How do you watch tape and evaluate College Prospects? Is it just using YouTube, or do you get tape sent to you? What are some of things you look for in a prospect? I'm a big, big College Football guy. I would say I love College Football more than the NFL. You can't beat the pageantry and emotion of a Saturday afternoon game, you just can't. How much College ball do you watch during the season, and how much evaluating can you do from that?
DraftBreakdown.com. It's a godsend. I know scouts will always want to go to games to see it live and probably meet the player's coaches after the game. I get that. But if a team really had a major budget squeeze, the scouting department COULD do all or most of its work using that site.
Also, I'm an enormous college football fan myself and agree with you wholeheartedly about the pageantry and passion. Frankly, though, I don't do much—if any—"scouting" during the season or in-game. I know basically everything will be up on Draft Breakdown later.
15. Everyone reading this knows us from twitter, tell us some of your favorite follows on twitter. Not just for Bills talk but for NFL News and NFL Draft talk. Who do you rely on for legit news or legit scouting? One of my pet peeves on twitter is people who just throw stuff out there citing "sources" etc… My mission is get all Bills fans away from those people and make them follow people who are legit and smart. Help them, and tell us who we should be following.
The "sources" people aren't my favorites, let's just say that. Joe Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) is an incredible follow if you want to learn about scouting and the fine details of football. He's a "Bengals" guy but is actually from Niagara Falls and went to high school with Johnny Flynn, Paul Harris, etc. Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) is another film guy whom I respect very much—another magnificent "teacher" of the game.
I'm obsessed with football theories, mainly because they're basically "long, educated guesses" and none of us can be sure about anything. Fantasy Douche (@FantasyDouche) is one of the best "football theory" ranters on Twitter.
For the lighter side of the game, Mike Tanier (@MikeTanier) is an exceptionally talented writer who's a bottomless pit of football knowledge, but he always sneaks humor into his articles.
Lastly, Adam Kramer (@KegsNEggs) is one of my favorite CFB follows. Hilarious .gifs, and he can really write, too.
Without a doubt, though, there are many others I learn from and are entertained by on a daily basis. MICHAEL NECCI, duh!
16. What is your take on the Buffalo Media and how they cover The Bills and Sabres for that matter? I don't hide the fact that I'm a big fan of both Sal Capaccio and Joe Buscaglia. I think those two deserve the 3pm slot on WGR because they're knowledgeable. Not just about Buffalo sports, but about other sports in general, and another thing about them is that they are very good with the some of the, let's say "difficult" callers who call in. The current hosts are just way to condescending for my liking. Do you read the Buffalo News? I like reading Jay Skurski, and Tim Graham, that's really it. Do you see think TBN coverage is fair of the Bills and Sabres? What areas could they improve in? Both the news and radio..
I'm with you. Sal and Joe are really good at their jobs, and like you said, as "on-air" personalities, they handle things well. I imagine dealing with "trolling" callers on a daily basis would wear on you, but the way I see it, you never have to be rude and sometimes some radio guys can be. But that's how many of them are around the country, right? (I'm a big fan of Matthew Coller, too.)
I do read the Buffalo News and think we're lucky to have Mark Gaughan, Tim Graham, Jerry Sullivan, Bucky Gleason and Jay Skurski on the Bills/sports beat.
It'd be insane for me to say I always agree with their opinions but as far as writing and reporting, Buffalo has it very good with that group.
I will say this—criticism of some players that goes well beyond the field can bother me sometimes.
But do I think TBN guys are "pot-stirrers?" Absolutely not. I think they're fine journalists. I guess I've found that "what matters" to them might not exactly "matter" to me when it comes to professional athletes on the Bills/Sabres. And that's fine.
17. Lastly, you're one of the more interesting follows on Twitter. You're all football all the time. Having said that, I don't think you're a robot, you have to like or follow other sports. What are they, and do you ever get the urge to write about things other than football?
Yes. There is more to me than football theories and the Buffalo Bills. I promise I'm not a robot. I love golf. I've played since I was about 8 and after countless hours of practice and some lessons, I got to be decently good in high school. I'd love the opportunity to write about the PGA or just golf in general. It's a sport I think many should "learn young."
I'm obsessed with swing mechanics, too.
Because I've gotten to be very "football-centric" over the past two or three years, I don't watch nearly as much college basketball as I used to. You could call me a Syracuse basketball fan, and I always get really into March Madness with the rest of America.
My favorite CBB players of all-time (or during my lifetime) are Texas' T.J. Ford, Duke's Jay Williams, UNC's Ed Cota, Arizona's Jason Gardner, Oklahoma's Hollis Price and Maryland's Juan Dixon. Also, the time Adam Morrison cried on the court after Gonzaga blew that lead and lost to UCLA in the tournament was one of the coolest, most shocking and unforgettable sports moments for me. I loved that he let out all his emotion on such a huge stage as a marquee player.
I played baseball from tee ball to varsity, but I just can't follow MLB for that long. However, because I played it so much from 5-18, and I live in WNY, I hear all about the New York Yankees. Like too much. All my friends and their dads are huge Yankee fans.