Sean McDermott got his one chance to make a first impression Monday.
The Buffalo Bills’ new coach addressed his team as a group for the first time since taking the job in January at the start of the first voluntary offseason workout.
Those who were privy to it – to borrow a word from General Manager Doug Whaley – came away impressed.
“Just a confident individual,” quarterback Tyrod Taylor said of McDermott. “Very detailed, very straight-forward. And he expects us to be the same way.”
After McDermott’s talk, the Bills got to work – without their coach. The collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players association puts heavy restrictions on exactly what can done in “Phase One” of the offseason program.
One of those restrictions is that McDermott can’t be on the field. That’s limited to strength-and-conditioning coaches only, giving Monday a look more like gym class than football practice.
“You want to jump all in and I told the guys at my first meeting, there’s a ton that I want to convey to them – a ton that I’ve been waiting to communicate,” McDermott said. “But as a teacher, we have to work in a progression. That’s what I saw. I moved from one position group to another position group in the different meetings and I saw the coaches doing a phenomenal job of teaching and laying the foundation with the guys in a progression order, so that was good to see.”
The Bills were one of two teams, along with the Chargers, who started their offseason programs Monday, a two-week head start provided by the league because they hired new coaches earlier this offseason. Teams with returning head coaches can begin April 17.
In shorts and T-shirts – helmets are forbidden – players can be on the field for 90 minutes a day up to four times a week during Phase One. Blocking, tackling and other football-type activities also are banned at the time. Still, there was life amongst the Bills inside the AdPro Sports Training Center for the first time since players cleaned their lockers out in early January.
“There’s a first time for everything, and this was my first time in front of the players,” McDermott said. “It starts with their mindset, and they have the right mindset. They’re here to work and to earn the right to win.
“For me, it really went into what’s important to us. What’s important to me as a head coach and we went through that progression. Listen, I can’t convey everything in one meeting and so you have to really skinny it down. A wise coach once said to me years ago, ‘when you say a lot, you risk saying nothing.’ The other side of it is say a little, you say a lot. We took that approach today.”
That approach, outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said, resonated with those in attendance.
“Didn’t say a lot word wise, but said a lot as far as what he demands of us, and what he expects and I think everybody is on the same page as far as were we need to go,” he said. “Now it’s about leadership coming from myself, coaching staff, other guys to continue that.
“Day one is easy, right? You come in here, you’re excited, you got a new head coach. We can all put on our good-boy faces but who are you Day nine, Day 90? Who do you become as the season goes on? Do you fall into old habits or do you change so we can change the culture around here, start winning games and get to the playoffs and give the city what it deserves.”
If there was any doubt to what the team’s goal in 2017 was, one look at the back of the T-shirts worn by several players put an end to that. The phrase “playoff caliber” was printed in big letters.
“That’s really the day-to-day vision for what we’re trying to get done. You’ve got to earn the right,” McDermott said. “That standard is to be a playoff-caliber football team, and that means every day. … How we meet, how we talk, how we work out, how we practice when we do practice, how we play – that’s the standard we’re trying to get to every day.”
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who is no stranger to introductory speeches from new head coaches, said the plan for 2017 presented to him by McDermott was all he needed to hear to return for another season.
“His vision for our team, for the organization, for me as a player individually, how I could help really just made me feel comfortable,” Williams said, “and to be quite honest, inspired and kind of breathed a little life into me about it. … When guys can do that, somebody like myself who’s been around, that has been through this a lot, that gets you excited and ready to go.”
Attendance was nearly perfect at the workout, with 60 of 61 players on the roster present. Running back LeSean McCoy was the lone absence.
“It's voluntary,” McDermott said. “I’m encouraged by my conversations with LeSean throughout the whole offseason since I got the job. It is voluntary, though. That is what it is. I'm encouraged by the guys that are here, and that's really where my focus is at this time."
McCoy posted a video on Instagram that his son turned 5 on Monday, a possible reason he was not in attendance. Eventually, the running back will return to the team, which hopes to start a new era under its new head coach.
“This part is another chapter for us in moving forward as an organization – getting the players back in here this morning was big for us,” McDermott said. “I was chomping at the bit to get in front of them. … We’re moving forward in the right direction, but we’ve got to continue. There’s a lot of work to be done yet.”