Reporters who poured into the Buffalo Bills’ locker room earlier this summer found themselves needing a road map.
That’s because the removal of a pool table and some video games wasn’t the only change made.
Save for a few veterans who kept their same stalls, coach Sean McDermott had mixed up the lockers. In years past, players were situated by position – Offensive linemen were together, as were receivers, quarterbacks and so on.
Now, however, there is a randomness that is by design.
“It was, and still is, a team-building concept,” McDermott said. “I want to make sure that we spend so much time in a lot of little campfires. You’ve got a campfire with the linebacking corps, you’ve got a campfire with the offense, a campfire over here with the defense, with the special teams, that as we continue to build this team and bring things together to one cohesive campfire, if you will in this case, that players get to know one another.
“As we build this team, going back to that love that I said before, how do you really care about someone if you don’t really know them? It’s important that we get to know one another off the field and that love that we’re building off the field, the goal in this case is that it transitions to on the field and how we play.”
McDermott has made team building a priority. He started each morning meeting at training camp by having one player address the team, giving them a chance to talk about what inspires them and who helped them get where they are today.
“When you get a chance to build a team and find out about guys, you're willing to sacrifice yourself more for that person on the field,” defensive tackle Jerel Worthy said. “You're willing to give your all in tough situations. You never want to let your teammates down. You hear a guy like Kyle Williams’ story, you hear a guy like Mike Tolbert, guys that have moved around, it just uplifts you. Those are guys that have been through a lot of ups and downs in the league. When you come to find out why they play the game, what brings them joy, it’s inspiring, man.
“We're trying to build something here that's supposed to last for years to come. At the end of the day, we're just in the first stages of it, but we're trying to build something special. Me coming from the Packers, with their continuity that they had out there, and knowing what it's like to be around a team that loves to embrace each other, that knows what it takes to win, we're trying to build that foundation here. We're trying to build that culture. We don't want to hang our hats on the past. We want to build our own history.”
Worthy, for example, has rookie linebacker Matt Milano just to his left.
“I think it's been great for our guys,” he said. “We get quarterbacks with D-linemen, you get receivers with DBs and everything. You get a chance to meet your teammates, find out about guys and where they're from. With our rookies, Matt being on our side, it's beneficial. You put younger guys with older guys so you just kind of get a good mix of people. You put the leaders with guys that need leadership, and you try to find good balance for our team.”
Veteran linebacker Preston Brown is next to rookie receiver Zay Jones, who is next to kicker Stephen Hauschka.
“It's good,” Brown said. “You need to connect with all your teammates, see different guys, because you don't see many offensive players, especially when the season starts. They're off in meetings, doing different things, so it's good to be around guys and talk about different things. We're all trying to bring the team together. … Just sitting next to a guy each day, a guy you might not have talked to if he was sitting across the room, has been a good way to connect.”
Jones said lockers were assigned by alphabetical order at East Carolina.
“I like it the way this is set up because you talk to everyone,” he said. “It’s fun. I’m with Steve, a kicker, and I might never see him in the season. It’s cool to vibe with them, talk with them and have that unity.”