Share this article

print logo

DL coach Mike Waufle does more teaching than chiding in trying to fix Bills' run woes

The persona, which took on a life of its own, still clings to Mike Waufle like a stubborn virus. He understands how people look at him since those unforgettable cameo appearances while HBO's Hard Knocks cameras spent the summer of 2016 at the Los Angeles Rams' training camp.

Waufle came off as the surly, no-nonsense, in-your-face defensive line coach with the U.S. Marine Corps pedigree. And it was that unforgiving, old-school toughness that many on the outside assumed the Buffalo Bills were getting when Sean McDermott hired Waufle to guide his defensive line.

It turns out that you shouldn't always believe everything you see on television.

"I don't like that perception," Waufle said Friday. "Hard Knocks caught three golden moments and it changed my life. That side's there, but they didn't show the 85 other teaching moments in the classroom where I teach them how to be a man and how to be a father and a husband, and how to be a damn good football player.

"I'm a teacher. We all are as coaches."

Right, but this is Mike Waufle. The same guy who was shown during Hard Knocks crumpling a piece of paper and flinging it at one of the players in a meeting room. The same guy who also made it clear for all of HBO's audience to see that he was willing to fight any player who wasn't on board with how he did things.

Bills Notebook: Glenn, Tolbert, Miller out; Rivers questionable

He had to have been beside himself the past two games watching his line get embarrassed to the tune of almost 200 rushing yards by the New York Jets and almost 300 by the New Orleans Saints, right? He had to have been having meltdowns and cursing at the top of his lungs at all of the members of his position group, right? He had to be firing a whole bunch of crumpled paper and anything else he could get his hands on at everybody in the meeting room, right?

"No, no, no, no, no," Waufle said in a quiet, measured tone. "We're a brotherhood of men in there. I challenge them, no question, but I teach them, too. I'm more of a teacher than I am Hard Knocks."

These days, the Bills' defensive front can use all of the instruction it can get.

The week's biggest headlines came from McDermott replacing Tyrod Taylor with Nathan Peterman at quarterback, but the primary reason the Bills find themselves in a two-game tailspin as they prepare to face the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday is their inability to stop the run.

That's why McDermott adjusted the practice schedule this week to increase the time spent on individual periods, where there is greater emphasis on fundamentals and teaching, while cutting back on team drills.

"Repetitions is the mother of (solving) all problems," Waufle said. "And that's what we did this week."

Former Bills draft pick and current Charger Chris Hairston says Bills fans 'deserve better'

For about 15 minutes after Friday's practice, the starting defense remained on the field to do some walk-through work against a skeleton version of the scout-team offense that included McDermott playing wide receiver. There was an unmistakable emphasis on making sure the defensive players, especially those within the front seven, were properly positioned as they took a few steps after each snap.

Waufle watched pensively from behind the offense. He was looking to see how a week's worth of meetings and the rest of the time spent on the practice field were paying off as the 5-4 Bills, who rank 22nd in the NFL by allowing an average of 117 rushing yards per game, try to get back to the No. 3 spot they held in that category while giving up 80 yards on the ground per game through a 5-2 start.

"I would say, if you break it down into 33 percent -- a third, a third, and a third, basically -- you say, a third of it is, ‘Hey, do we have them in the right position?’" McDermott said. "A third of it is technique and fundamentals. And then the other third is, ‘Hey, at times we’re getting whipped and we’ve got to whip the other guy.' We’ve done that, we’ve shown we can do that. We did it all the way up until the (Oct. 29) Oakland game. I think we were top five, give or take, in run defense.

"You’ve got to go back and reestablish the standard and re-train the fundamentals. That’s what we’ve done and we’ll continue to do that. Good wake-up call for us, you know? All good teams, every good team, goes through some of these type of moments."

The response from Waufle?

More teaching, less yelling.

"In the National Football League, there's a lot of moving parts," Waufle said. "Offensively, you have different personnel groups. They have a lot of motions and shifts, and they're trying to create gaps. They're trying to confuse your eyes and you miss a gap.

"We have to have gap integrity at all times. When you pressure and you're bringing blitzes, you have to have gap integrity there, also. So in the Jets' game, the gap integrity wasn't there with our pressures. When it came one-on-one, flesh-on-flesh, we were fine. We had eight tackles for loss in that game.

"In the last game, it was different because everybody took a turn (not filling his gap). So the gap integrity was there for 10 guys, but somebody broke down. If it was one person, you can say, 'Boom, yank him!' We play eight guys up there and it was spread throughout. So you go back to the basic fundamentals, basic techniques and sharpen the saw."

Jay Skurski's Bills Mailbag: Why isn't Rick Dennison on the hot seat?

One prevailing theory is that the Bills' run defense has plummeted largely because the team traded its largest player on the defensive line and best run-stuffer -- 6-foot-3, 331-pound Marcell Dareus -- to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 27.

The Bills, in sticking with the system Waufle has followed throughout 20 years of coaching, frequently rotate their defensive linemen to make sure they are kept as fresh as possible throughout the game. It's something Waufle did with Hall of Fame end Michael Strahan with the New York Giants. It's something he did with Dareus.

"A lot of guys play almost an equal number of reps," Waufle said. "So you can see how many repetitions he has in comparison to production out of those repetitions."

And therein lies the coach's answer to the question of how much the Bills actually miss Dareus. Through the five games in which he played before the trade, three as a starter, he averaged 22 snaps and 2.3 tackles per game.

Waufle isn't acting as if his group suffered a crippling blow from Dareus being shipped off to Jacksonville. Like McDermott, Waufle believes the problems of the past two games can be fixed.

"Really, it's just a fundamental, technique thing, more than anything else," Waufle said. "Just gap integrity, gap integrity, gap integrity, gap integrity."

Sensible, perhaps, but not exactly the kind of stuff that would figure to make it into a Hard Knocks sequel.

There are no comments - be the first to comment