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Bills turning up the heat New D-line coach seeks pressure on QBs

Buffalo Bills defensive line coach Bob Sanders showed his players video replays of every sack recorded in the NFL in 2008 during the course of the offseason.

Sanders is looking under every rock, so to speak, to help the Bills' pass rush in his first year as an assistant with the team.

"When you're trying different moves, you can tell people and coach people, but until they actually see it work, sometimes it doesn't register," said defensive end Chris Kelsay. "We saw it all on film."

A better pass rush is a big priority for the Bills after last season, when they ranked 28th in quarterback takedowns. While a coach's effectiveness depends largely on the talent at his disposal, the Bills think Sanders' experience will make a positive impact on their defensive line.

"The biggest thing that's changed is the focus on the pass rush," said Bills defensive end Ryan Denney. "For every D-line coach, it's an important part of their job, to rush the passer. But that's his main focus. Everything's about getting to the quarterback, less focus on the run game, the run depth. More on playing fast and getting to the quarterback. Hopefully that will pay off."

Sanders, 55, coached college football for 22 years and is in his 10th NFL season. He was fired in January after three years as defensive coordinator in Green Bay.

Sanders won a lot of games in college as a member of coach Steve Spurrier's staff, first at Duke, then at Florida. Sanders coached defensive line and was assistant defensive coordinator for most of his Florida tenure, from 1990 to 2000. The Gators claimed the national championship in 1996 and six Southeastern Conference titles in the '90s.

Sanders coached six No. 1 draft picks, including Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter and Huey Richardson.

Perhaps the biggest influence in Sanders' career has been Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Jim Bates, with whom Sanders coached for a year at Florida. In 2001, Bates brought Sanders to the Miami Dolphins, where Sanders coached linebackers for four years.

"He has a good work ethic, and he's a good people guy," Sanders said of Bates. "He knows how to get guys to play hard. He's very knowledgeable. I learned a lot of people skills from him and how to handle different situations. He's a good football coach."

Bates is from the Jimmy Johnson coaching tree and like the former Dallas and Miami head coach, plays a 4-3 scheme with a fair amount of man coverage. The Dallas and Miami defenses did not have a voluminous package. The focus was on executing the system superbly and getting good athletes to play hard and fast.

Sanders followed Bates to Green Bay in 2005. A year later, Bates left and Sanders was promoted to coordinator.

Sanders' Packers defense ranked sixth in points and 11th in yards in a 13-3 season in 2007. But in 2008, the Pack slipped to 6-10 and Sanders' defense ranked 22nd in points allowed. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy decided to switch to a 3-4 scheme and showed Sanders the door.

Sanders fully accepts the win-now nature of the coaching profession.

"Even in those defeats, seven games were lost in the last couple minutes," Sanders said. "For whatever reason, it just didn't go our way. We didn't do anything unsound. Our guys played hard. . . . Mike wanted a change of scheme, and I've got no problem with that. I'm very appreciative of him. He's a heckuva football coach."

Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell thinks likewise of Sanders, who he has known for many years.

"I was looking for a coach who could come in and look at us and say, 'I liked this or didn't like this,' " Fewell said. "Is there a better way to build a mousetrap? Have you ever thought about this? And someone who would not be afraid to express himself about what we're doing and how we're doing it.

"That has been refreshing. . . . I thought there were some things he could bring to the table and add to our defense to help make us a little bit more unique."

Sanders replaced Bill Kollar, who the Bills allowed to leave for Houston. Kollar is well-respected around the league. There has been some question, however, about how well Kollar has related to high draft picks.

"He's got that special 'it' factor," Kelsay said of Sanders. "I think he can relate with just about any player. He coaches each player [based on] how that player responds and reacts to his coaching. He's got a lot of great insight as far as telling you what he believes can help."

"He takes the time to teach," said defensive tackle Marcus Stroud. "He's not just an X and O guy. He coaches to each guy's strong points. He doesn't try to have [John] McCargo do the same things I do well."

Kelsay, who had just 4 1/2 sacks the previous two years, is optimistic about Sanders' impact.

"His whole emphasis is a physical, nasty pass-rushing attitude," he said. "I think you see a lot of teams, including ourselves the past couple years, we try to finesse pass rush. Whereas he wants us to get into the fight, be physical, take everything to them."

"Defensive line is not finesse," Sanders said. "You've got to make the pass rush bloody. You've got to play it that way."

"Another thing is just changing your angle," Kelsay said. "You're rushing the quarterback, you're not rushing the offensive tackle. With me last year, I'd be rushing up here and the quarterback would be over there."

Sanders also has brought Cleveland-based tae kwon do expert Joe Kim to Bills camp to work on pass-rushing techniques.

"He's a good friend, and we'll do anything we can to help them," Sanders said. "It's just about deflections and close hand-to-hand combat. Learning how to deflect and get out of situations, make counter moves and use your leverage better."

The Bills have three sacks the first two games and have applied pretty good pressure. They're not likely to get many sacks on New Orleans' Drew Brees on Sunday. He has been the least sacked quarterback in the NFL over the past two years.

"We've had quite a few hits on the quarterback, and that's how I'd define how the pressure's coming," Sanders said. "Are we in position? Is the ball coming out high? Are we tipping balls? Certainly you like sacks. But it's not only sacks."

"We've left some on the table the last couple games, too, which we can't do."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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