MOBILE, Ala. – A Rex Ryan defense is, allegedly, supposed to pressure the quarterback. That’s the coach’s reputation and he loves reminding the media to look back at the numbers.
Do your homework, he says in so many words.
OK, here are some numbers. Historically bad numbers, actually. The Buffalo Bills’ 21 sacks last season were the team’s fewest ever since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule. Buffalo hasn’t gotten to the quarterback this infrequently since Jimmy Carter was president in 1977.
Heads did not consequently roll. Instead, Buffalo is counting on the Ryan Boys figuring it all out. They won’t be signing any saviors to mega contracts in March, either, putting an even greater emphasis on the NFL Draft. They must hit the bull’s-eye on one or two playmakers.
This week, Ryan chose to hang out in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl instead of joining his scouting staff in Mobile. Whenever he does dive into his pre-draft scouting, one prospect who’ll stand out is a 6-foot-7, 265-pounder with 34-inch arms from BYU, Bronson Kaufusi.
Confusion polluted Ryan’s defense in 2015. Calls were sent in late. Miscommunication re-routed defensive backs in the wrong direction. And the team’s highest-paid player – Mario Williams – didn’t buy what Ryan was selling.
Sure, Kaufusi’s size makes him stand out. The long-limbed end had 64 tackles (20 for loss) with 11 sacks and four blocked kicks last season and he played on BYU’s basketball team in the 2012-13 season, too. But it’s his intellect that’ll appeal most to Buffalo. In Bronco Mendenhall’s defense, Kaufusi was used up, down, on the three technique, the five technique. He blitzed from middle linebacker; he rushed off the edge.
Kaufusi estimates there were “easily” 100 different blitzes in the playbook.
Ryan clearly seeks players who can rush and drop in coverage. That’s all in Kaufusi’s wheelhouse. Mention Ryan’s defense and he cuts in.
“Doing everything. See, I love that,” said Kaufusi. “A coach can take me and put me wherever he wants me throughout a game. In certain game plans, I feel like he can utilize me any way he wants and bring that versatility.”
In 2014, he played linebacker. In 2015, end. Says Kaufusi, “I was all over the place in my career.” That’s why he admires Houston’s J.J. Watt so much. The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year is dangerous all along the defensive line.
Widely considered a top 100 prospect, Kaufusi is an option for the Bills in the second or third round. Mendenhall loved to disguise his intentions on defense and has sent Ziggy Ansah (2013) and Kyle Van Noy (2014) to the pros in recent years.
Kaufusi said the coach has “an arsenal, a full library of plays” that only grew as his collegiate career progressed.
“He’d disguise, knew blitzes all the time, knew things that’d always keep offenses on their toes,” said Kaufusi, whose father was BYU’s defensive coach. “They don’t know what’s coming – just always drawing them closer until you get them. I love taking on that learning curve because you need that.”
Of course, it takes a certain player to execute such complexities. Kaufusi was a statistics major in college with an emphasis on analytics.
He loves to know the “how” and “why” behind plays.
“I’m a big analyzer of things and this game’s all about that,” he said. “I love taking plays and analyzing – why are we doing this? You know, tell me the real reason we’re doing this. … It’s all about details in analytics and finding out what you need to know. And in analytics you’re finding out what you need to know to prove something.”
That’s the Bills’ defense. And that’s the transition still in progress.
The current personnel shined in Jim Schwartz’s more simplified scheme. A play was called, in 2014, a play was run. Now with Ryan, a defensive call can change with one shift, one motion, one different formation. Ryan seeks the perfect defense for whatever an offense presents at the line. As General Manager Doug Whaley said in Mobile, players were often solely focused on their specific position. Next season, he’s hoping players can see the forest for the trees. Maybe a little compromise helps, too.
Buffalo must add someone who can harass the quarterback.
Kaufusi’s greatest weapon is his mind. Essential, he believes, in the modern game.
“Oh you have to be,” he said. “That’s the key.”