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Jerry Sullivan’s Mailbag: Replacing Mario easier said than done

So much for my fears about the mail slowing down after Bills season. I now have more 30 unanswered tweets and emails piled up in my files. And that doesn’t include missives that were so vicious or idiotic that I quickly deleted them.

There are questions about all four major sports, even women’s basketball. And let’s not forget, the Rio Olympics are right around the corner. I’ll be there in August, so it would be great to get some stuff on pole vaulting, swimming and archery.

It would help if I weren’t so long-winded. I’ll try to be brief this week. I’m planning to do a Super Bowl mailbag from San Francisco late next week, so keep those laptops humming. On to this week’s mail:

@FletcherDoyle1 asks: How can Bills improve if they cut Mario Williams and then draft another pass rusher? Running in place.

Sully: A great point, and one Bucky has made on our acclaimed TV show, “Sports Talk Sunday.” I was no fan of Mario, even at his best, but it’s silly to think the Bills could cut a player of his caliber and not suffer for it.

They will save $12.9 million on the salary cap, so they can use the cash to improve. But much of that will go toward re-signing their own players, starting with offensive linemen Cordy Glenn (at roughly $10 million a year) and Richie Incognito.

Doug Whaley says he doesn’t expect to be very active in free agency. If they can’t re-sign Nigel Bradham, they’ll probably look for an inside linebacker in free agency. If they keep Bradham, they’ll be very tight against the salary cap.

So their most likely option for a pass rusher is in the draft. There are plenty of talented prospects they can get at No. 19 overall. But the odds of them finding an edge rusher who can perform near Mario’s top level as a rookie are not high.

Remember, we’re not talking about replacing the Williams who coasted last season because he didn’t like Rex Ryan’s scheme. They need to replace the Mario who made two Pro Bowls and helped the D finish fourth overall and lead the NFL in sacks.

That won’t be easy. The pressure is on Whaley to find defensive help in this year’s draft. At the very least, he needs to find a guy who will have an immediate impact as a rookie, the way Ronald Darby did last season.

Bruce Kloc asks: Do you think we’ll ever see NHL players (in addition to goalies) consistently wearing full face masks/shields that actually protect their entire face? It’s ridiculous that they don’t.

Sully: Yes, it’s ridiculous. But this is the NHL, where change is painfully slow, especially when it comes to player safety. They didn’t make helmets mandatory until 1979. The majority of players wear half-visors, but many feel it’s an affront to their manhood to use full face protection in the NHL.

I suspect the move to full shields will come gradually. More and more players are coming into the league after wearing full protection at the lower levels. Full face shields are mandatory in college, and it doesn’t seem to be hurting the sport.

Does anyone recall watching Jack Eichel at Boston University last year and thinking he was being compromised by having his entire face protected?

Bill Kelley asks: Wouldn’t some patience have been good for the Bisons? With the Mets contending and SNY, they would be a more interesting team to be affiliated with than the Blue Jays.

Sully: Sure, the Mets have become a fun team to watch, but the relationship with the Bisons had no chance of continuing. The affiliation wasn’t a fit, starting with the fact that Buffalo is an American League town.

The Jays looked bad when General Manager Alex Anthopoulos quit after the team reached the ALCS. But they’re in good hands with President Mark Shapiro, who built the Bisons title teams of the ’90s when he was with Cleveland and has a strong working relationship with the front office in Buffalo.

The Buffalo-Toronto connection has been a success. Attendance is up, particularly among Canadian fans. Merchandise sales are up. And there’s a lot to be said for having the parent team just two hours up the road.

@bnasty_55 asks: It’s great to see the Bonnies yet again do more with less. Do you think Crowley gets into the Coach of the Year discussion?

Sully: Nice to have a Bona women’s hoop question the day a Katie Healy story appears in The News. You bet Jim Crowley is a contender for Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year. They’re 18-3, 7-1 in the league, after being picked ninth.

Crowley was named national Coach of the Year in 2012, when he became the only coach, men’s or women’s, to get a Big 4 team to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 in the modern era. If he gets the Bonnies back this season, he’ll deserve the A-10 honor.

Joe Gerken asks: The NCAA Selection Committee rightly considers the unavailability of key players in selecting and seeding teams in the Big Dance. How about coaches? It seems clear that Syracuse was impacted by Jim Boeheim’s nine-game suspension.

Sully: Yes, the committee will take Boeheim’s suspension into account, treating his absence as they would an injured player. It doesn’t matter that Boeheim was out because of a suspension imposed by the NCAA.

It’s hard to believe that the NCAA would give a team relief in this manner. If Boeheim was guilty of institutional neglect, his team shouldn’t get relief from any corresponding punishment. And how does the committee determine when the Orange lost because their leader wasn’t around to save them?

Syracuse, which served a self-imposed postseason ban last year (when it wasn’t as talented), should be simply grateful that the NCAA allowed them to be eligible for the postseason.

Tom Schobert asks: With all their high draft pick players failing to move the Sabres out of last place, are they really just a new version of the Edmonton Oilers?

Sully: Easy, Tom. It’s a little early to lump them in with the Oilers, who are on their way to missing the playoffs for the 10th year in a row, despite getting the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in four of the last six years.

Yes, the Sabres are sitting two points out of last place after finishing dead last two years in a row. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but there are some promising signs. Let’s give it another year before we play the Edmonton clown card.

The Oilers’ plight is instructive. It tells you how hard it is to climb back to respectability in the NHL, even with a bunch of top picks. It can be a long, tough slog, even with a supposed generational player like Jack Eichel.

Steven Loffredo asks: I have been an avid reader of yours for as long as you have been in Buffalo. Why it is “ok” for a runner to straight-arm a potential tackler in the face while linemen are guilty of “hands to the face” and penalized for same? I look forward to your resourceful response.

Sully: Thanks. I played Babe Ruth ball with a kid named Ken Loffredo. I’ve used my vast intellectual resources (Google) to find the answer.

According to Mike Pereira, formerly head of NFL officiating and now rules analyst for Fox Sports, there are three distinct relationships for hands to the face. One says ball carriers and their tacklers can push each other in the facemask.

However, any hands to the face between offensive and defensive linemen, or receivers and their defenders, is a penalty. No one, including a ball carrier, is permitted to yank or twist an opponent’s facemask.


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