SAN FRANCISCO – Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan understands why the team is giving serious thought to drafting a quarterback, as General Manager Doug Whaley recently made clear during the Senior Bowl.
“Like anybody, we’re trying to add to our football team,” Ryan said Friday, while here for Super Bowl 50, during an exclusive interview with The Buffalo News. “If somebody can help us make us better, you don’t shut yourself off to any position. That’s something that you’ve got to be open for. It is a quarterback-driven league.”
“We’ll see,” Ryan said. “I’m not done with EJ Manuel, either (as a backup to Tyrod Taylor). I think EJ’s got the talent, the size and all that stuff. Sometimes, guys just take a little bit longer to develop, so we’ll see how that goes.”
The coach said he isn’t concerned that the possibility of pursuing a quarterback in the early rounds would be any sort of distraction to Taylor, whom Ryan watched in last week’s Pro Bowl.
“No, no way, that’s not going to distract him,” Ryan said. “He’s worried about, he’s focused on winning and improving every day. And I think that’s who Tyrod is.”
Ryan acknowledged that the Bills might be more inclined to focus on offense in the draft, targeting a quarterback and perhaps a wide receiver, after using their top overall choice last year on cornerback Ronald Darby. That, he said, could impact his efforts to improve the Bills’ defense, which fell from fourth overall in the NFL in 2014 to 19th last season and saw sacks drop from a league-leading 54 to 21.
“Obviously, (if that happens), you’re going to have to improve a different way,” Ryan said. “I’m excited to get this group together. I think you’re going to (have) the natural maturation going into your second year in a system. I think it’s going to help us. I just think guys are ready to get back and ready to say, ‘You know what? We’re going to find a way to get it done, regardless.’ How that’s going to look, we’ll see. But I’m definitely more confident. I know I feel better about the guys, how people adjust, flexibility of players, different things.
“I know our players well, I’m excited about getting (injured defensive tackle) Kyle Williams back (and injured safety) Aaron Williams back. I think that’s going to help us as much as anything. But, really, just the chemistry of the group and adding to it. I think we’re all confident that Doug Whaley and his group are going to do a great job in finding players for us, especially through the draft.
“It’s funny how Doug was criticized, the way (last year’s) draft laid out. I don’t think anybody’s criticizing that draft now. We’re excited about the ability of our scouts and our coaches to get together, find the players that really fit our style. I think, having Doug and I together for a full year and all that stuff, it’s going to be a really good thing for us.”
Ryan touched on other topics:
(On Whaley’s comment at the Senior Bowl that the Bills’ defense would benefit from the addition of Ryan’s twin brother, Rob, as assistant head coach/defense because the two are determined to reclaim the lofty reputation they established through the years) “When you think about defense, you think about the Ryans. You look at us on offense, we were 13th in the league this year, which is good. Everybody’s gushing about it. We want to be better than that. The worst I was up until (last) year was 11th in all my years of coordinating or being a head coach, so that ought to tell you something.
“I’m confident in my abilities, I’m confident my family. My brother’s a great football coach. He’s inherited a ton of terrible defenses, some of the worst in the history of the game, and he’s flipped them. Was he handcuffed a certain time last year (as defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints)? You’re dang right he was. But you know what? I don’t think it got better when he left.
“The thing that’s great is, I don’t know where we’re going to rank. I just know we’re going to be all in it together and we’re going to get it together. I think (Rob) helps us because this guys’s a great football coach. He’s been a coordinator for 12 years. He’s got two Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach, as a position coach. I think that’s only a plus and not a negative. And people who look at it as a negative have no idea what they’re talking about.”
(On the feeling of being at a Super Bowl but not participating) “You kind of let this suck in a little bit, because it does drive you; there’s no question about it. The thing I don’t have, I’ve never won a Super Bowl as a head coach, haven’t been to a Super Bowl as a head coach. And that drives the heck out of me, there’s no question. I really believed that we would make the playoffs last year. It didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean that I’m just going to tuck tail. No chance of that.
“I said I’m going to roll the sleeves up and work harder and we’re going to find a way to get it done. And that’s what the offseason is all about. I won’t watch the game (in person); I’m going to fly out Sunday morning. Being here in person, I’ve always said the only way I’ll do that is if my family’s in it, which has been to six of them. So I’m hoping like hell my brother’s in it next year.”
(On whether he feels pressure to reach the playoffs in 2016) “I always feel that anyway. You’re dang right. I want to win, man, and I want to win in the worst way. And not just for me. Look, it’s not all gloom and doom. We didn’t just win two games. That seems to be the theme here. We’re not near as bad a football team or inept a football team as people are giving us credit for, defensively as well as offensively. We think we’re a good football team. We know we need to get better, there’s no question about that. Every day will be an opportunity for us, we have to take it that way, to get better. And I’m excited about that.
“But, yeah, you always feel a sense of urgency, but I can tell you this: the long-range goal for this organization is that we’re here for a long haul. And that means you earn that way. Nothing’s ever given to you. We have to earn everything, but we want to be here a long time together because we think we’ll have the right combination in our building. Not just as general manager and head coach, but from ownership, to Russ Brandon, to everybody down. We feel the sense that we have the right makeup, the right chemistry. Now we’ve just got to go out and get the results, and that’s really what we’re driving to do.”