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Inside the Bills: How this year's 'Embedded' came to be

The Buffalo Bills enlisted some outside help in filming for the latest installment of their popular “Embedded” series.

The documentary-style show, which is in its third year of production, debuts at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the team’s YouTube channel. “The 2020 Draft: Becoming A Bill,” was originally going to contain plenty of footage from inside the war room at One Bills Drive.

When the ongoing coronavirus shut down NFL facilities, however, plans changed. Bills General Manager Brandon Beane and his counterparts around the league were forced to draft from home.

“Being allowed in the draft room for those three days is pretty big for us,” said Jeff Matthews, the team’s vice president of media and content. “With GMs at their house, head coaches at their house, no outside personnel was allowed, so we weren't able to shoot those. The NFL did have a camera in each location, so we were able to get those feeds from them.”

That footage, however, didn’t have audio, which Matthews and his staff wanted, particularly when Beane made “the call” to draft picks to tell them they were going to be the newest member of the Bills.

“So we enlisted (Brandon’s wife) Hayley Beane,” Matthews said. “She shot footage for us on her phone of Brandon making the calls to our picks. That was huge for us from that end of things. Some of the audio you hear in there or any of the times where he's on the phone calling one of our draft picks, that's shot by Brandon's wife.

“She did a great job for us shooting on her phone and capturing those moments with Brandon. I think he was in his socks making draft picks. It shows a different experience. Without her, those calls, we wouldn't have been able to get at all. I’m really glad we could enlist her as an employee for three days there.”

Originally, the Bills had planned to do at least three episodes of “Embedded” this spring, focusing on free agency, the draft and the start of organized team activities. The pandemic changed those plans.

“No question that made it challenging,” Matthews said. “There are some things that we lost out on doing. We were planning on covering free agency a little bit different this year within our building, through the negotiation process. There was a chance we might have caught the Stefon Diggs trade. I don't know if we would have depending on how the timing of that went down and (whether) Brandon would have been in the building for that, but we missed out on some of those opportunities.”

The team did have enough footage from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis to produce one episode focusing on the draft.

“This episode specifically, we were just looking to bring more of a light on what Brandon and his group do,” Matthews said. “We got fortunate that our first three picks, we did (formal) interviews at the combine, so we had that footage of those interviews that they get. That was done differently this year. It was done in the suites in the stadium rather than in the hotel they used to bring all those guys to, so it looks much better.”

In a clip the Bills have used to promote the episode on social media, eventual second-round draft pick A.J. Epenesa is going through his formal interview with the team when defensive line coach Eric Washington asks him about an emphasis being placed on sack fumbles at Iowa. Epenesa replies that he watched the Broncos’ Von Miller in the Super Bowl against quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers and tried to copy that move.

Beane, Bills coach Sean McDermott and Washington, of course, were members of the Carolina organization for that game – something Epenesa later sheepishly admits he was unaware of.

“Good memory,” deadpans Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as he pats McDermott. “That resonate with anybody in this room?”

“Leslie's got a sense of humor I don't think people know about,” Matthews said. “You can see it when he’s talking to A.J.”

The NFL changed the time that prospects did on-field workouts this year during the combine to make it a more TV-friendly event. That change allowed the Bills to have a camera on Beane as he scouted prospects.

“We were able to catch some great moments with Brandon,” Matthews said. “One of the players that he was watching was Gabe Davis while he was going through drills there. What he saw in him, what he liked in him, there are some nuggets there that you wouldn't have got any other place had we not been there when they were doing that.”

The unique circumstances surrounding this year’s draft also resulted in compelling footage.

“There is a scene with Brandon and his son sitting next to him in the war room they have set up in his basement,” Matthews said. “It is unique from that standpoint, where I'm not sure we'll ever see a draft like this again – so the access even though we didn't get what we usually get if it was in the building – it was just different to see how it played out with families being able to kind of be involved in some of the picks.”

Since it first aired two summers ago, “Embedded” has been a hit with Bills fans. The first year, the series focused mainly on how McDermott ran his meetings, particularly when it came to forming the team’s “culture.” In the years that have followed, there has been an emphasis on pulling back the curtain on how the team is built.

“I wish we were doing more,” Matthews said. “I don't want to make any promises, but depending on what we are allowed to do and what training camp looks like, which I have no idea right now, we are hoping to do one more episode at training camp.”

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