Buffalo Bills Player Development Part 2: Veteran Players

Photo of Bills’ OLB Lorenzo Alexander from sportingnews.com.

The Buffalo Bills are clearly focusing on the youth movement as the 2018 season goes on, but there are a core of veteran players benefiting from the approach the Bills have been taking during the Beane and McDermott era.

Kyle Williams, who signed on for 2018 is a perfect example. With the Bills heavy rotation on the defensive line, Williams has a more beneficial snap count to keep him fresh throughout games as well as throughout the season. It has shown on the field as the timeless veteran is still making an impact in games with 5 sacks in 2018. Williams is also a huge factor in the locker room. passing on his knowledge and habits to young players such as Harrison Phillips.

Another veteran showing a great resurgence later in his career is Lorenzo Alexander, who has become a Swiss Army knife on the field. For most of his career, Alexander has been a special teams player. Since coming to Buffalo, he has played a solid role on defense as a pass rusher and even in coverage. In 2018, Zo has registered 46 combined tackles, 6.5 sacks, 7 passes defended, and 1 interception. With the Bills managing the practice reps and snap count of their veterans, could we see Williams and Alexander possibly return in 2019?

Leading up to the 2018 season there was questions about the role of Jerry Hughes. Would he be traded? Would he be cut to save cap room? After a disappointing few years, Hughes future with the Bills appeared to be uncertain. This season Hughes has answered those questions, becoming a huge factor in the resurgence of the Bills defense. Bringing constant pressure on the quarterback, Hughes has been rated among the top of the league, and has 6 sacks so far this season.

Photo of WR Kelvin Benjamin from sports.yahoo.com.

It hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine. The Bills had some disappointing play from some veterans they thought could become key contributors. The most notable is easily Kelvin Benjamin, who has shown little to no effort on the field and uninterested off the field. From his body language, to his interviews and allegedly turning down a chance to get extra reps with his rookie quarterback, it appeared Benjamin didn’t want to be in Buffalo.

Maybe he has lost interest in playing football in general. The Bills finally put an end to the ‘KB’ experiment by releasing him after yet another lackluster performance. No general manager has ever had a 100% success rate when building a roster, the Bills took a chance on bringing in a “number one” receiver and it didn’t work out. However, the blame should solely be placed on Benjamin.

This off-season the Bills brought in two veterans, Trent Murphy and Star Lotulelei. These two signings have been met with questions and criticism throughout the season. Despite battling injuries since the beginning of this season, Murphy has shown flashes of his pass rush ability, with 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. With a full off-season to heal and get ready for 2019, Murphy can have a much bigger role on the defense going forward.

Regarding Star Lotulelei, it’s not as easy as looking at stats or highlights, due to the role he plays on the defensive line, so I consulted trusted film expert, Erik Turner from Cover 1.

Here’s what Erik had to say:

“Star has been a solid role player. His effectiveness won’t show up in the box score, but when asked to be quick off the snap, read blocking concepts by executing gap exchanges rather than stacking/occupying, he is at his best. At times, he will shoot a gap and shrink his surface area to avoid a block and will get washed out, but the disruptiveness of the snap and sneaky attacking style of play has helped the LBs rack up stops. He may have been signed as a star player, but he is a role player. But one that was needed after last years run defense and one that will help pass on wisdom to players all along the DL.”

Lotulelei has also faced criticism of his snap count, but that is the choice of the coaching staff to go with a heavy rotation to keep these players fresh as the game goes on. It’s hard to argue with the results as the Bills have climbed to the top of NFL defensive rankings, currently ranked #2 overall defense on NFL.com.

Photo of Bills’ RB LeSean McCoy from NewYorkUpstate.com.

Another interesting case is LeSean McCoy. After being named captain and going through a tough season on and off the field, many thought McCoy could be traded at the deadline. The Bills chose to keep him and Brandon Beane said McCoy is a part of their plans in 2019.

While the production isn’t there this season, McCoy can still be a vital part of the offense. With a non-existent passing game most of the season, an offensive line that has failed to open up running lanes, and opposing defenses focusing mainly on stopping McCoy, it’s hard to expect him to perform at his usual level. His rushing style hasn’t meshed well with the play of his offensive line, but it’s a style he has built his potential Hall of Fame career from. If the Bills can revamp the offensive line and attain another play-maker or two, we could see a bounce back season from McCoy in 2019.

When talking about the veteran roles, we can’t forget what might be the most important role, in the locker room. Head Coach Sean McDermott relies on his veterans to mentor the younger players and build a strong locker room. Despite a tough season, the Bills locker room remains solid. There is no quit in this team, minus maybe one exception (Kelvin Benjamin), players are buying in. With youth development, veteran management, and a strong culture (yes it matters) the Bills are committed to bringing stability and success to a franchise that hasn’t had any in over two decades.

Editor’s babble: Big thanks to Erik Smeal for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Erik on Twitter @Buffwagon819. 

About Erik Smeal

Born and raised in Buffalo NY. Army Veteran. Die hard Bills and Sabres fan for 30 years.