Of the 26 members of the Bills coaching staff, none, with the exception of head man Sean McDermott, is more anxious to get back on the field than Leslie Frazier.
The 61-year-old Frazier was a defensive back for the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears who had one of the best defenses in NFL history. This year, his fourth season as Bills’ defensive coordinator, he’s also been elevated to assistant head coach.
Frazier has spent a dozen years running NFL defenses with four teams (Cincinnati, Minnesota and Tampa Bay in addition to Buffalo) and nine seasons as a defensive backs coach for the Eagles, Colts, Bengals and Ravens.
In 2018, Buffalo’s defense finished second in the NFL in fewest yards surrendered and, for a team that has made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons and heading into the upcoming campaign, the consensus is that Frazier’s ‘D’ is Buffalo’s marquee unit.
But, as with the rest of the league, coaching staffs are just returning to work at their team facilities with players not allowed until training camp … whenever the NFL gives its OK.
“IT’S THE same in some ways as 2011 but it’s far different in a lot of other ways,” said Frazier of his first full season of his three as head coach of the Vikings. “We can communicate with the players whereas in 2011 you were slapped on the wrist if you tried to communicate with a player. So, if there is a better, this is better than it was back in 2011, especially if you’re a new staff. Fortunately for us we’ve been together as a staff now for the last three years going into our fourth season.”
He added, “The majority of our defensive players are coming back. So you feel like you’re a little bit ahead of the curve but when we come out of this virtual period, it’ll be a matter of you organize and take advantage of every single date we have, because we’ve got so much ground to cover on the field. Until you get on the field, you really don’t know what you have and you start competing. I think we’ve done a great job with the offseason program under the current circumstance, but we need to get on the field.”
Still, Frazier admitted difficult times can also bring a team together.
“Sometimes when you share real life moments with people and show them that you’re human and maybe you’ve experienced some of the same things they’ve experienced or will, it does bring it to another level, when it comes to understanding and empathizing with that person,” he said.
“Hopefully, that was the case with our players and that’s what I wanted them to understand. I know some of our players have experienced something similar ... some of them talk about it. I want them to know we’re standing with them. Some teams will handle this better than others just like some teams will handle this virtual offseason better than others. It’s going to be an indicator of what will happen in the 2020 season.”
Frazier continued, “None of us knows what direction that will go, but we’re going to do all we can in Buffalo to make sure that we keep the lines of communication open with our players, because we think that dialogue is important. We don’t want to fracture our team behind some of the things that are going on in our country today.
“The only way you can do that is being able to educate ourselves, make sure we’re doing a good job of communicating, as a coaching staff with our players and vice versa … putting some action behind our talk, getting out and involved and not just standing back and pointing out all the problems that there are.”
ONE ISSUE, of course, is a perceived loss of Bills leadership with defensive tackle Kyle Williams and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander having retired in back-to-back years.
But Frazier has a young candidate as a replacement.
“The first guy that comes to mind is seeing how Tremaine (Edmunds, middle linebacker) has developed this virtual offseason” he said. “The way he’s been kind of bringing players together and talking with them, calling them, reaching out to them, going past the linebacker position.
“The same thing with (safety) Jordan Poyer, with (defensive end) Jerry Hughes, reaching out to teammates to try to develop the unity that we’re missing right now because we’re not around one another. Those guys are reaching out across their position lines, trying to help the young guys as well as the veterans to stay connected.”
Of Edmunds, Frazier added, “When you look at the fact that he’s going to his third season and just turning 22, so young, so much promise ahead of him, and he’s achieved so much … to already be recognized as one of the leaders on our team and on our defense.
“We’re very fortunate to have him. He’s the epitome of what you would want one of your star players ... one of your leaders to be. A guy you don’t have to worry about late at night. You know he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be, you know he’s going to do what he’s supposed to do when it comes to football.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)