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Pollock column: It’s time to see McDermott in his first game as defensive coordinator

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As the Bills break camp and start the pre-season, Chuck Pollock offers his opinions and some comments from Coach McDermott on his new challenges (Alex Brasky photo)

A column by CHUCK POLLOCK

OK, so the long-awaited Bills preseason opener is set for tomorrow afternoon against the Colts at Highmark Stadium (WIVB-TV, WPIG-FM, 1 o’clock).

Most Buffalo fans already know what they’re looking for in this otherwise meaningless matchup.

They’ll be watching to see whether Tryel Dodson or Terrel Bernard has the edge in the competition for the middle linebacker job left vacant when Tremaine Edmunds left for Chicago.

Their focus will also be on whether last year’s first-round draft choice, Kaiir Elam, ’22 sixth-rounder Christian Benford or young veteran Dane Jackson, has the lead at No. 2 cornerback spot; if starter Ryan Bates holds off this year’s second-round draft pick, O’Cyrus Torrence, at right offensive guard; and whether Deonte Harty or Khalil Shakir earns the slot receiver spot of the departed Isiah McKenzie.

But there’s something else worth watching that you might not have thought about.

This will be the first game in which coach Sean McDermott will also call the defensive plays.

That decision was made shortly after last season when defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier — wink, wink — decided to take this season off. McDermott, who held that position with both the Eagles and Panthers, decided he was the perfect candidate to fill that “vacancy” for Buffalo.

BUT HERE’S the reality.

Only eight of the NFL’s 32 head coaches call their team’s plays … offense or defense.

San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan (offense), New England’s Bill Belichick (defense), Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles (defense) and now McDermott are also coordinators in title.

Four others — the Rams Sean McVay, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, Dallas’ Mike McCarthy and Denver’s Sean Payton — have offensive coordinators, but call their team’s plays.

There’s a reason that list is short … performing both roles is extremely difficult at football’s highest level.

It takes an experienced head coach to pull it off and there are those who feel McDermott hasn’t fully grown even into that role given his dubious in-game decisions, penchant for wasting timeouts and ill-considered challenges.

That’s not to say he can’t do it, his acumen as a defensive coordinator is unquestioned, but for most teams it’s also a full-time position and then some.

THIS WEEK, during training camp, you got the idea McDermott is already realizing the complexity of doing both jobs.

“It’s been interesting trying to find just where I need to be at the right time” he admitted, “… just being self-aware enough to know that I haven’t spent time here in some time so I have to get around to see the offense a little bit or special teams. It’s just hard to leave the follow-up film meeting with the defense because of the details we need to have. But it’s important that I do spend the time outside of the defense with our offense or special teams.”

McDermott conceded, “Overall, we’ve got a very strong staff defensively but it’s more putting things in place from when I’m not around that I can still have the level of communication. For example if I go (watch) the offense, I’m not hearing the communication of what went well, what didn’t go well, play-by-play through the course of the film with the defensive staff. (I have to make sure) when I watch it, through a defensive lens, that they saw it like I saw it in terms of what needs to improve.”

CLEARLY, McDermott is beginning to appreciate the magnitude of what he’s undertaking.

And tomorrow’s first-ever venture into both roles will be particularly difficult.

By their nature, preseason games, at times, are reduced to fire drills. Even though most starters see little, if any, action, the goal is to audition as many players as possible from a bloated 90-player roster. Getting the proper ones on the field at the right time can, occasionally, be overwhelming and often leads to all manner of pre-snap penalties.

McDermott will be the ringmaster of that potential circus but with a more critical eye on the dozen-or-so defensive players desperately trying to make the 53-man roster.

It figures to be an interesting afternoon for the Bills’ seventh-year head coach.

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

See past columns from Chuck:

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