Friday, March 24, 2017

1978 Buffalo Bills Outlook

"The O.J. Simpson era has ended in Buffalo, and a major rebuilding program has been initiated under the direction of former L.A. Ram head coach Chuck Knox. A glittering collegiate draft provided some optimism for the Bills' fans, who set a new all-time low in attendance last season when O.J. was sidelined with an injury. Knox, a run-oriented, ultra-conservative type, is expected to drastically revamp an offense that led the NFL in pass attempts (457) as well as a defense that recorded an NFL-low 17 sacks.
OFFENSE: Top draft pick Terry Miller of Oklahoma State is an all-purpose game-breaker with 1,000-yard potential, and should soften the blow of Simpson's departure. Power blocker Jim Braxton returns at fullback to lead the way for Miller. Highly regarded Dennis Johnson of Mississippi State packs speed and power and could be a factor at fullback, while Roland Hooks and Curtis Brown are reserve tailbacks.
Knox inherits a classy run-blocking line that features the play of All-Pro Joe DeLamielleure and veteran Reggie McKenzie at the guards. Willie Parker is the regular center, Joe Devlin is set at one tackle, but the other position is up for grabs among converted tight end Paul Seymour, Winston Hill and rookie Eric Smith (6'5"/275) of Southern Mississippi.
Quarterback Joe Ferguson has the tools and should prove to be less erratic (24 interceptions) under the conservative influence of Knox. Fred Besana has the edge over fellow soph Ken Johnson for the No. 2 passer role. Although plagued with constant double coverage, flanker Bob Chandler managed to rank second in the conference with 60 receptions. Prize draft pick Danny Fulton of Nebraska-Omaha should lighten the load by drawing attention on the opposite flank. John Holland, John Kimbrough and Lou Piccone are reserve wide receivers. Should Seymour be moved inside to tackle, talented Reuben Gant will take over tight end on a full-time basis, with young Ken Spaeth of Nebraska his backup.
Punter Marv Bateman posted a fine 39.9-yard average on his 81 punts last year and consistently ranks among the leaders in his specialty. Soph Carson Long and veteran Tom Dempsey battle for the placekicking job. The darting Miller will double as a key kick returner and should generate plenty of excitement with his breakaway ability.
DEFENSE: Knox will be starting from scratch in this disaster area and will rely on rookie talent to bring order to what has been a terribly disorganized unit. All-American Dee Hardison (6'4"/ 250) of North Carolina and top-rated Scott Hutchinson (6'4"/245) of Florida are expected to step into starting roles in the front line. Aggressive Mike Kadish should retain his regular status at tackle while Ben Williams, Sherman White and Bill Dunstan compete for the open slot.
The established linebacking trio is scheduled for revision due to the arrival of rookies Lucius Sanford of Georgia Tech and Mario Celotto of USC. John Skorupan and Dan Jilek appear relatively secure, but Merv Krakau and/or hustling Shane Nelson will have to scramble to retain their jobs. Bo Cornell and Tom Ruud figure to remain emergency reserves.
An especially cohesive secondary, one that has suffered from the lack of a pass rush, will remain intact with ball-hawking Mario Clark (seven interceptions) and Dwight Harrison working the corners while standout Tony Greene (nine interceptions) pairs with capable Doug Jones at the safety spots. Steve Freeman is the key reserve while Keith Moody and Charles Romes add depth.
PFI OUTLOOK: The Bills have plenty of individual talent on hand and could respond in surprising fashion to the fundamentalist approach of Knox. The new field boss faces a difficult adjustment, moving from a first place team to a cellar-dwelling club as well as from the defense-oriented NFC to the high scoring AFC. It could prove to be a painful transition this first year.
Prediction: 5th Place"

-Pro Football Illustrated 1978, published by Complete Sports, Inc.


"The announcement that O.J. Simpson had shuffled off FROM Buffalo to San Francisco didn't exactly come as a thunderbolt. It was more or less expected, given all the talking and balking about the Juice's expressed desires to finish his career somewhere on California's shores, the land he calls home. What did come as a surprise was the announcement that highly successful Los Angeles head coach Chuck Knox would be taking over the Bills, replacing Jim Ringo in a job that's rapidly becoming noted for its transitory nature.
Knox is Buffalo's third head coach in less than three years. Ringo took over from Lou Saban in mid-season of 1976, and finally wound up with a 3-20 record overall. And now, enter Knox who was supposed to have herded the Rams all the way into the Super Bowl last year. Instead, they got stuck in a highly unusual mud bog and lost an NFC division playoff to a weather-hardened bunch of Minnesota Vikings, 14-7. It was a bizarre ending to Knox's well-founded hopes of a Super Bowl game after achieving the playoffs all five of his years in Los Angeles, his record there being 54-15-1.
Buffalo's All-Pro guard Joe DeLamielleure expressed the feelings of perhaps quite a few Bills when asked his views on the new head coach. 'A lot of guys couldn't believe it at first,' DeLamielleure confided. 'And then, it gave them a lot of confidence because Chuck Knox must see something positive here. He's a proven head coach and we're just happy that he could see enough here to interest him.'
What does interest Knox in Buffalo? It certainly can't be the weather, not after those years in balmy L-A. While the Bills have won only five of their last 28 games, Knox can rightfully discern some positive points. The 1977 passing offense, for instance, led the entire NFL in yards gained through the air, even though Joe Ferguson's performance at quarterback last season wasn't all that impressive. What was very noteworthy, however, was the Buffalo corps of receivers who caught a total of 221 passes for an average gain of 12.7 yards.
The Bills didn't rank quite so high in rushing offense, but they finished quite a way up the ladder in total offense- an AFC fourth behind the heady company of Oakland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Ferguson's final game of '77 was a club record-breaker. In closing out the schedule against the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl, he completed 25 passes in 40 attempts for 331 yards and a touchdown. The 25 completions broke a Buffalo record for one game. He also surpassed club one-season marks for passing attempts with 457, and completions with 221.
In another area, corner Keith Moody, in his second year, set a new Buffalo record for best punt return average for a season, 13.1 yards per carry. Also, his 91-yard punt return for a touchdown against Cleveland is the longest in Buffalo annals. And for the second successive year, Bob Chandler caught more passes than any other NFL wide receiver. Whether it's offense of defense, Knox will find plenty about the Bills to keep him interested while he tries to achieve the balance of a tightrope walker over nearby Niagara Falls.
Of interest, naturally, are Knox's feelings about walking into the Buffalo job while one of pro football's greatest, the redoubtable Orange Juice, is walking out. 'The trade of Simpson to San Francisco creates of element of uncertainty at running back,' Knox admits. 'You don't lose an athlete of O.J.'s stature without feeling it. But we're optimistic about the prospect of finding a solid replacement. Roland Hooks did a good job after the Juice was sidelined for the year. There were also things to like about the limited play of Mike Collier and Curtis Brown. Jim Braxton, whose rushing totals were off last fall because of injury, is certainly a key to our ground game.'
In the opinion of some expert observers, Knox has already taken a head start toward resurrecting the Bills by making shrewd choices in the 1978 NFL college draft. In fact, Buffalo and New Orleans are regarded as this year's most successful drafters of rookie prospects. Knox & Company had five choices in the first three rounds and used them to selected highly regarded collegians in positions that need help. Running backs Terry Miller (Oklahoma State) and Dennis Johnson (Mississippi State) provide some hope of offsetting O.J.'s departure. Defensive ends Dee Hardison (North Carolina) and Scott Hutchinson (Florida) give that lagging defensive unit a boost. Wide receiver Danny Fulton (Nebraska-Omaha) joins a pass-receiving unit that needs depth, even if doesn't need help."

-Herbert M. Furlow, The Pocket Book of Pro Football 1978

OFFENSE
"Quarterbacks: Interceptions kept Ferguson from being really effective last season. It's hard to believe he threw only one interception in 1976 (in 151 attempts) and 24 in 1977 (albeit on 457 throws). That, plus Buffalo's 20 lost fumbles and the 36 times Ferguson was sacked, contributed much to the 3-11 season.
Buffalo fans wanted rookie Ken Johnson to get a chance but he didn't. Besides Ferguson, the only other player to throw a pass for Buffalo last season was O.J. Simpson. He tossed the ball one time and it fell, like his career at this point, incomplete.
Running Backs: O.J. Simpson, as everybody knows, has switched teams if not rent-a-cars. Simpson watchers from Buffalo to Bombay will watch his San Francisco sojourn with an avid interest, at least.
Will he be missed by the Buffalo running game? Some say no, pointing to Braxton's smooth recovery from knee surgery and the present diversified rushing attack. Hooks showed good form his second year, but bigger developments may lie ahead.
The Bills chose two of college football's top running backs in the '78 NFL draft. No. 1 pick was Terry Miller, consensus All-American from Oklahoma State. Dennis Johnson of Mississippi State was chosen in the 3rd round. Johnson's rushing average was five-plus yards per carry. Concerning Terry Miller, Knox says, 'Comparison with O.J. Simpson at this point would be unfair to Terry, but he is also an explosive runner with ability to make tacklers miss and he can run away from people.'
Receivers: Chandler's 60 receptions ranked second in the NFL, and Reuben Gant's 41 helped the passing attack considerably- so much so that Buffalo led the entire NFL in team passing offense (180.7 yards per game). A total of 221 pass receptions ranked an NFL third; running back Braxton caught 43 of these.
John Kimbrough is a speedy kick returner. There may be more to come. In the 3rd round the Bills chose Danny Fulton, fresh out of the University of Nebraska's Omaha campus and carrying a flock of impressive credentials.
Interior Linemen: Tackle Dave Foley retired after eight years and that leaves Joe Devlin, Joe DeLamielleure, Willie Parker and Reggie McKenzie as starters. Ken Jones, who played all 14 games, looms as Foley's possible replacement at left tackle although Winston Hill is on hand after an exchange with the Rams. This is the unit that did so well by O.J. Simpson, and also provided protection for the NFL's leading team passing attack in '77. It has that magic blend of talent, youth and experience.
Kickers: Marv Bateman does a good job with his 39.9 average. He may have some competition from Rusty Jackson who averaged 39.0 yards for the Rams in 1976.
Carson Long was an instant success his rookie year, with 13 of 14 PATs and seven of 11 field goals, some of them from beyond the 35-yard marker. Little wonder the Bills chose no shoe experts in the draft. But they did pick up one from the free agents- Tom Dempsey, lately of Houston."

-Herbert M. Furlow, The Pocket Book of Pro Football 1978

DEFENSE
"Front Linemen: Was Buffalo's defense suspect last season? Opinion differs on this, but the opposition did score 313 points, the enemy quarterbacks got sacked only 17 times and the opposition attack gained 318.1 yards [per game], which placed the Bills 11th in AFC team defense.
Phil Dokes and Mike Kadish gave good accounts of themselves, but some re-sorting may be in order here. Dee Hardison, a 2nd round choice, was an All-American end last season and Scott Hutchinson, also a second round pick, received regional plaudits.
Linebackers: Merv Krakau filled in for the injured John Skorupan. Dan Jilek and Shane Nelson play aggressively and hit hard. Lucius Sanford is a 4th round choice from Georgia Tech where he achieved honorable mention All-America.
Cornerbacks: Mario Clark is living up to his pre-rookie evaluation. He does the job well and had seven interceptions last season. Dwight Harrison is one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Ball-carriers find him hard to get by.
Moody returns punts at a 13.1-yard pace and kickoffs at 21.2 yards per carry.
Safeties: Tony Greene's nine interceptions placed him second in the NFL behind Bengal Lyle Blackwood's 10. And Greene did it coming back from injury. Often penalized, Doug Jones makes up in aggressiveness what he lacks in tact."

-Herbert M. Furlow, The Pocket Book of Pro Football 1978


OFFENSE
"Orange juice sales are down in Buffalo, where people don't run through airports, or look anymore for than gifted athlete who did. Niagara Falls, it's said, doesn't even fall with the same force. Buffalo lost its No. 1 tourist attraction, Orenthal James Simpson, the man who made the Buffalo Bills and, it's to be assumed will now break them. O.J. has now gone home to San Francisco, leaving Roland Hooks to try and run his sweeps. But how do you snake through holes like The Juice?
New coach Chuck Knox, who allowed the trade, said, in essence, 'OK, we don't figure to win this year, maybe not even next year. It's the future we're concerned with.'
Well, the rape of the Bills is complete. O.J. is near the Golden Gate, J.D. is in Motown, Ahmad in Icicleville, Pat rushing passers in Oakland.
What's left is Joe Ferguson, an average quarterback; Hooks and Jim Braxton, average backs; a strong line with no one to open holes for; and a capable wide receiver in Bob Chandler. Buffalo's offense, once the game's most productive, now slips into the sunset- over San Francisco."

-Dave Newhouse, The Complete Handbook of Pro Football, 1978 Edition

DEFENSE
"Without Simpson, Buffalo's defense figures to be on the field even longer this fall. The Bills' defense has presented a problem for the offense for a number of years, namely how to outscore what it has given up. Without Simpson and playing in the loaded AFC East, the Bills will be lucky to win two games. It won't be the fault of the entire Bills' defense. The secondary is one of the AFC's finest- Tony Greene, Mario Clark, Dwight Harrison and Doug Jones. Greene had nine interceptions and Clark seven- the second and fourth best records in football.
But as good as Buffalo is against the pass, it's just as bad against the run. Opposing running backs feel like O.J. when they know it's Buffalo's defense they're running against. The Bills surrendered 171 yards rushing a game, placing them 25th in football. Buffalo wound up 23rd in team defense because of its sieve-like tendencies against the run. Mike Kadish isn't bad, but Bill Dunstan and Sherman White are journeymen. The Bills had only 17 quarterback sacks- the worst record in the NFL. Which makes their secondary something special."

-Dave Newhouse, The Complete Handbook of Pro Football, 1978 Edition

KICKING GAME
"How would you like to be Carson Long? Only 14 PAT attempts in 14 games and 11 field goal attempts, making seven. Marv Bateman, whose dream is to out punt Ray Guy someday, finished below his expectations at 39.9. Keith Moody and John Kimbrough each returned a punt for a touchdown, so not all is lost."

-Dave Newhouse, The Complete Handbook of Pro Football, 1978 Edition

THE ROOKIES
"O.J. Simpson is gone and the Bills immediately replaced him with Oklahoma State great Terry Miller. Then Buffalo got down to a more serious area of concern, drafting defensive ends Dee Hardison of North Carolina and Scott Hutchinson of Florida."

-Dave Newhouse, The Complete Handbook of Pro Football, 1978 Edition

OUTLOOK
"Working under Carroll Rosenbloom was nothing in comparison to what Chuck Knox will experience this season. He inherits a team with more holes than the Watergate coverup. He'll need a long contract to endure those sleepless, winless nights to which he's unaccustomed."

-Dave Newhouse, The Complete Handbook of Pro Football, 1978 Edition


"New coach Chuck Knox takes over a floundering club that no longer has O.J. Despite Knox's reputation as run-oriented and conservative, look for the Bills to emphasize the pass. Joe Ferguson has become a prolific passer, but if he goes down the Bills are left with dubious relief pitching.
Terry Miller was drafted No. 1 to replace O.J., with an assist from Roland Hooks. The offensive line is still formidable."

-Jimmy the Greek, Jimmy the Greek's 1978 Football Handbook

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