http://profootballweekly.com/PFW/NFL/AFC/AFC East/Buffalo/Features/2004/holbrook071504.htm Commitment to running the ball should pay dividends for Bills It’s safe to say that Jim McNally, the Bills’ new offensive line coach, is happy about new head coach Mike Mularkey’s emphasis on being physical and staying committed to running the ball in 2004. Though he has been on the job for less than six months, McNally has seen enough of his much-maligned O-line unit to see that he has some work to do to get it playing as a top-flight group. But it’s not as if he doesn’t have talented athletes with whom to work. Quite the opposite. McNally is excited about the potential of the Bills’ line and believes that the combination of factors that contributed to the line’s subpar play in 2003 can be corrected for ’04. McNally acknowledged that in watching nine or 10 Bills games from last season on film, he noticed the same things most Bills observers harped on throughout the team’s disappointing 6-10 season — namely that QB Drew Bledsoe needs to get rid of the ball quicker, the Bills need to run the ball more and the receivers need to run quicker pass routes. In Mike Williams and Jonas Jennings, McNally believes he has two of the more talented young tackles in the NFL. In C Trey Teague, he believes he has an intelligent, steady anchor for a line that has had four O-line coaches in the last five years, including three in the past three years. In ORG Chris Villarrial, he has a hardworking technician who plays the physical, blue-collar style McNally preaches. McNally’s to-do list during his first training camp with the Bills includes the following items, in order of importance: 1) Find a starting left guard to play between Teague and OLT Jennings. 2) Continue to boost the confidence of 2002 first-round pick Williams. 3) Blend the five linemen into a cohesive unit. 4) Prove to Mularkey that his blocking unit can be counted on in both running situations and in pass protection. If that seems like a tall order, the highly respected McNally, who made his mark with the Bengals’ playoff teams in the late 1980s and the Giants’ Super Bowl team in 2000, is up to the task. Finding an adequate replacement for eight-time Pro Bowler Ruben Brown at the OLG spot hasn’t been easy thus far. The competition is fierce, with Mike Pucillo, a starter last season, battling Ross Tucker, Marques Sullivan, seventh-round draft pick Dylan McFarland and Lawrence Smith, whom the team picked up off the Ravens’ practice squad. Early in spring minicamps, Mularkey and McNally decided to rotate the top three guys — Pucillo, Tucker and Sullivan — to give each of them snaps with the first-string line. “The problem was, we weren’t giving anyone an opportunity,” McNally said. “Coach Mularkey and I finally said, ‘This is stupid.’ So we made a decision. We moved Sullivan back to left tackle to back up Jonas. Pucillo got the first shot (as starter), with Tucker as the backup. “It was just a case where no one was getting enough reps between Teague and Jennings to show their stuff.” The plan, according to McNally, is to keep things that way through the first two preseason games and “hope we don’t have to go too far beyond that,” he said. “Sooner or later, one of them will jump out, and we’ll go with him (as the starter).” While McNally searches for the right fit at the OLG spot, he will continue to encourage and work with Williams, the Bills’ promising right tackle who now will be working with his third offensive line coach in his three years with the team. When asked about Williams, McNally is effusive with praise but quick with an explanation about Williams’ perceived lack of consistency. “He’s got pretty good feet for a big guy and he’s a very powerful man, but he’s still very young,” McNally said. “I think he wants to do a good job. He realizes the pressure he’s under because he was a high pick. I think he’ll do fine. “I don’t know if he was inconsistent. I looked at 9 or 10 games (on film). I didn’t see where he was a flop. They threw the ball a lot last year. You’ve got to run the ball. You’ve got to use a guy like Mike Williams, a big, powerful guy, by running the ball right over the top of him and using play-action passes. Use him as your bulldozer type, a road grader. ‘Let’s run to the right and run over Mike Williams.’ “It’s like a running back. The more you use a man, the more you run the ball, the better they become, the stronger they become. We’ve got to play to Mike’s strengths, and I think the more we play to his strengths, the more confidence he gets, and you take it from there.” The line was often a scapegoat for Bledsoe’s woes in 2003, when the veteran quarterback was sacked 49 times. But McNally believes that Mularkey’s professed commitment to the run will lower that number dramatically. Mularkey has already set the tone for the line’s new attitude with frequent visits to O-line meetings. He has preached the same message from Day One — he wants them to be the toughest, meanest group in the NFL. He wants to establish the running game and he wants them to finish their blocks. Free-agent pickup Villarrial, a solid veteran who helped the Bears become one of the league’s better rushing teams, was brought in to impart his physical, run-blocking mentality to the others. Jennings, entering the last year of his contract, is emerging as a leader, as is Teague, who makes all the line calls. McNally is confident that, despite a lack of depth, the Bills will have a productive line leading the way for what should be a much-improved offense in 2004. The key, as always, is keeping that commitment to the run and allowing the line to establish the physical identity that McNally and Mularkey desire. “I think we have to run the ball more,” McNally said. “Whether we keep our word or not, you never know. But the head coach has said we’re going to run the ball. I mean, he’s vocally said it. I’m sure he’s going to be true to his word. We’ve got an outstanding defense, so by running the ball, (using) play-action pass and playing defense, we should be better.” After the disappointment of last season, that’s got to be music to Bills fans’ ears.