What the Buffalo Bills’ young pass-rushers learned from Von Miller, the NFL’s best

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LAS VEGAS – Von Miller leaned to the side and appeared to rush a quarterback. Next to him stood defensive Greg Rousseau, Buffalo Bills’ first-round pick of 2021, watching the future Hall of Fame linebacker move, with Miller placing his feet and hands and listening to his new teammate explain his moves off the line .

Miller demonstrated his skills on a high school grass field under the Las Vegas morning sun during his sixth pass-rush summit last week. The event featured the NFL’s top four active sack leaders – Miller (115.5 sack), Chandler Jones (107.5), Cameron Jordan (107) and Justin Houston (102) – who shared tips with other defenders about how they have had success.

Rousseau was one of three Bills pass-rushers there among 21 players along with teammates Boogie Basham (Round 2, 2021) and AJ Epenesa (Round 2, 2020). They accepted Miller’s invitation to learn from the best ahead of a season of high expectations for them and the team.

“I’m an open book, and I want to force some of my chapters on them,” Miller said of Bills’ young pass-rushers. “I want to force some of the things I know about them. It’s just little things.”

Miller & Co. spent the day coaching their peers in how to handle different situations and offered details on how to approach the scrimmage line before the snap. Several veterans went into detail on clips of their own film while Rousseau, Basham and Epenesa sat at a table together and took notes.

“Having an opportunity to physically get out here and physically see it, get practical attention, I think to myself, it was a big leap,” Basham told ESPN. “Definitely for me to take my game to the next level, but also learn from other guys in the league.”

The Bills want to get better at coming after opposing quarterbacks after consecutive playoff losses to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, so they invested heavily in Miller this offseason with a $ 120 million six-year deal. But Miller will not be able to do it all on his own, and his influence on his teammates off the field could potentially be almost as important as his presence on it.

“Getting to know these guys, these guys getting to know me, on and off the football field, Vegas is the perfect place for what we can hang out, relax,” Miller said. “… To be in the OTAs with all these guys, man, it’s to build that respect, earn their respect from them.

“I’m coming out here, I’m training, breaking my neck for these guys, and you’re building their fraternity now. So when the season starts and it’s fourth and long and we need a game, everyone trusts each other.”

The Bills need more from Rousseau, Basham and Epenesa after spending high picks on them. The Bills ended the regular season in 2021 with 42 sacks, drawing 11th and sixth in the pass rush victory rate (45.6%), but the team lacked a consistently dominant pass-rusher that opponents should be aware of at all times. The young trio came together for eight of these sacks, with Rousseau leading the group by four.

“This is going to be a big offseason for those guys,” Bill’s coach Sean McDermott said. “They are in a position where they need what we need them to really, really grow and develop and make a mark on our defenses – and not just in a supportive role, but in a primary role. “

Buffalo added his defensive line in other ways this offseason, bringing back Shaq Lawson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, in addition to signing tackles DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle. They chose not to re-sign veterans Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, who played the first and third most defensive snaps among Bill’s defensive ends last season.

The Bills also took fifth-year defensive tackle opportunity Ed Oliver (four layoffs in 2021) in May, linking the 2019 first-round pick to the team for at least the next two seasons.

What are bills looking for from their young pass-rushers?

“Probably the consistency piece where you know what you get every day is important,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “They’re past the time when they were beginners and it was a little up and down, breaks here, break out here.”

While the summit was valuable for learning from a variety of players and coaches, Miller has also helped his teammates during offseason practices. As he entered his third year, Epenesa noticed how he told Miller during the team’s OTAs that he was working at his rush angle. During training, Miller made a point of noting reps where Epenesa had a good angle.

When Epenesa interviewed Bills ahead of the draft in 2020, he told Bills that he modeled his game after Miller.

“People want to see him and they want to protect themselves from him because of his reputation, and that kind of opens the door for other people,” Epenesa said. “If they want to focus on him, we need to be able to perform ourselves and make plays when needed too.”

During the more than 40 minutes Miller spent breaking down his film at the summit, he praised the efforts of former teammate Aaron Donald and his other Rams teammates, noting how they brought out the best in him when Miller had four sacks and 18 pressure during the Rams’ playoff run to win the Super Bowl LVI. The Bills hope he can do the same with his new teammates.

“[Miller] you really took the young guys under his wings. He said he would do it. Actions speak louder than words, ”said general manager Brandon Beane. “I was really grateful that he would invite these young guys out to his camp. What a cool experience. I talked to a couple of them yesterday after training and they just talked about how many notes they took out there and where “It was amazing. They are happy to come back to practice and use what they have learned.”

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