Brandon Spikes confirms it — Bills’ new base D is a 4-3

If there had been any remaining doubt the Buffalo Bills’ are switching from a base 3-4 defence to a 4-3, newly acquired linebacker Brandon Spikes ended it on Monday.

The free-agent signee held a conference call with Bills media. On it, I asked him if it was his understanding he will be employed as a middle linebacker in a base 4-3 defence, flat out. Spikes’ reply:

“Yeah, absolutely. I’ll be in the middle and it reminds me of the defensive scheme I played all four years at Florida and I played at a high level and had a lot of success. I’m looking forward to it.”

New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has publicly refused to slap any numerical label on the defence he intends to implement. It’s widely known he’s a 4-3 guy, and has favoured the ‘Wide 9′ alignment within that brand.

The Bills played a base 3-4 scheme in 2013 (although, like all NFL defences today, then defensive coordinator Mike Pettine used hybrid sets much of the time). Incredibly, the Bills have vacillated between 3-4 and 4-3 every year this decade:

2010 — 4-3 under George Edwards

2011 — 3-4 under George Edwards

2012 — 4-3 under Dave Wannstedt

2013 — 3-4 under Mike Pettine

2014 — 4-3 under Jim Schwartz

Think lack of continuity factors into the unit’s struggles this decade? Better believe it. But that isn’t Schwartz’s fault, and like any coach he actually should implement an amalgam of what he knows best and what his players can best perform in.

Meantime, it’s one of the oddities of the NFL off-season that players testing the free-agency waters can learn far more about the schemes that a team’s new coach intends to implement than current players on the roster, who are forbidden to do so by restrictions that went into effect with the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

I asked Spikes how much ‘scheme fit’ plays into a free agent’s decision, along with other factors such as money and location. Spikes’ answer:

“Well honestly for me personally it don’t really matter what scheme I’m in. Whatever coach asks me to do I’m going to do, and I’m going to do it at a high level. It’s just that simple. I’m a professional football player and I’ve been playing the game since I was four. I get in where I can fit in. Whatever you need to do to put me on the field, I’m going to get it done at a high level. It’s just that simple, whatever the situation may be.

Spikes had a slew of other interesting things to say. This caught my attention. Asked about being a third-down linebacker, Spikes indicated more than a little displeasure that Patriots coaches felt he no longer was up to that task:

“I don’t know what happened, but I guess I just couldn’t cover out there for a few years. I don’t know, that’s what they said. Like I said, that’s in the past and now I’m just here to change all that. Prove people wrong if that is what they’d like to say. I’m just ready to go play the game I love. Everybody don’t have an opportunity to have their dream and play. I’m just happy to have this opportunity and be in this situation to play the game I love.”

Two other excerpts from Spikes’ conference call:

What do you think makes the Bills attractive as team for you?
“I just feel like honestly the last few years playing them I think they’re a great team honestly. There’s just something they’re missing, it’s weird. In a few games they had us up by 21 points and they let us comeback and win the game. It may be the small things like team chemistry; I don’t know I haven’t been around the guys. Like I said I’m looking forward to that. I just know playing against them and preparing for them I know they have some great ballplayers over there that can do a lot of great things. Great athletes and great professionals got a lot of playmakers over there.”

How will you feel in the two games next season against the Patriots and some of the guys you were pretty close to in New England?
“It’s going to be emotional for me. Right now I’ve had dreams about it already. It’s going to be an emotional game; I’m probably going to be in tears the entire game. I know it’s going to be a battle; it’s definitely going to be a battle, at all times. I’m looking forward to that and I’ll probably dream about it every night until it comes this fall.”

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