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What will Buffalo's defense look like? This, that and the other

By Tim Graham

Despite the urge to slap a label on the he Buffalo Bills' new defense, Mike Pettine's general system can't be categorized definitively as a 3-4 or a 4-3.

What's the difference?

The point is nobody's supposed to know.

Continue reading "What will Buffalo's defense look like? This, that and the other" »

Kyle Williams expects to be well-heeled by training camp

By Tim Graham

Kyle Williams earned his spurs. Now he's glad to be rid of them.

Williams, the Buffalo Bills' two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman, has had bone spurs removed from both heels.

Williams, who underwent surgery to remove a spur from his right heel in February, said today he's on track to be ready to practice by training camp. In 2011, he had surgery to remove a spur that frayed his left Achilles and ended his season after five games.

Continue reading "Kyle Williams expects to be well-heeled by training camp" »

Zebrie Sanders working back from painful pair of surgeries

By Jay Skurski

Zebrie Sanders looked like a good value pick by the Buffalo Bills when he was selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

The 6-foot-6, 318-pound offensive tackle had started 50 of 53 career games at Florida State, second most in the rich football history of the Seminoles' program.

But Sanders' career was sidetracked by injury -- two of them, actually -- that caused him to miss his entire rookie season on injured reserve. Sometime during the second week of training camp last year -- Sanders isn't exactly sure when -- he tore the labrum in his right hip.

Continue reading "Zebrie Sanders working back from painful pair of surgeries" »

Marv Levy ranked 17th on list of 20 greatest NFL coaches

By Tim Graham

To celebrate what would've been Vince Lombardi's 100th birthday on June 11, ESPN is counting down its 20 greatest NFL coaches.

Buffalo Bills immortal Marv Levy came in at No. 17.

For the series, here's what Jim Kelly had to say about his coach:

"I think Marv Levy's biggest achievement is keeping his team mentally focused year after year after year, especially during that run of four Super Bowls. We went five years to the AFC Championship Game. Everybody knows you've got to be physically prepared for the game. If you're not, you're not going to make it. But to be able to mentally prepare your football team after a devastating loss, and forget about what happened the year before or the year before or the year before, and the resiliency our football team had, it started with Marv Levy. I know we wouldn't have gone to four Super Bowls in a row without Marv Levy.

"Probably the most influential thing about him was the way he handled the players on his team. If you remember, the guys we had -- Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Darryl Talley, Steve Tasker -- we had a bunch of different personalities, and we all had egos. Early on in Marv's career and our careers, we knew if we didn't come together as a team, it didn't matter how many superstars we had, we wouldn't make it. He made sure to make each individual understand that if we didn't put our egos to the side, we wouldn't achieve our goals. He could communicate to players in a way where we totally understood it. He was never the rah-rah, in-your-face type of guy. It was the old cliché: It's not what you said, but how you said it. Marv always knew what to say and how to say it.

"It clicked probably in 1988. The Bickering Bills came and I had something to do with that. Everybody did to a certain point. We went to the AFC Championship Game in 1988. We knew our football team was talented. In 1989, our egos started getting in the way, including myself. Marv knew what we could achieve, but we couldn't if we started pointing fingers at each other.

"To go back to back to back to back, that will never happen again. Nope. Period. The further we're removed from those games, the more people appreciate what we did. And it started with our head coach, Marv Levy."

Draft moving to May next year

By Jay Skurski

The NFL announced this afternoon that next year's draft will be held from May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City -- two weeks later than usual -- because of a scheduling conflict at the venue.

While it's been speculated that the league would like to make May the permanent month for the draft, that's not the case just yet.

"No decision has been made regarding the dates of the NFL Draft in 2015 and beyond," reads a portion of a letter sent from the league's communications office. "A variety of alternatives are being explored, teams were told, including holding the draft at Radio City or at other locations, either in the New York area or in other cities."

No other changes to the league's calendar were announced for 2014, highlights of which include:

    • Regional combines will take place from Jan. 24-Feb. 16 at several different locations.
    • The NFL Scouting Combine from Feb. 18-25 in Indianapolis.
    • The 2014 league year, and start of free agency, on March 11.

Da'Norris Searcy 'having a ball' with Bills' new defensive scheme

By Tim Graham

Safeties play one of the more variable positions on a football field. They can play center field in some schemes. They might creep into the box or frequently blitz in others.

A smile spread across strong sfaety Da'Norris Searcy's face when asked what the Buffalo Bills' new defense asks him to do.

"It's way more aggressive," Searcy said after today's voluntary workout at One Bills Drive. "This is the most I've had the opportunity to blitz. So I'm having a ball with it.

Continue reading "Da'Norris Searcy 'having a ball' with Bills' new defensive scheme" »

Bills can have an elite running offense, but that's not enough

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is young and considered a progressive.

Even so, just last week Hackett commented it's never a bad idea for a quarterback to pivot and hand off the ball.

"You always want to be running the ball," Hackett said. "When in doubt, give the ball to a back."

No doubt, it's a much better idea when the running backs are C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

Continue reading "Bills can have an elite running offense, but that's not enough" »

Video: Bucky & Sully on OTAs, EJ Manuel & Mario Williams

News Sports Columnists Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan talked Bills Friday morning on their weekly live show. Watch the segments below.

On Bills OTAs and EJ Manuel:

On Pettine's approach:

On Mario Williams' mental state:

For more segments from the show, click here.

Jerry Jones advises Bills fans to relax about long-term WNY future

By Tim Graham

Jerry Jones might be the most powerful kingpin of sport.

Regardless of what Buffalo Bills fans think of the polarizing Dallas Cowboys owner, his insight on the inner-workings of NFL business is substantial. His opinion carries profound weight.

As such, Jones has an educated and influential outlook on the Bills' long-term future in Western New York.

I asked Jones, fresh from owners meetings this week in Boston, if he thinks the Bills can remain viable here without a new stadium.

Continue reading "Jerry Jones advises Bills fans to relax about long-term WNY future" »

We found the O.J. Simpson tattoo dude: 'It's not a joke'

OJtattooLatona2By Tim Graham

The man with the O.J. Simpson mug-shot tattoo on his haunch has been found.

And we didn't need Kato Kaelin's help to track him down.

Bryan LaBarron got the tattoo on his left thigh and hip about a year ago, but the image suddenly became famous when a Facebook photo went viral Wednesday night.

People around the world -- the photo has appeared on ESPN, Yahoo! and Deadspin.com among other mainstream outlets -- have been dumbfounded over why someone would get the booking photo from Simpson's 1994 double-murder arrest permanently tattooed on his body.

"It's not a joke," LaBarron said. "I just try to live life, and I'm into what I'm into. But I want all my tattoos to have meaning."

LaBarron, 30, is a Navy veteran and Buffalo State student from Hornell. He has several tattoos, including the Bills' original red buffalo logo on his left ankle.

About a year ago, he popped into Renaissance Custom Tattoo on Main Street in Buffalo to have some more work done by owner Thomas Latona. LaBarron wanted to get a portrait of a Bills player and initially decided on Thurman Thomas.

"Ironically," Latona said, "we were looking for a picture of Thurman Thomas without his helmet. But we couldn't find anything that worked. Other than a jersey number, you can't really tell who Thurman Thomas is by looking at his face."

After several days of thought, LaBarron and Latona decided on Simpson.

LaBarron found the mug shot symbolic. He describes himself as being "obsessed" with 1990s pop culture and considered 1994 to be a pivotal time in his life.

That's the year the Bills went to the last of their four Super Bowls. Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain committed suicide. And Simpson was charged with murdering his ex-wife and her friend.

"That year was the end to a chapter in a lot of ways," LaBarron said.

Latona said: "This was not a 'Ha ha, this is going to be funny. I'll pull my pants down in the middle of the bar,' or 'I'll bet you a beer I have O.J. on my ass.' "

Latona considered Simpson's booking photo the obvious choice.

"Nothing's more iconic than the mug shot," said Latona, a Hutch Tech grad who opened Renaissance Custom Tattoo 14 years ago. "Everyone knows this picture. It's a part of history.

"You're going to know what it is right away, not like with a lot of portraits where people say, 'Who is that?' If I did my job right, people would know exactly who that is."

Latona preferred the tattoo large for artistic reasons. He wanted to include the booking number underneath, so Simpson's head didn't appear to be floating. To maintain proper detail, Latona thought a large, flat part of the body worked best.

"He was game for it, and we went at it," Latona said.

The tattoo took three sessions of three hours apiece to complete and cost $500.

"He's diehard," Latona said. "I know a lot of people say they're diehard, but he loves the Bills.

"Think about the passion of Buffalo sports fans. People say they live and die red and blue, bleed blue and gold. Fans carry it on them. To have your favorite sports team on your body forever is a bold, indelible statement of your commitment."

The Simpson tattoo certainly has been a conversation starter among LaBarron's friends and coworkers at Ashker's Juice Bar and Café, where the viral photo was taken (the photo in this blog post was taken at Renaissance Custom Tattoo).

Friends of LaBarron's, who write for Sports-Kings.com, gave the viral photo its initial online push.

"I've gotten a lot of good comments in the Buffalo area from Bills fans," LaBarron said. "I've seen a lot of the posts online about it, and they're not-so-nice. I understand why some people don't like it, but I don't really care.

"I have it on a part of my body that no one sees unless I show them."

If LaBarron had known the photo would become famous, then he probably would have chosen a classier pose and a prettier backdrop than an empty box of chunk pineapple and egg cartons in the Asker's Juice Bar alley.

Anyone who typed "O.J. Simpson" into Google tonight saw LaBarron's tattoo as the first result -- not coverage of the double-murder or Simpson's current legal issues, not a reference to 2,003 yards, the Heisman Trophy or Nordberg.

Jerry Rice critiqued the photo on ESPN2's "NFL Live," for crying out loud.

"Angelo, the owner, always talks about my tattoo and wants people to see it," LaBarron said. "Due to where it is I actually have to undo and drop my pants. I had gym shorts on because people ask to see it so much that sometimes I'll put on shorts when I think somebody's going to ask about it.

"So I'm standing there with my pants around my ankles in an alley by some garbage. I had no idea it would go national. My Facebook page has been blowing up."

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | [email protected]


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | [email protected]


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | [email protected]

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