Niagara Gazette — ORCHARD PARK — Putting aside his initial apprehensions, receiver Stevie Johnson has begun buying into the Buffalo Bills' offseason rebuilding plans.
Johnson was left impressed Thursday by rookie coach Doug Marrone's upbeat approach and uptempo offense. And he's no longer questioning why the Bills elected against making any big splashes in free agency to address several holes, including a few at receiver.
"A lot of people around were asking, 'Why aren't we making any moves? Why aren't we picking up this guy, that guy?' And I was thinking that, too," Johnson said. So concerned was Johnson, that he publicly lobbied several prospective free agents — including receivers Dwayne Bowe and Darrius Heyward-Bey — to consider signing with Buffalo.
He's since changed his outlook.
"When I came in, and I saw what we're doing, the tempo and the type of team we're building, my faith was just sky high," said Johnson, who has led the team in yards receiving in each of the past three seasons. "I'm going to ride with it."
Johnson's vote of confidence came after the Bills closed a three-day voluntary minicamp. It was the players' first chance to take the field with Marrone, the former Syracuse coach who took over in January after Chan Gailey was fired following a 6-10 finish.
Though Johnson missed all three practices because of a stiff back, he was impressed seeing how fast-paced the individual and team sessions were.
"Just seeing the tempo that we're going, it's intense," Johnson said. "I just can't wait to get out there."
The Bills sprinted from one drill to another, and Marrone could be heard several times urging his team to work even faster.
"Don't be afraid to call a play," Marrone yelled out, when the offense was late getting to the line of scrimmage. "C'mon, guys, no walking."
A former offensive lineman, Marrone even took a hands-on approach, snapping the ball to quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
This not unusual for Marrone, whose uptempo approach to offense helped turn around a struggling football program at Syracuse over the previous four years.
"It goes back to the way I was brought up," Marrone said. "I believe that it's a mentality of when you step on the field, you're running and you're playing."
He envisions the Bills working at an even faster pace in the coming months, once players become familiar to the new game plan.
It won't be any different for Buffalo's defensive players, either. They're adapting to an aggressive approach being installed by newly hired coordinator Mike Pettine.
Defensive end Mario Williams can already see a difference.
"Fast. Aggressive. Uptempo. A lot of fun," Williams said. "Everything has changed, not just from the coaches and all that, but the whole mindset."
The Bills are a team that could certainly use any type of spark while in the midst of their latest offseason overhaul.
Marrone is Buffalo's fifth coach in 12 years. The Bills haven't finished a season with a winning record since going 9-7 in 2004. And they've not made the playoffs in 13 seasons — the NFL's longest active playoff drought.
The next step in the Bills' rebuilding process comes next week with the draft. Buffalo has six selections, starting with the eighth overall pick.
Buffalo is expected to draft a quarterback to groom for the future. And the team also has needs at receiver to play opposite Johnson after electing not to re-sign David Nelson and Donald Jones this offseason.
Johnson has no preference, and will leave those decisions to the front office.
"It's those guys upstairs. They're going to pull the strings. They know what they're doing," Johnson said. "They're bringing a new system in here, so really, I've just got to kick back and have faith that everything will fall into place."