This is the second part of an exclusive interview between 13th Man Sports writer Tom Lizardo and SiriusXM-NFL Radio host Zig Fracassi.
Tom Lizardo: I’m talking today with my old friend Zig Fracassi… Zig, let me make it an open-ended question about the other two phases. What do you see from the Buffalo Bills defence and special teams? Feel free to comment on them as units, or individual players who stand out.
Zig Fracassi: Tommy, I like the addition of Boggy Basham the former Wake Forest pass-rusher who will give them some stoutness, he can get after the passer. Greg Rousseau I like but he’s a bit of a project, I hope not another Aaron Maybin for goodness sake — another guy they took a chance on years ago, long and lean but it didn’t work out that well. It seems Rousseau has the necessary work ethic.
You’ve got guys like Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison in the final years of their contracts so it will be interesting to see what happens there. Star Lotulelei, former Panthers defensive tackle, talk about a guy who can really plug the middle. This could be the best defensive line rotation the Bills have had in the Sean McDermott/Brandon Bean era. We know that, like with running backs, you need a rotation– maybe here eight to 10 guys you could plug in and out, and they have it.
At Linebacker, a lot of people thought Matt Milano would leave but they found the money to keep him, which surprised me but that is good. AJ Klein is sort of the critic’s magnet, some people don’t like the way he plays, to me he’s always been consistent. Then you’ve got Tremaine Edmonds, he’s on the ascend, so they are solid there.
Arguably the best cornerback in the NFL is Tre’Davious White, I love him — quite a bit — and Levi Wallace is solid as you can get. And, with Dane Jackson and Taron Johnson, they can play, so solid at corner too. With Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better safety tandem in the NFL.
They built this team, definitely on the defensive side, to contend right now. So, Bills fans got to be fired up, but like with anything else how do you manage expectations? I don’t think they snuck up on anybody because they’ve been good the last couple of years, but now how do they meet the expectations?
The Bills are the target, it’s no longer New England, how do they handle that? Josh Allen like we talked about earlier with his new contract, how does he handle it? If they take the next step then they’ve handled it well, but would I be shocked if they fell back a game or two? Maybe didn’t get it far in the playoffs? That wouldn’t surprise me either. Call that growing pains, it’s definitely going to be an intriguing 2021 season, to say the least.
TL: Let’s put this into context. Are there some other contenders in the AFC East or are the Bills just a cut above?
ZF: The Jets are definitely in a rebuild. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen, and it’s just the first preseason game from Zach Wilson, he does look like he has a chance to be pretty good.
New England, that’s still an open-ended case, I think there is legitimate wonderment about who will start, the rookie Mac Jones or Cam Newton? (Newton has since been cut by the Patriots) They also spent a boatload of money on free agents — though I saw Jonnu Smith went down with an injury, I don’t think that it’s serious, but he’s one of the high-priced free agents they have. They’ll be solid defensively, I’m still not sure they have enough on the offensive side of the ball.
Then there’s Miami. You talk about a polarizing figure that would be Tua Tagovailoa, because he obviously got his toes dipped in the water last year, looking very good at times, but more often than not he was shaky and Ryan Fitzpatrick had to bail him out. From what I saw the other day, Tua’s more assertive and the Dolphins are playing more to his strengths in the rhythm-type offence. They run the ball well with Gaskin and they’ve upgraded their receiver spot. Their offensive line is still a little concern. I think the defence is playoff-calibre, so just like in the old days, we might see Miami pushing the Bills a little bit for the East, but it’s Buffalo’s division to win. Again, it’s how they handle the expectations, that’s what remains to be seen.
TL: Zig, what other storylines are you following this season.
ZF: Well, in Cleveland I’ll be watching Baker Mayfield to see if he may be the next to get a big quarterback contract, and to see how he handles expectations after their tremendous year last season.
In Kansas City, you’ve got Patrick Mahomes, the 2-time AFC Champions, and I want to see how the tragedy with the young girl from last year affects them. I hope she’s doing good, but I think that’s something that needs to be watched.
In Las Vegas the Raiders, with a full year at Allegiant Stadium, I’ll be following that.
And, how about Tom Brady? Here’s a guy who’s 43/44 years old and he still plays like he’s broke, still plays like he’s trying to make the team. Will they be able to be the first team to repeat since his Patriots did it in the early 2000s?
Aaron Rodgers, is he all in with Green Bay? He says he is, but I think there may be some lingering resentment towards management because of the Jordan Love situation.
Will these things prove to be distractions for teams, or will they be able to rise above them?
TL: Thanks Zig, and I know you will be following it all on SiriusXM-NFL Radio, and any NFL fan who wants to stay on top of it all should be listening to you there.
ZF: Well I appreciate that. I think we’ve got a good product and we’ve been on the air now for 18 years. People asked years ago “will people pay for television?” — and they’ve asked would somebody listen to a 24-hour NFL channel? Well, the answer is a resounding yes, because we’ve got a great platform and a great product, and when people pay for radio they get a quality product and I’m proud and honoured to be a part of it.
TL: Well Zig, once again, I want to thank you for sharing your time with us today.
ZF: Tommy, anytime old friend.