Now that the dust of the 2011 Draft has settled, it’s time to analyze the current state of Buffalo’s roster. We’ll be taking a look at one position at a time. Today: DL. (Previous editions: QB, RB, FB, WR, TE, OT,G/C, ST)
The Bills’ defensive line took its share of criticism last season – finishing last in the league in rush defense will have that effect. Buffalo brings back largely the same group in 2011 with two major changes – Marcus Stroud is out, and #3 overall draft pick Marcell Dareus is in. Will that change alone give the Bills improved production from the line? Will some other young players be able to step up? Will Kyle Williams be able to keep up his incredible level of play?
I was going to break this up into two articles: defensive ends and defensive tackles, but since Buffalo will most likely continue to use a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense this season, some guys will be moving from tackle to end and back quite a bit. This will just be easier.
Players Under Contract (8): Kyle Williams, Dwan Edwards, Marcell Dareus, Spencer Johnson, Alex Carrington, Torell Troup, Kellen Heard, Michael Jasper
Possibly Departing Free Agents: John McCargo
1) Kyle Williams
2010: 16 games, 77 tackles (11 for loss), 5.5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries
I could go on and on and on about how great Williams was in 2010 – and I have – but I’ll just leave it at that Williams was among the very best defensive players in the league last year. He was very good against the run and constantly disruptive against the pass. His performance in the Pittsburgh loss was quite simply one of the greatest games of football you’ll ever see a defensive lineman play. Williams is a special player and it’s a shame he gets absolutely no respect from the mainstream media.
The question with Williams: How does he fit into a 3-4 defense? He’s certainly not a traditional big 3-4 nose tackle. Yet he’s not really a fit as a 3-4 end either. However, I think the Bills will be smart enough to realize you need to find ways to get your best player on the field. The Bills will still line up in 4-man fronts often (especially in nickel/dime formations), which will allow Williams to line up in his more natural 4-man front defensive tackle role. Look for the Bills to also play some 3-4 “over” formations, where one of the outside linebackers plays right on the line of scrimmage, simulating a 4-man line. Either way, Williams will be on the field a lot and will hopefully be very productive again.
2) Dwan Edwards
2010: 11 games, 57 tackles (1 for loss), 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF
Edwards is a solid enough player. He isn’t very explosive and doesn’t really make big plays – as the fact that he only made one tackle for loss should tell you – but he works hard and makes tackles. He’s a pretty decent NFL starter. Edwards was injured late last season and went on injured reserve.
Edwards should enter 2011 as one of Buffalo’s starters at defensive end. He’ll see plenty of action on run downs at least. However, he could be pushed for time by Alex Carrington. Also, Edwards is due a hefty ($1.2 million) roster bonus once the lockout is over. Could he be a surprise cut to avoid paying that? I very much doubt it, but who knows.
3) Marcell Dareus
2010: University of Alabama
There’s a lot of excitement in Buffalo surrounding this guy. Dareus seems to fit the Bills’ needs perfectly: a large, athletic man who is great against the run, but with enough ability to be a pass-rush threat. He will most likely start right away at defensive end in the 3-4, but will also come inside on 4-man fronts to play tackle. Williams and Dareus as your tackles? Not bad.
By all accounts, Dareus is hungry to succeed in the NFL. He’ll certainly get his opportunity, as he’s going to get a lot of snaps. His success or struggles in 2011 will be a major factor that decides whether or not Buffalo’s lackluster defense improves this season.
4) Alex Carrington
2010: 9 games, 8 tackles, 1 sack
Carrington, Buffalo’s third-round draft pick in 2010, is a guy I have high hopes for. He didn’t play much last year, but wasn’t really a surprise, as he was drafted as more of a project player. Carrington played in college at not-exactly-a-powerhouse Arkansas State and was definitely a bit raw technique-wise. He did get some NFL action late in the season when Edwards was injured, picking up a sack in the Pittsburgh game.
Here’s what I like about Carrington: he’s a big, athletic dude who is a natural fit as a 3-4 end. He’s also shown a ton of potential as a pass rusher, which is pretty unique among Buffalo linemen. If his technique and run defense could improve, he could find himself playing quite a bit in 2011. He could certainly push Edwards for his spot, but Carrington will most likely be a big part of the defensive line rotation in any case.
5) Torell Troup
2010: 15 games, 23 tackles (1 for loss)
Buffalo’s second-round pick last year had a pretty disappointing rookie season. He was on the field a lot, but simply didn’t seem to do a lot while there. Granted, nose tackle is a tough position to make a big statistical impact. However, he got pushed around a bit in 2010 and frankly didn’t look very good.
Of course, Troup shouldn’t be written off yet. He was a bit small for a 3-4 nose tackle as a rookie (315 pounds), and according to him he’s already added 10 pounds to that frame while adding some strength. Troup certainly doesn’t seem satisfied with his rookie season, and appears to be working hard to have a more successful 2011 campaign. Let’s hope he can pull it off and become the dominant nose tackle Buffalo needs in the 3-4.
6) Spencer Johnson
2010: 14 games, 55 tackles (3 for loss), 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Johnson is a good guy to have on your roster. He plays very hard, he can rush the passer, he’s versatile. Is he ever going to be a star? Nope. Is he probably a much better fit in a 4-3 scheme? Yep. But he can fit almost anywhere on the line and play decently. I don’t want him out there every play – especially in 3-man fronts – but as a rotational/backup defensive lineman, I like him a lot.
Johnson’s role probably won’t change much in 2011. He’ll spell the starters and will play quite a bit in passing situations. If Buffalo ever totally transitions to a 3-4 he’s probably out of a job, but for now he’ll hang around.
7) Kellen Heard
2010: Signed off Oakland’s practice squad, did not dress for any games
Heard is an enormous human being (6’6, 355 pounds) that Buffalo poached off Oakland’s practice squad late last year. He’s somewhat athletic and he’s mean, as this video proves.
But can he play? I honestly don’t know. Guess we’ll find out in camp. If he can, perhaps he could push Troup for playing time.
8) Michael Jasper
2010: Bethel University (NAIA)
This giant of a man completely captured the imaginations of Bills fans when Buffalo made him the team’s final selection in the 2011 Draft. As I’ve said before, his story is amazing – he weighed 450 pounds at one point – and if he makes the team it’s a Disney movie waiting to happen. I think Buffalo fans everywhere are pulling for his guy, and he’ll probably be the among the most-watched men in camp. Maybe, just maybe, Buffalo has uncovered a late-round gem.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Buffalo kept either Heard or Jasper around. I doubt the team keeps both. So it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Possibly Departing Free Agent:
2010: 1 game, 1 tackle
You may have forgotten McCargo is still on the roster, as he only was active for one game last season. The fact that he couldn’t get on the field for the worst defensive in the league probably means he isn’t going to be re-signed.
Chalk up another outstanding first-round pick for the Tom Modrak era.