Time to take a look at the Buffalo Bills refurbished and appropriately hyped defensive unit.
A few weeks ago, I broke down the offensive personnel, and though this run down may seem a bit bland, it’s necessary to take a step back and investigate the team’s entire roster.
After Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, the Bills have a good amount of defensive tackle depth. Period. None of the guys are tremendous backups, but they’re capable situational guys who can give Buffalo’s two beefy studs breaks when needed.
Spencer Johnson has been the subject of ridicule over the last two years, but he was totally playing out of position. I actually felt for him when he was asked to cover running backs and tight ends as an “outside linebacker,” or set the edge on pitches to the outside.
He’s a penetrating defensive tackle, and a good yet unspectacular one at that. Kellen Heard played more than you probably think last year, mainly on running downs after Williams went down with injury. Rarely did he stand out in either a positive or negative way. Due to his experience, he’s got an inside track to make the 2012 roster. Only one of Jarron Gilbert, Lionel Dotson and Jay Ross will be on the team this season.
Easily the two most intriguing DTs are Torell Troup and Dwan Edwards. Troup was a somewhat surprising second-round pick in 2010, a guy most fans didn’t see coming. While he wasn’t a big name, Buddy Nix was looking for a true, space-eating nose tackle to place in the center of the team’s 3-4 defense and that’s exactly the type of prospect Troup was coming out of the University of Central Florida. Unfortunately for Troup, he’s battled a nagging back injury and never has fully acclimated himself to the pro game. With the team’s switch to the 4-3, he could be a surprise cut.
The same goes for Edwards.
In 2011, he was having one of the best seasons of his career before a hamstring injury ended it. With more than a $4 million cap hit this season, he’ll have to really shine in training camp and the preseason to make the roster.
Positional depth: Good, but not outstanding
The Bills have, oh, let’s say, 100 million reasons to start Mario Williams, and you can lightly pencil in veteran Chris Kelsay at the other defensive end spot.
Kelsay doesn’t necessarily do it for me, but I understand why the coaching staff likes him so much. He’s not super athletic, but he’s a heady player who’s a natural fit as a 4-3 DE.
Mark Anderson should be utilized the same way he was in 2011 with the Patriots. Chan Gailey must get him on the field in obvious pass situations and move him to various spots along the defensive line. He’ll be more situational than anything, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I really like what Alex Carrington brings to the field. While clearly not as physically gifted as Mario Williams, at 6’5” and 300 pounds, he’s a true specimen and has gathered valuable experience in his first two seasons. Though he was drafted to bulk up and man the unsexy 3-4 defensive end position, if he sheds weight and becomes faster off the edge, he could be in for a surprisingly strong third-year in 2012. Kyle Moore played in the final three games of the season, but still needs to show the coaching staff what type of player he can be.
Positional depth: Strong
In the 4-3, the Bills linebackers will play a more vital role in the defense. Kirk Morrison and Nick Barnett will be manning the outside spots and will be asked to blitz and cover more than middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. I’m not in love with, but can deal with the starting group. Barnett is a huge upgrade over Paul Posluszny. I can’t stress that enough. It’ll be interesting to see how the elder Morrison plays in his natural position and the strides Sheppard can make in Year 2.
After them, there’s a ton of inexperience. That scares me.
Though a fan favorite, I’m not sure where Arthur Moats fits in. Maybe as a pass-rushing SAM? He still hasn’t shook the “tweener” label. The same goes for Danny Batten. Chris White still has much to prove and has to stay off the injury list. Scott McKillop and Robert Eddins are practice squaders at best.
Rookies Tank Carder and Nigel Bradham are naturally intriguing because they have yet to step foot on an NFL field. Bradham certainly looks the part of a punishing 4-3 outside linebacker. If he gets quicker reading plays, he could see considerable playing time in the future. Carder exudes football IQ and is far more athletic than you think.
He was the leader on many astounding yet somewhat unheralded TCU defenses. Don’t be surprised if they get a good deal of action in 2012.
Positional depth: Potential. But also potentially scary
One of the most compelling training camp battles this July and August will be the duels for the starting cornerback spots. Yes, you read correctly. Two battles for two spots. The Bills don’t have a sure-fire starter at either CB position right now.
Stephon Gilmore is a favorite after being selected No. 10 overall and drawing rave reviews from many respected draft analysts. Aaron Williams came on strong during the late stages of 2011, but did struggle early and has a thorough injury past. Terrence McGee has the ability and is the veteran of the group, but he too can’t stay healthy. Leodis McKelvin is as athletically talented as any, but has been a relative disappointment early in his career in general. His ball skills are well below average. That’s being nice.
Ron Brooks, to me, is the ideal slot corner. Small, fast, quick-hipped, killer ball skills, played at LSU.—what’s not to like? Justin Rogers could also squeeze into one of the final roster spots, mainly due to what he showed as a kick returner down the stretch last year. There’s also a few long-shots like Cris Hill and Delano Howell, but I’ll wait to examine them if and when they make noise at St. John Fisher.
Positional depth: See – Linebackers
Not hyperbole here. The safeties are the deepest group on the defense, if not the entire team. Jairus Byrd and George Wilson are two of the most unsung safeties in the league and feed extremely well off each other. They aren’t stunning in one any one area, but are exceptionally well-rounded, a great trait for any safety to have.
Beyond them, Bryan Scott is a defensive coordinator’s dream come true. While he doesn’t jump off the tape, he can play in the box as a hybrid linebacker, is big and fast enough to cover tight ends, and is a sure tackler. The Bills smartest yet most underrated re-signing this offseason.
Da’Norris Searcy, the team’s 2011 fourth-round pick, was impressive during his time in the starting lineup last year. At 5’11” and nearly 220 pounds, he can definitely lay the lumber against the run and is fluid in coverage. Learning from Wilson certainly will aid the youngster’s learning process.
Two superb safeties and two versatile second-stringers—one with years of experience and one with loads of promise.
Positional depth: Fantastic