In the sequel to last week’s check-up on the offensive and special teams units, we’ll check out just what might go on with the defense in Buffalo before the team assembles for practices and camps in late spring. Major clarification on an issue I made two entries back that changes the composure of what I originally had written for this piece : Buddy Nix made it crystal clear this week that we will be running a primarily 3-4 front. We are not a hybrid club, we are not a 4-3 (as we spent much of 2010 running) and this will greatly alter what would have been our offseason needs going forward. That said, let’s get right into it.
Kyle Williams, Torell Troup, Kellen Heard, Boo Robinson
Williams, fresh off of his first Pro-Bowl appearance, faces a decent amount of uncertainty for a player who did as well as himself in 2010. He emerged, in the team’s hybrid scheme, as one of the better nose tackles in the NFL, putting together a stellar season for himself without much talent around him. Just this past week, however, statements from both Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix suggested the possibility that Williams moves positions again, sliding over to defensive end for this season. Who would replace him immediately was not clear listening to either man, but Gailey did say that Torell Troup was drafted, and is being groomed, to become the team’s starter at NT in the future. Still, both men’s non-committal on the subject lets me know that they aren’t quite sure just yet (and understandably so, over two months out) where they’ll go in April’s draft. There are a few players at the top of the rankings who look to be able to play any spot on the line in either a three or four man front, and I believe the team is looking heavily into these players – namely Auburn’s Nick Fairley and Alabama’s Marcel Dareus. If either one of those two players are the pick, I can see training camp being the audition for playing time. Ultimately, I see this position mostly staying put. Williams is stout and great against interior linemen, but might struggle on the edge due to his height and bulk. Then again, he’s done everything possible throughout his career to prove he can do much more than what the critics believe, so maybe he’d be good at end. Still, I see Williams holding strong on the nose for at least 2011 (his contract year) with Troup and Heard, the mammoth reserve plucked from Oakland’s practice squad late in 2010, filling out the reserve chart behind him. Robinson will likely be a training camp body, but if a draft pick is used on a tackle, you can bet he won’t last long. Don’t expect much, if any change here.
Marcus Stroud, Dwan Edwards, Alex Carrington, Spencer Johnson, John McCargo
This past offseason, with the shift to the 3-4, Marcus Stroud, a former All-Pro at defensive tackle, was moved to end. In this new position, Stroud struggled mightily and did not have a helpful effect on the team’s defense throughout the year. Because of this, I can see the team exploring options of trade or release with Stroud that would allow him to return to his native position. Dwan Edwards, a major addition through the 2010 free agency period, returns from injured reserve and I believe, will take immediately back over starting. The rush defense was better with Edwards in the lineup, and we can only hope that the same holds true going forward. Alex Carrington, a third round pick who got little playing time his rookie year, will return as a primary backup, but I can’t see him starting. This, to me, is where one of the aforementioned (Dareus, Fairley) will come into play. The team desperately needs to improve their front seven, and the trenches should be the starting point for that. Johnson should return as a high-priced backup, but I can’t see the team retaining McCargo, whose contract is up. McCargo needs a shift back to a 4-3 team and a change of scenery – the former first round pick has been terrible in his tenure here and was close to being traded to Indianapolis a few years back. He is usually inactive for us and hasn’t provided anything positive so I believe he’ll be let go.
Chris Kelsay, Shawne Merriman, Arthur Moats, Antonio Coleman, Pierre Woods, Aaron Maybin, Mike Balogun, John Russell
While they didn’t provide a great deal of pressure, the primary goal of an outside ‘backer in this scheme, the general feel that the team is giving off is that they are content with what they have and will move forward with it. As much as I don’t like him and don’t believe he helps our defense at all, this staff is in love with Kelsay and he should return as a starter. Waiver wire acquisition Shawne Merriman has signed an extension with the team and will be returning from injured reserve to take over one of the starting jobs on the edge in 2011 with 2010 rookies Art Moats and Antonio Coleman acting as primary backups. Former first round selection and major bust (one of the worst in team history) Aaron Maybin barely saw the field amongst late-season pickups and undrafted rookies alike and I don’t see him as a Bill in 2011. His trade value is likely miniscule, but don’t rule out a deal for a late round pick or depth elsewhere. Woods, Balogun, and Russell all will likely compete in camp for depth roster positioning, possibly along with more late-round outside backers with upside to help the team’s pass rush, especially with the two starters getting older.
Paul Posluszny, Andra Davis, Akin Ayodele, Danny Batten, Reggie Torbor, Keith Ellison, Jammie Kirlew
In a shocking development this past week, it became very apparent that the team doesn’t plan to retain one of it’s only players with name value and a solid inside linebacker in Paul Posluszny. Both Posluszny and Ayodele, the starters towards the end of 2010, are at the end of their deals and will likely walk. Nix talked about wanting more size and quickness on the inside, more bulk and aggressiveness – qualities definitely lacked by the injury prone Posluszny whose best attribute seems to be his uncanny ability to rack up tackles after ten yard gains by opposing backs, followed shortly by his complete inability to cover even the slowest tight ends in his zone. While I do like Posluszny a lot, I understand the direction they want to take here. Keith Ellison, an early afterthought but consistent special teams contributor before shelved with an injury, is also a free agent come March and will likely walk. With Andra Davis and Reggie Torbor returning from IR as well, we can at least expect Davis to stick with the team as he is a great teacher to younger players and was playing lights out before his injury last season. Torbor may return simply as depth and it’ll be nice to see if second year man Danny Batten can contribute going forward after some said (not this writer) that he looked good enough to start last year before getting hurt. I expect to see at least one higher-tier free agent or early-round draft pick come in to fill the role alongside Davis. My guess would be on two ILBs being drafted, one in one of the first three rounds, one a little later because Davis is in his thirties now and is slowing down towards the end of his career. Kirlew never made it off of the practice squad so I can’t imagine him cracking the team, but that’s what training camp is for – still, if the team adds two or more at the position, consider him gone.
Terrence McGee, Drayton Florence, Leodis McKelvin, Reggie Corner, Ashton Youboty, Trae Williams
This position’s degree of change this spring and summer will surprise a lot of fans – many fail to realize that this former strength has become quite the weakness and needs to be addressed. McGee is getting older, but is still far and away the best of the bunch and will return as the number one starter this year. Florence’s contract is up and I can’t see the team bringing him back. He was horrendous at times tackling, ridiculously bad in coverage, was picked on often, and drew way too many penalties in getting overly physical when getting frustrated with opposing wideouts. McKelvin has been a target recently as well, but has also shown flashes of greatness. The kid needs to find it in himself to calm down, focus, and stay consistent. I can’t see him starting in 2o11 unless it’s under dire circumstances or he really turns things around in camp. Youboty’s contract is up again, but I can see the team bringing him back for depth as he is a decent player and should get to see the field more this year. Corner will most definitely stay on as the team’s primary nickelback, the role he’s filled for the past two years – and quite well at that. If Florence is exiled, I can see – and hope for – a cornerback in one of the early picks of April’s draft as it quickly becomes an area of concern that needs attention.
Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, Jon Corto, Brett Johnson
Both Wilson and Corto are scheduled to become free agents, and there’s a decent possibility that both are re-signed as they are main cogs that keep our special teams units churning. Wilson, however, could chase the money elsewhere. In spot duty over the past few years since breaking into the league, he’s shown he has the ability to play – and start – at safety in this league. If another club is willing to pay George as a starter, it’ll be a sad day for Bills fans as we will see one of our great players – both on the field and in the community – leave us. It’s not entirely farfetched to believe that he could get decent money from us, either – starter Jairus Byrd was benched twice throughout the 2010 season in favor of Wilson for shoddy play and bringing Wilson back to compete with him for playing time could only bring a positive impact to the team. Johnson may be called up in the event that Wilson moves on, but otherwise I don’t see him breaking off of the practice squad and I believe this position stays mostly intact. Byrd doesn’t need to consistently play as he did in his rookie year, but he does need to step his game up as he really had some down times throughout his sophomore year and hurt the team when he was playing that way.
Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott
If you’ve read this far, you may see a trend – high draft picks of former regimes that have done nothing to prove they deserve this club’s money will not be getting it. This should hold true here, where the writing is already on the wall with former first-round pick Donte Whitner. While he may catch on elsewhere as a starting safety, it won’t be here, where Whitner has openly requested a deal upwards of eight million dollars per year – a request that has already been denied. He’s been a motivation for some players in the secondary for the past few years, but has largely been terrible on the field. He misses tackles like it’s his job, routinely blows coverage, gets flagged all too often, and seems to be a huge factor why teams can break such long runs on us. Just watch any rush play against us over the last two or three seasons that went for 40+ yards and I guarantee you see Donte looking both confused and incapable, allowing the back to rip through the secondary without a thought on their way downfield. He has big play mentality without fundamental capability, and that hurts us on the back-end every single game. Scott could very well be a placeholder starter, but there should be a better alternative to Whitner available in free agency for far less than what he’s asking, and if not, the draft could be an option. A rookie may be able to work behind and along with Scott to become the eventual starter at the position, but I can’t see the potential logjam at FS being solved by either player switching roles. Both Wilson and Byrd are fairly weak tacklers and don’t play the run very well. Unless a free agent is signed, look for Bryan Scott to be this team’s starting strong safety for this upcoming season.
NT: No change.
DE: Stroud, McCargo out – high draft pick in.
OLB: Maybin, Balogun, Russell out – late round pick/UDFA in.
ILB: Posluszny, Ayodele, Ellison, Kirlew out – Veteran & 2 rookies in.
CB: Florence out – early to mid round pick in.
FS: Wilson, realistically, out – low-level vet in.
SS: Whitner out – mid round pick in.
It really seems like a good possibility that the defense could continue to have this much turnover. To be completely honest, as long as it works, I don’t care what they do. This team needs a real boost on this side of the ball and hopefully, it’ll start to come over the next few months. Thanks for reading – until next time…