If the Buffalo Bills expect to be legitimate playoff contenders in 2012, the defense will have to drastically improve over its 2011 performance.
Overall, the defense was ranked 26th in 2011. If you break it down, the unit ranked 19th against the pass and 28th against the run, allowing 139 yards per game on the ground.
The Bills have been notorious for being atrocious against the run in recent seasons—a pattern that has to change quickly. The entire defense managed just 29 sacks, more than one-third of which came in a single game when the Bills registered 10 sacks against the Washington Redskins.
Lets take a look at how the defensive tackle position pans out heading into the 2012 NFL season.
The Buffalo Bills used their No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft on Alabama's defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.
The team had hopes of him playing the three-technique defensive end position in the Bills' 3-4 defense. However, when nose tackle Kyle Williams went down with an injury, Dareus took over the nose guard position and performed outstandingly.
In his rookie season, Dareus racked up 43 tackles and led the team with 5.5 sacks.
With the transition to the 4-3 defense, he will line up alongside Kyle Williams in the middle. Expect to see Dareus and his 6'3" 331-pound frame penetrating offensive backfields and wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Kyle Williams is one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the entire National Football League.
While he has never exceeded 5.5 sacks in a season, the former Louisiana State product is a force against the run and makes opposing offensive coordinators game plan against him.
Chris Brown, the lead journalist at BuffaloBills.com, believes Williams is already a candidate to make the 2012 Pro Bowl:
When healthy, Kyle Williams proved he is capable of being one of the best defensive tackles in the game. This became apparent when he was selected to the Pro Bowl and placed on Peter King’s All-Pro Team following the 2010-11 season. Last year, he was sidelined for the season after just five games due to a lingering injury to his left foot. If healthy, Williams should have no problem being a Pro Bowl caliber player once again.
Moving to a 4-3 scheme will benefit Williams because opposing offenses will not be able to double team both he and Marcell Dareus. The Bills are also very strong and deep at defensive end, which has not always been the case during his tenure with the Bills. Williams consistently has been double teamed in the past and put up Pro Bowl worthy numbers. Now that he will see more one-on-one blocking situations he should thrive this coming season.
With Williams and Dareus entrenched as starters, the Bills should have one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the NFL.
After spending his first six NFL seasons as a defensive end on the Baltimore Ravens' ferocious front line, Dwan Edwards was one of the first players the Bills brought in when they made the move to the 3-4 defense. Now, he has been relegated to the second team defensive tackle unit, despite racking up 52 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season.
Mark Ludwiczak had this to say via Twitter about Edwards and his fit on the team:
Based on Wannstedt's comments about not wanting "situational players," I'm expecting Dwan Edwards to be cut. Doesn't fit 4-3 scheme.
At 6'3", 301 pounds, Edwards definitely has the size, power, and ability to take over the starting defensive tackle role barring an injury.
On the other hand, his $3.8 million-cap hit may cost him a job during training camp.
Alex Carrington was a third-round draft choice out of Arkansas State, where he recorded 21.5 career collegiate sacks as a defensive end in a 4-3 front.
Now, he is working with the third-string defensive line, and it's unclear how he will transition to the defensive tackle position. He saw snaps at defensive end, defensive tackle and even outside linebacker last season, recording 16 tackles and a sack.
He spoke to defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt recently, but according to buffalobills.com, Carrington didn’t get learn too many specifics as to where he’ll be lining up:
“Not too in depth. I’ll still be on the line of course, but he didn’t go into detail about it...I talked to him [Wannstedt] a little bit about the defense and the kind of things they would entail. I’m optimistic about it and I’m ready to start the offseason and get into the swing of the new defense
Due to make only $540,000 this year, Carrington likely makes the roster—especially if Dwan Edwards doesn't make the team—as he was brought in by the Nix/Gailey era of draft picks.
Many Bills fans see defensive tackle Torell Troup as the player for whom the team passed on Rob Gronkowski.
As evidenced by his career at Central Florida, Troup has a big upside—but only if he can stay healthy. He had a rough 2011 campaign, breaking his hand at the beginning of the year and eventually landing on injured reserve after trying to play through a severe back injury.
On the injury, Troup told BuffaloBills.com:
“The whole year was just brutal. The Jets game on the road was the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I fought through it the best I could all the way through the season up until that Jets game. Coach Gailey came up to me in the locker room and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We know you’ve been fighting all year and we know you are resilient so if you can’t go we know there’s something wrong. You should stay back here and lay down and relax.’ It was definitely heartbreaking not being able to finish the season with my teammates was horrible.”
Troup's dedication and raw ability will earn him a spot on the 53-man roster; he is expected to suit up for training camp after finishing his back rehabilitation.
Troup's confidence in his own ability is unquestioned:
“The biggest thing is that first step. If you beat that guy when he hikes that ball and get a step on that guy… and I have a great first step and I feel like I’d be able to use that to my advantage this year.”
Heard's size alone makes him an intriguing prospect.
A massive man standing 6'6" and weighing 346 pounds, Heard was signed by the Bills off the Oakland Raiders' practice squad in order to add depth to the nose tackle position.
He lit it up in the 2011 preseason and then had a solid campaign during the regular season, recording 21 tackles, two sacks and forcing a fumble in limited playing time.
Heard's size and strength will definitely earn him a spot on the team—even if he is, in my opinion, just a third stringer—especially if he has a training camp and preseason similar to last year's.