10 Buffalo Bills Who Cannot Get Hurt in 2012
Buffalo has gone to great lengths the past few seasons to get its roster to where it is today. From coaching changes to front office turnover and a new approach to personnel, these efforts have led to positive results.
Now, the Bills are ready to cash in on their hard work and do their best to snap their burdensome playoff drought. But in order to do so, they’ll need to stay healthy.
At least at some key positions.
Here are 10 players who cannot get injured in 2012 if the Bills are going to have a successful season.
K Rian Lindell
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It may seem anticlimactic to start this list off with a kicker, but Bills fans should remember what happened down the stretch last season when Rian Lindell went down with a season-ending injury.
They signed Dave Rayner, who connected on just 10 of 15 field-goal attempts and missed two of those from 39 yards or closer. Rayner subsequently went down prior to the season finale, and the Bills signed Brandon Coutu for one game. He missed his only attempt from 45 yards.
With such an important and promising season ahead, Buffalo cannot afford to lose Lindell, who has mastered kicking at the Ralph and has become one of Buffalo’s best kickers in franchise history.
The importance of special teams cannot go overlooked, and that includes Lindell. He will play a key role for Buffalo this season and hopes to have many, many opportunities.
LB Nick Barnett
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Veteran Nick Barnett is Buffalo’s best linebacker. Some were worried that losing Paul Posluszny last year would handicap the defense, but in reality it may have been a blessing in disguise.
Barnett provided a spark to the Bills linebacking corps in 2011. He recorded 130 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and there interceptions. Not to mention one exciting touchdown with a little help from his young pupil Kelvin Sheppard.
In fact, Barnett serving as a mentor to Sheppard has been just as valuable to the Bills as his play. Shep has a chance to break out as the middle linebacker in the Bills' new 4-3, and the two players’ relationship could prove to be vital for the youngster’s success.
In 2012, Barnett will be starting at weak-side linebacker. He’s coming off a terrific season, and because there isn’t a lot of proven depth at linebacker, finding someone reliable to fill in for him would be a big task.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
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Clearly, losing the starting quarterback to any offense is a big blow. It’s an especially big blow if that team revolves its offense around that quarterback.
This is true for Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills.
Fitz may not be the most athletic quarterback in the NFL, but head coach Chan Gailey has tailored his offense around his strengths. So instead of dazzling with freakish athleticism, Fitz understands the offense and executes efficiently.
He’s a smart quarterback. He makes quick reads, delivers the ball on time and is becoming increasingly accurate as a passer. Because the offense and play-calling is so closely tailored to his abilities, Buffalo could be in trouble without him in the lineup.
There’s a big question mark behind Fitz on the depth chart, too. As of now, the team doesn’t even know who the No. 2 quarterback will be between Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen. Brad Smith will be the third quarterback.
The one they call the Amish Rifle is poised for a big year. It’s his third season in Gailey’s offense, he has two top running backs to utilize and at least one premier wideout at his disposal in Steve Johnson.
Bills fans will have their fingers crossed the offensive line can hold steady and keep him on his feet.
C Eric Wood
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Speaking of the offensive line, it’s no shocker that Eric Wood makes this list.
Bills fans are all too familiar with what happens when center Eric Wood is out of the starting lineup. Last year, Andy Levitre had to move all over the place and even tried his hand at snapping duties. The result was unsettling.
Right guard Kraig Urbik did fill in well, but again, having him at center only means he’s out of position.
Buffalo has Colin Brown back healthy and even drafted Mark Asper to help establish at center. Regardless, neither of these guys are close to as effective as Wood.
Wood is a tenacious, competitive lineman who not only plays with a mean streak but also possesses a lot of talent at the position. Additionally, his relationship with Fitz on the field is important for the offense’s timing.
If Wood is to miss any time in 2012, the Bills better be prepared.
DE Mario Williams
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The Bills put all their money in one big basket this offseason in an attempt to improve their pass rush, and that basket belongs to Mario Williams.
Even though Williams has yet to play an official snap with the Bills, he has immediately become one of their defense’s most important players. Buffalo is counting on him to create a lot of pressure off the edge and also establish consistency along the defensive line.
While it’s true there is some respectable depth along the line right now, nobody has the impact that a healthy Mario Williams does. Losing him to an injury would greatly soften the threat of getting to the quarterback.
His presence makes everyone else better across the line as well, and he should even benefit the linebackers and defensive backs by continually wreaking havoc in the backfield.
WR Steve Johnson
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There’s a lot of exciting depth for the Bills at wide receiver, albeit young and unproven. But it’s a new season and a new opportunity for those players to step up.
Meanwhile, Steve Johnson is fully entrenched as the team’s No. 1 wideout. He’s posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, totaling 17 touchdowns in those two years.
If Stevie were to miss time, somebody would simply have to rise to the occasion, and there are guys who could potentially shine in that role. However, at this point, no one has consistently proved he can do so—even as Johnson’s complementary No. 2 when he is on the field.
There is slight caution here since Johnson is coming off of groin surgery, though he’s been participating in camp and has been deemed ready to go. Nevertheless, losing his production and consistency would be a huge loss for the offense.
LG Andy Levitre
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Starting left guard Andy Levitre is set to have a Pro Bowl-caliber season. After back-to-back quality seasons, he’s quickly proving why the Bills traded up to draft him in 2009.
Much like Eric Wood, Levitre is extremely valuable not only because of his skill set but also because of the lack of depth behind him. Underdog Michael Jasper is currently listed behind him on the depth chart, though backup right guard Chad Rinehart would likely be first in line.
Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Levitre has reportedly begun long-term contract talks with the Bills, per WGR 550 Buffalo’s Joe Buscaglia. And he certainly deserves it.
Levitre is durable and excels in both the running game and in pass protection. There’s no doubt he’s a key cog in Buffalo’s offensive line.
FS Jairus Byrd
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Jairus Byrd is just 25 years old, but he has quickly put his stamp on the Bills defense in his first three seasons.
A playmaker with natural instincts, Byrd is hoping to be a difference-maker in 2012. Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Buffalo noted that he believes the safety “was the best defensive player for the Bills throughout last season.” With terrific performances from Marcell Dareus, Nick Barnett and George Wilson, that’s fairly high praise.
Currently, undrafted free-agent Nick Saenz is listed behind Byrd on the team’s official depth chart. Bryan Scott could potentially fill in in his absence, though he’s now being listed as an outside linebacker.
The Bills are actually thin at safety behind Byrd, fellow starter George Wilson and backup Da’Norris Searcy. The rest of the unit is filled out by undrafted rookies and second-year pro Joshua Nesbitt.
Needless to say, Buffalo needs Byrd to stay healthy.
RB Fred Jackson
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Regardless of his age, running back Fred Jackson is one of the best in the business. He’s elusive, decisive, physical and dynamic. He also pass-protects as good as any back in the NFL, making him a complete package.
Yes, the Bills are fortunate to have C.J. Spiller, but having the two of them is one of the key premises of this offensive system. Head coach Chan Gailey wants to distribute the ball evenly to some extent and also exploit mismatches. Taking Jackson out of the equation greatly compromises both of those.
If Jackson were to miss time, Spiller would certainly still be effective. The question is, how effective would the offense be as a whole without the threat of FredEx?
DT Marcell Dareus
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Big Marcell Dareus led the Bills in sacks last year as a rookie with 5.5. He did that without a viable pass rush and without Pro Bowler Kyle Williams helping him out.
That just goes to show what kind of player this 22-year-old is going to be for the franchise.
For a long time.
Dareus should have an even better year in 2012 with Kyle Williams back at full health and pass-rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson at defensive end. And while the defensive line would still survive minus Dareus, his force inside is going to be a huge factor in how effective the new 4-3 turns out.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt’s system relies on pressure up front. Without Dareus, the amount of that pressure easily decreases.
It should be a huge year for the second-year tackle, which should translate to a huge year for the Bills’ entire defense.