There might not be anything tougher in sports than replacing a legend. The fanbase doesn’t want to let go of the memory their favorite player has given them for years and it’s up to the next guy to fill those shoes.
In the NFL, playing in someone’s shadow is usually left to the quarterback position. Buffalo is still trying to find the next Jim Kelly, and every quarterback since Kelly retired has been compared to the measuring stick Kelly created. Obviously, nobody has come close to Kelly’s ability.
Other quarterback situations are still looking for the next great one. Miami is still looking for the next Dan Marino, Denver is looking for the next John Elway, Andrew Luck is trying to be the next Peyton Manning for the Colts and somebody will have to replace Tom Brady one day in New England.
I think we often forget about how hard it is to follow someone at other positions. I’m sure every running back in Detroit is matched up against Barry Sanders, every wide receiver in San Francisco is compared to Jerry Rice and Pittsburgh will always compare linebackers to Jack Lambert.
Buffalo has been looking to replace one player as long as they’ve been trying to get back to the playoffs: Bruce Smith. He was the cornerstone of the Bills defense for 15 seasons, recording 171 sacks in a Bills uniform and he has the NFL record for sacks with 200.
Smith didn’t just rack up sack numbers. He wasn’t a player that got his sack in the first half and disappeared in the third or fourth quarter when the defense needs to make a play. That was Aaron Schobel's problem.
Smith would be the one that came around the corner on third down late in games and made a play. However fair or unfair it may be, Smith is the standard Bills fans will compare defensive ends to, maybe forever.
That leads us to Mario Williams. Part of the excitement of signing Williams was thinking about how he could be the next Bruce Smith. Williams was supposed to bring back memories of No. 78 rushing the passer. Buffalo thought they finally had that franchise defensive end again.
After four games with the Bills it's clear that Mario Williams is not Bruce Smith. He might not be half the player Smith was. A 49-year-old Bruce Smith would have had a better shot at getting a sack Sunday than Williams.
Mario was brought to Buffalo specifically for Sunday’s game against New England. The money spent on the defensive line was to stop Brady. The Giants showed in the Super Bowl, again, the key to stopping New England’s offense is getting pressure with four defensive linemen. Signing Williams and Mark Anderson gave the Bills belief they had the four linemen to play that style of defense.
Williams and the defensive line failed its first Patriots test with flying colors. They gave up 247 yards of RUSHING and barley laid a hand on Brady all day. The money put into the defensive line has not been well spent so far.
Williams is in his sixth NFL season. In comparison, Smith’s sixth season in 1990 was the best year of his career: 19 sacks, 101 tackles and four forced fumbles on a team that went to the Super Bowl. Williams is only on pace for six sacks and 36 tackles this season.
I don’t want to hear that he faces double-teams, so did Smith. Every great pass-rusher gets double-teamed or chipped but still make plays. For those who are waiting for the next Bruce Smith in Buffalo, you’ll have to keep waiting.