The Buffalo Bills defense in the past few years has lacked consistent playmakers on the defensive line, linebacker, and in the secondary. This is not to say that the Bills defense has been horrible. For the most part, they have been decidedly average to moderately good. However, especially this past season, they have lacked in quarterback pressure and turnovers.
The Bills front office and coaching staff entered the offseason determined to change that. They went out and got a new defensive line coach, Bob Sanders, who has been able to get defensive tackle John McCargo working harder than ever when it looked like he might not be with Buffalo much longer. They also drafted two college playmakers in defensive end Aaron Maybin from Penn State and cornerback-turned-free-safety Jairus Byrd from Oregon.
These three players could very well help change the defense from okay to good or even beyond that. McCargo, at times in his career, has shown flashes of why the Bills drafted him in the first round. If he is playing with heart, he can beat offensive lineman at the snap and make plays in the backfield. If Sanders can continue to get him to work hard, he should provide some help in getting to the quarterback.
Maybin will be instrumental for the pass rush this season and for years to come. He has a first step that rivals any I have seen in the NFL. Due to being lighter than most 4-3 defensive ends, he needs to utilize his explosiveness and moves to keep offensive tackles from locking on. If he can add more moves to his repertoire, he should be a pressure and sack machine on passing downs.
Byrd will be looked to add another playmaking presence in the secondary, this time at safety. The Bills have been solid at safety, but have lacked playmaking ability there for years. If he can continue the production he had at college (17 interceptions and 53 passes defensed), he will be a force to be reckoned with at safety.
He and second-year cornerback Leodis McKelvin, an explosive playmaker in his own right, could anchor the secondary for years to come.
Also of note will be the return of defensive end Aaron Schobel who was injured last season and did not see much action. The Bills will be looking to him to return to Pro Bowl form and add to the pass rush. If the Bills can start getting more pressure out of the front four due to the return of Schobel, McCargo being more motivated, and the addition of Maybin, the whole defense will benefit.
The addition of Byrd in the secondary will hopefully allow the defense to translate pressure into takeaways on awkward throws by pressured quarterbacks.
If these men can step up and have a postive impact for the Buffalo Bills in 2009, the Bills could very well surprise a lot of teams. The defense will be a major indicator of how far the team will go this season. Fans can only hope that the defense steps up and delivers.