No Pisa, No Problem in Buffalo: Defensive Preview

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No Pisa, No Problem in Buffalo: Defensive Preview
(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Very soon after being released by the St. Louis Rams, Pisa Tinoisamoa took a trip to One Bills Drive in Orchard Park, N.Y. 

Fans were excited to hear that the tackling machine was in town, hopefully filling the void Angelo Crowell left when he signed in Tampa Bay and that backup Keith Ellison currently held. 

With no signs of a contract in place, a photo was soon leaked of Tinoisamoa wearing a Bears T-shirt.  He soon signed a one-year deal with the Bears.

Bills message boards erupted, calling Ralph Wilson cheap, saying Ellison isn't even worthy of a Bills uniform let alone to start, and an array of "the sky is falling" type messages.

It's not even training camp yet.

Although Bills fans are anxious for the upcoming season after three straight 7-9 finishes under Dick Jauron and a 10 year drought from the playoffs, the defense should be a bright spot. 

With returning playmakers Terrence McGee, Kawika Mitchell, Marcus Stroud, and a potentially healthy Aaron Schobel, things can only look up for the Bills D.

As the cliché goes, it all starts in the trenches, and that's where Buffalo looks to shine. Being the only team in the AFC East to not implement the 3-4 scheme, the Bills have a beefy middle and quick defenders on the outside line. 

Marcus Stroud, the trade pickup last season, didn't disappoint.  With injury concerns, he played in all 16 games for the Bills, notching 45 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a much overlooked stat, 7 deflected passes. 

Alongside him comes the surprising upstart Kyle Williams, who was thought of as merely depth when drafted in the fifth round in 2006, but broke in to the starting role and has been a great run stuffer. 

Spencer Johnson provides rotational depth all along the line, and John McCargo has shown flashes but has yet to fill his first round potential.

On the outside, Aaron Schobel hopes to make a healthy return, across from playmaker/question mark Chris Kelsay.  Until last year, Schobel hadn't had less than 6.5 sacks in a given year. 

He only played in five games last year, notching one sack, but says he's ready to come back healthy.

Chris Kelsay has never been the pass rusher Bills fans want him to be, but he has an instinct to know where the ball is at all times. 

It could be a three-way battle for the starting left end spot, since the Bills drafted pass rusher Aaron Maybin 11th overall in the draft, and Ryan Denney has always been a rotational player at the position. 

Chris Ellis could step in on the right side when Schobel is resting and might live up to his third round pick last year.

The focal point of the Bills defense is the linebacking corp.  After being placed on the IR most of his rookie campaign, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny came back to anchor the group with a team leading 110 tackles. 

He's instinctive and doesn't get fooled too easily, and if he can stay healthy, he could put up better numbers this year. 

John DiGiorgio provides solid depth in the middle, as he showed two years ago when Posluszny went down.

Kawika Mitchell was a great pick up for the defense last year, as he filled in admirably, with 82 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions. 

His game-saving interception against the Chargers was a thing of beauty, and he has a fierce mentality on the field. 

The major question is, who will play opposite him outside?

Incumbent starter Keith Ellison has filled in adequately, but the Bills need a better defender on the outside. 

There are still options in free agency, but defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and linebacker coach Matt Sheldon have their eyes set on someone else already in the organization.

Alvin Bowen was placed on the IR early in the offseason last year after showing impressive speed and ability in OTAs. 

This year he's done the same, and Fewell stated that if Bowen was healthy last year, he most likely would've filled in for the injured Angelo Crowell, who is now in Tampa Bay. 

In a three-way battle for the position, rookie Nic Harris could be a darkhorse.

Coach Dick Jauron, when asked why he drafted so many defensive backs in this year's draft, said that in their division you can't have too many DBs. 

Corners Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin look to man the starting spots, as both are terrific ball hawks. 

The loss of Jabari Greer is a bit of a sting, but with such depth as Ashton Youboty, Reggie Corner, and veteran free agent Drayton Florence, the Bills should be OK at the position. 

Rookies fighting for a spot on the roster are Ellis Lankster and Cary Harris.

Safety is a strong spot on the team, too.  Donte Whitner, although not an Ed Reed-type player yet, knows how to find the ball in the ground game but needs to improve his ball coverage skills.

As a more rotational spot, free safety is manned by Ko Simpson, Bryan Scott, George Wilson, and rookie Jairus Byrd. 

Byrd was the Bills' second round pick this year and a ballhawk at Oregon, which is something needed by the teams defense who faces Tom Brady twice, along with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Jake Delhomme this year.

Bryan Scott took most of the snaps at free safety towards the end of last year, while Simpson and Wilson came in on primarily passing downs.  John Wendling and George Wilson are best suited as special teams players but can fill in when called upon.

The playbook can't be mapped until you can take a look at the team during training camp but expect some hybrid defenses under Perry Fewell. 

With speed on the outside, a 3-4  with Kyle Williams, Marcus Stroud, and Spencer Johnson as the front three with Aaron Maybin, John DiGiorgio, Paul Posluszny, and Kawika Mitchell manning the back four could be a possibility.

With the Bills finishing last in defense for the AFC East last year, the team has to cause more havoc in opposing backfields and cause more turnovers. 

With the addition of a healthy Schobel and Aaron Maybin to hunt down quarterbacks and Jairus Byrd to find the errant throws, both of those problems could be fixed.

For any promising unit that has improved over its past year, things can only look up for the Buffalo Bills' defense.

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