On any given Sunday last season, be it wheelchair or walker, my grandfather could have gained 100 yards on the Bills. Some may see this as an accomplishment. For the Bills, it’s a problem.
In Part One of my series, I addressed offensive identity. In part two, we discuss the defensive line, an area that was addressed significantly in the offseason.
There aren’t too many people who can ever say that they've acquired 1,000 pounds of anything, but Russ Brandon and Tom Modrak did just that in the offseason. The Bills happily acquired 1,000 pounds of speed, strength, and muscle on the defensive line.
Ryan Denney, a primary backup at end, was injured early last season, and the Bills were left with three healthy defensive ends: Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay, and Anthony Hargrove.
With Hargrove rotating in to spell both Schobel and Kelsay, the rotation proved too thin. The Bills tried to add talent throughout the season, but the talent they added was weak, and Schobel and Kelsay were heavily relied upon, and neither could produce up to their contracts or fans expectations.
While Denney has come back healthy, Hargrove, who was an average player anyway, wrote his ticket out of town on a substance-abuse suspension. It became very clear, very quickly that a fourth defensive end was needed.
Enter third-round pick, Virginia Tech’s Chris Ellis. Used at VT as both an outside linebacker and a rushing end, Ellis’s best asset is his speed, which the Bills plan to utilize on third downs, as a situational pass-rusher, and to spell a starter when needed.
Similarly, DT’s John McCargo and Kyle Williams played much of last season with only the departed and undersized Larry Triplett as their other main rotation partner. As the season wore on, the three-man rotation proved costly and, similarly to the DE situations, all three players wore down.
Again, the Bills saw the need and made two big upgrades in signing free agent Spencer Johnson and trading for Marcus Stroud. Johnson and Stroud add massive bulk to the young blossoming duo already on the team.
Stroud, a hulking beast of a player, is an injury risk, but when healthy, he has been to Hawaii—for Pro Bowls, as elected by his peers, not just for vacation. The Bills haven’t had a player the caliber of Stroud’s ability and strength since Pat Williams and Ted Washington left the team.
Johnson spent his career in Minnesota, and has a unique combination of strength, size, speed, and agility. Johnson brings the ability to play all four positions on the defensive line and is seen as another vital cog to the Bills' renewed commitment to stopping the run.
Johnson can rotate into the tackle positions for critical run-plays and short-yardage plays.
Don’t be surprised to see Johnson line up at end instead of one of the smaller DEs. 4th-and-2, facing 286-lbs. Johnson, 310-lbs. Stroud, 307-lbs. McCargo, and 265-lbs. Ryan Denney is a lot more imposing than a 275-lbs. Larry Triplett and a 245-lbs. Schobel or Kelsay of last season.
Bill Kollar, the Bills' Defensive-Line Coach, has stated that this new depth and talent will allow this line to be fresh and a force that they weren’t allowed to be last season. The "Tampa 2" defense the Bills run is based on intelligent players making proper decisions about the offensive play being run, then filling the correct space in the field. If all 11 players do not do this, the offense can capitalize.
The ability to always have fresh legs and to overpower the offensive line is critical, as the new rotation is expected to create pressure on their own during the pass and hold the line on their own during the run. This will allow the back seven to commit to coverage or pursuit, instead of pressure.
Less blitzing is considered the most important part of the newfound depth, as a read mistake can be covered by another player more quickly and either capitalized upon by the defense for a turnover or stopped more quickly for a smaller gain.
This change should remove the Bills from the 100-yard weekly club, and hopefully should increase their turnovers, eliminate long drives against them, and give the offense more opportunities as well.
For the Bills, it couldn’t look any better. Unfortunately for my grandfather, he may have to find a new defense to train against.