The Buffalo Bills are in the second year of a complete franchise overhaul. One of the changes being made at One Bills Drive is the transition from the Tampa 2 defensive scheme the Bills have used for the past decade to a 3-4 front.
The transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense is one of the toughest feats to accomplish in football, and often takes two to three seasons to fully complete, as was displayed last year by the lack of ability and depth on the roster. In addition, the responsibilities of each player change with the transition as well.
Under Dick Jauron and Perry Fewell, the Bills defense operated in mostly zone defensive scheme, utilizing the lighter, quicker players that are good in coverage, but the 3-4 relies on bigger and stronger players that can clog holes and make tackles.
The linebackers in a 3-4 defensive are almost as important as the three defensive linemen, as you need a pass rushing specialist, two inside backers, and a big, tough outside linebackers that can both rush the passer, and drop into coverage.
The 3-4 defensive scheme features two inside linebackers, the "Mike" and the "Will." The "Mike" linebacker is responsible for taking on blockers, plugging the holes, and creating space for the "Will" linebacker.
The "Will" linebacker is responsible for having a strong point of attack, and making tackles that the "Mike" opens up for him.
Akin Ayodele was a free agent addition last year, and the nine year veteran played well, recording 106 tackles, and forcing two fumbles. However, at 31, he is merely a stop-gap and doesn't create the penetration you look for from your inside linebacker.
Andra Davis was brought in prior to the 2010 season, due to his familiarity with the 3-4 scheme. However, he only appeared in six games due to an injury, and at 32 years of age, it's safe to say that he can be replaced soon.
Paul Posluszny was tendered by the Bills prior to the lockout, and looks to remain a member of the Buffalo Bills. In his first year playing in a 3-4 front, "Poz" racked up a whopping 151 tackles, showing just how porous the Buffalo defensive line was
Drafted as a defensive end out of James Madison, Arthur Moats was originally moved to inside linebacker, before injuries moved him outside, where he flourished, racking up 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks down the stretch. Look for the Bills coaching staff to try to move him back inside, where the 6'2" 250 pounder would flourish.
A weakside linebacker lines up on the "weak" side of the offensive line, meaning the side with less wide receivers and tight ends. The weak side linebacker's primary responsibility is to rush the passer, and reak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
The weak side linebacker is usually lighter and faster than the other linebackers, and primarily is required to cover the flats, while dealing with fewer blockers.The strong side linebacker is a difficult position to fill, as the player must be big and strong enough to stop the run, but agile enough to cover tight ends and slot receivers in passing situations.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Danny Batten out of San Diego State never got to see the field in his rookie year, as he suffered a season ending injury in training camp. Batten will most likely compete on special teams, before the 6'4" 250 pounder moves outside, where he looks to be a developmental prospect for strong-side linebacker.
After leading the SEC in sacks, Antonio Coleman went undrafted, and the Bills quickly snagged the former Auburn pass rusher to a deal. Like Batten, Coleman will need to prove himself on special teams before he gets a chance to make plays.
Keith Ellison was one of the few linebackers that made it through Coach Chan Gailey's final cuts last year, and is a solid special teams player, despite his limited reps.
Chris Kelsay was moved to outside linebacker early in the 2010 season, where he was torched early and often, especially by opposing tight ends. To thank him, the Bills front office decided to retain him, signing him to a deal upwards of $20 million.
Aaron Maybin was believed to be one player who would definitely benefit from the transition to the 3-4 front, as he was an undersized defensive end and could finally use his speed to attack the passer. However, he didn't get to see the field even on special teams, and recorded just six tackles.
The Bills signed Shawne Merriman quickly after he was placed on waivers by the San Diego Chargers. Just 26 years old, the Bills are hoping that "Lights Out" still has enough left in the tank to refurbish a career went south due to nagging injuries.
Torbor was another free agent veteran acquisition, but he knows the scheme and gives a presence of leadership in the locker room.
The Bills currently hold the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and could be eyeing Texas A&M linebacker, Von Miller, or North Carolina standout, Robert Quinn.
Both played primarily at defensive end throughout their collegiate careers, but the Bills coaching staff got to see Von Miller drop back into coverage at the Senior Bowl, and have reportedly met with him again in Buffalo for pre-draft workouts.
Quinn was suspended for the season due to violating NCAA rules regarding dealings with agents, and it is unclear how much of that time off may have affected his draft stock. Most scouts still see him as one of the better pass rushers in the draft class, despite his sobering 4.7 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine.
Martez Wilson out of Illinois is the highest rated inside linebacker, and would be a great addition next to Paul Posluszny if he were to fall to the top of the second round.
Kelvin Sheppard of Louisiana State is quietly climbing up draft boards, and if Wilson is taken in the first round, the Bills may take another look at Sheppard, or Casey Matthews of Oregon or Colin McCarthy out of Miami in later rounds.
At 6'4" 250, Wilson would be a perfect fit inside, and would allow Posluszny to focus on making plays, rather than taking on blockers.
Pending the agreement of a new collective bargaining agreement, there aren't many flashy, big-name free agents that the Bills could lure to Buffalo.
Manny Lawson of the San Francisco 49ers could be an option, as the 26 year old is familiar with playing linebacker in the 3-4 defense, as are Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett, of the San Diego Chargers.