The Buffalo Bills lost 12 games last season, and they gave up the most yards on the ground of any team in the NFL. Teams repeatedly laughed the defense off the field at games. Players were bothered by the laughing, but they never changed their performance on the field.
There are still remnants of the Dick Jauron era left with the Bills, especially on defense. The players seem to have the mentality that trying is enough, even if it results in an embarrassing loss. Head coach Chan Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix set out to change the attitude of the defense via the 2011 NFL draft with an injection of talented players who not only excel at defending the run but thrive on it.
Seven out of nine draft picks were used on defensive players. Two defensive linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs were drafted over three days to help bolster the defense on multiple fronts.
The third overall pick in the draft, defensive end Marcell Dareus, comes from the University of Alabama, a Southeastern Conference team that prides itself on stout defense under head coach Nick Saban. According to Dareus in an interview with Pro Football Weekly, “At Alabama, we stop the run first and then we defend the pass…I live for 4th-and-inches, I live for it.”
That is the kind of attitude that the Bills defense has been lacking. A big man (6’3”, 319 pounds) who wants nothing more than to keep the opposing running backs from doing anything but spinning their tires in the backfield for no gains and losses.
Also coming in with a desire to help the run defense is strong safety Da’Norris Searcy from the University of North Carolina. According to CBSsports.com’s RapidReports, Searcy had this to say: “I love (stopping the run) because I have a linebacker background…I played linebacker all through high school, so I still have a little bit of the mentality in me.”
These are players who love nothing more than doing the dirty work. Not many of the Bills on the roster have come across as enjoying doing the dirty work necessary to stop the run.
The other major attitude adjustment comes in the third-round pick, inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard from Louisiana State University. He is a big (6’2”, 250 pounds) thumper of a linebacker. He will also be mixing it up in the run game, but he brings an element of vocal leadership that this defense has lacked for some time.
The big names on the Bills defense for years have been lead-by-example guys, from defensive end Aaron Schobel to linebacker Paul Pozslusny to defensive tackle Kyle Williams. That style of leader is important, but it is also important to have the kind of player who will lead with both words and actions. Sheppard was that kind of player at LSU.
The beginning of this video from NFL.com shows what LSU thought of Sheppard as the team’s leader. The entire team took its cue from his pregame speeches. That’s the kind of leadership elite defenses have.
Look no further than Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Every game he gets his team fired up from the middle of the huddle. The Bills have lacked that. With time, hopefully Sheppard gains the respect of the rest of the Bills and can bring that same leadership to the team.
This draft for the Buffalo Bills has the potential to revamp the defense. Not only talent-wise, but these players can provide a much-needed mental edge that the defense has lacked.