With the news today that the Buffalo Bills signed free agent inside linebacker Nick Barnett, the defense is starting to come together for training camp. Gone from last camp are defensive end Marcus Stroud, inside linebacker Paul Posluszny,and strong safety Donte Whitner. Outside linebacker Reggie Torbor is now inside as a backup.
All but Whitner are being replaced by players that did not start the 2010 season on the Bills roster. Whitner’s replacement is one of the ultimate team players in George Wilson. Started as an undrafted wide receiver, made the switch to safety at the coaching staff’s request under Dick Jauron and has shown ability as a playmaker in time as a special teamer, reserve safety and occasional starter. It’s nice to see him getting a chance to be opening day starter, but he will have to hold off Bryan Scott and rookie Da’Norris Searcy. It is no question he has earned this chance through hard work and a willingness to do whatever the team asks him to do.
Torbor’s replacement at outside linebacker is former Pro-Bowler Shawne Merriman. He joined the Bills as a waiver pickup during last season and injured his Achilles tendon during his first practice. The injury concerns are very real with him, though he has made it through a full practice without any problems and says he is 100 percent healthy and feels good. If he can stay healthy and return to even close to his Pro-Bowl level, he will provide a huge upgrade at the position.
Posluszny is replaced by former Green Bay Packer Nick Barnett. He also has injury concerns, having landed on injured reserve two of the last three seasons. However, in all his seasons where he’s played 16 games (six of them since 2003, including his rookie year), he has tallied 100-plus tackles. He is now the best linebacker the Bills have in coverage which is a huge boost. He brings scheme diversity, having played in the 4-3 under current Bills outside linebackers coach and former Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, as well as the 3-4 under current Packers coordinator Dom Capers.
Stroud’s replacement is the lone rookie on the list (unless you count the possibility of Searcy starting week one), Marcell Dareus out of the University of Alabama. The third-overall pick in this year’s draft, Dareus is a big, agile defensive lineman who can play multiple positions along the line, including the five-technique defensive end in the 3-4. Stroud was a great player and a good pickup for the Bills when they ran the 4-3. However, he was not a 3-4 defensive end and struggled mightily at that position. Dareus represents a big upgrade at the position which should help the run defense considerably.
The Bills defense has a long way to go, but there is no question that the moves made this offseason are significant steps in the right direction. Remember, these four changes are simply the changes that have happened so far. There is certainly time for further changes to occur throughout training camp and the season.