Analyzing Buffalo's New Defense, Part One: The Current Players

Greg Haefner@@ghaefSenior Analyst IMarch 30, 2010

MIAMI - 2007:  George Edwards of the Miami Dolphins poses for his 2007 NFL headshot at photo day in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Getty Images)
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While the coaching staff overhaul for the Buffalo Bills this offseason may be highlighted by the hiring of new head coach Chan Gailey, perhaps the hiring with the most impact will be that of new defensive coordinator George Edwards.

As many Bills fans had speculated after Gailey's hiring, Edwards stated that his defense will be running out of a 3-4 base this season. That transition greatly influenced Buffalo's free agent signings, and will no doubt have a heavy influence on the moves the team makes when the draft rolls around next month.

But before we talk about the draft, we first need to look at the effect this switch will have on the current players on defense. I'll be breaking down what this switch means for starters from last year's defense, new free agent signees, and players who might unexpectedly be looking for work before the 2010 season starts.

And so, I think it is only appropriate that we start with last year's starters, and what roles they might find themselves in this year.

Note: The secondary will not be addressed as the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 only affects the front seven.

Aaron Schobel

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2009 Position: Starting Defensive End

2010 Projected Position: Starting Outside Linebacker

Analysis: Aaron Schobel's role in the 2010 Buffalo Bills is somewhat of an enigma right now. Schobel is taking his time deciding if he wants to return to football or retire, and while his numbers certainly suggest that he has plenty left in the tank (43.5 sacks over the past five years), he seems to be tired of always being part of a rebuilding team without ever tasting success.

Should he come back, Schobel will be a starter once again and a key component of Buffalo's defense. But if he should choose to retire, then the next player on this list could be in line for an increased role.

Chris Kelsay

2009 Position: Starting Defensive End

2010 Projected Position: Reserve Outside Linebacker

Analysis: Chris Kelsay has been somewhat of a disappointment for the Bills since he was drafted, always being a satisfactory starter and nothing more. He is coming of a career year in which he posted 62 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble.

With Aaron Maybin likely locked in as one of the starting outside linebackers in Buffalo's 2010 defense, Kelsay's role figured to hinge on Aaron Schobel's decision. Should Schobel retire, Kelsay is likely going to be a starter. Should Schobel keep playing, Kelsay will likely be relegated to a reserve role. His roster spot seems safe due to Buffalo's lack of depth at the outside linebacker position.

Marcus Stroud

2009 Position: Starting Defensive Tackle

2010 Projected Position: Starting Defensive End

Analysis: Marcus Stroud might be the player making the easiest transition on the Bills' defensive line. Stroud is a natural fit as a three-technique end at 6'6" and 310 lbs. He should be locked in as a starter at one of the defensive end spots, possibly playing some nose tackle on obvious passing downs.

Kyle Williams

2009 Position: Starting Defensive Tackle

2010 Projected Position: Rotational Nose Tackle/Defensive End

Analysis: Kyle Williams is another player with a tough role to figure out. As Chan Gailey has stated multiple times this offseason, he is going to do everything he can to get Williams on the field because he is a very good player.

At what position Williams sees time, however, remains to be seen. Gailey has suggested that he thinks Williams could handle nose tackle duties if needed, despite his measurements being substantially smaller than average for the position (6'1", 306 lbs). Williams is likely to be rotated in at each position, as Gailey looks to get possibly his most talented lineman as many snaps as possible.

Kawika Mitchell

2009 Position: Starting Outside Linebacker

2010 Projected Position: Reserve Inside Linebacker

Analysis: Kawika Mitchell, coming off of a torn quadriceps, projects to compete for a starting job this offseason with newly acquired free agent Andra Davis. While Mitchell has been a very good player for Buffalo the past two seasons, Davis may have the upper hand because he is more well versed in the 3-4 system. At the very least, Mitchell will provide solid depth at the inside linebacker position this year.

Paul Posluszny

2009 Position: Starting Middle Linebacker

2010 Position: Starting Inside Linebacker

Analysis: Paul Posluszny is likely very excited about the move to a 3-4 defense. Playing inside linebacker in the 3-4 system at Penn State, Posluszny was able to become the Nittany Lions' all-time leading tackler.

Now, Posluszny has a chance to return to his natural position after being in a 4-3 for his first three years in the league. Posluszny was highly effective as a middle linebacker last year, amassing 111 tackles in 12 games, and should be even more efficient this year as he returns to his natural position.

Keith Ellison

2009 Position: Starting Outside Linebacker

2010 Position: Reserve Inside Linebacker

Analysis: Keith Ellison is the most likely starter from the 2009 season to be looking for a new team before the 2010 season starts. Undersized to even play outside linebacker in a Cover-2 defense, Ellison has no place in Buffalo's new 3-4 scheme. The staff will likely see if he can be effective at inside linebacker in training camp, but more likely than not he will see his name on the list in the first wave of cuts.

Those are the starters from last season who may have new roles this year, but what about players on the roster who were not in the Bills starting lineup last year that could move into starting roles this year? There are a couple new free agent signees and one reserve player from last year who should not surprise you if you see their names on top of the depth chart once the 2010 seasons begins.

Aaron Maybin

2009 Position: Reserve Defensive End

2010 Projected Position: Starting Outside Linebacker

Analysis: Aaron Maybin had a lot to live up to as the No. 11 pick in the 2009 draft last year. Sadly, 18 tackles and zero sacks will not exactly satisfy fans. Maybin was viewed as raw and undersized for a 4-3 defensive end coming out of Penn State as a redshirt sophomore.

But in Buffalo's transition to a 3-4, Maybin will get to play a position he looks like a more natural fit for as a rush linebacker. Maybin should be penciled in as a starter, and will likely be able to hold off Chris Kelsay with a full offseason under his belt. If Aaron Schobel retires, then Maybin should be considered a lock for one of the outside spots.

Andra Davis

2009 Position: Starting Inside Linebacker (Denver Broncos)

2010 Projected Position: Starting Inside Linebacker (Buffalo Bills)

Analysis: Andra Davis is a productive run-stuffing inside linebacker who has played in a 3-4 defense his entire career. Davis will likely win his competition with Kawika Mitchell to be Buffalo's other starting inside linebacker next to Paul Posluszny due to his wealth of experience, and should help make the Bills' transition to their new defense a relatively smooth one.

Dwan Edwards

2009 Position: Starting Defensive End (Baltimore Ravens)

2010 Projected Position: Starting Defensive End (Buffalo Bills)

Analysis: Dwan Edwards, like Davis, has been in the 3-4 his entire career, playing extensively at end and also at nose tackle on obvious passing situations at times. Edwards will be penciled in as a starter at defensive end across from Marcus Stroud and should have no problem keeping that job. He will be another player who will help ease Buffalo's transition to their new defense.

Later this week, I'll look at how the defensive switch is shaking up Buffalo's 2010 draft plans.

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