Stroud being counted on to shore up interior (Photo Source)
Prior to the 2008 NFL Draft - in fact, prior to the free agent signing period of this past March - we took a look at the Buffalo Bills' roster position by position, breaking down then-current personnel, finding holes, and building our community needs list.
Now that free agency and the Draft have been completed, and the Bills have infused their roster with new talent, it's time to repeat our process. Where has Buffalo gotten better? Where have they gotten worse? How will additions impact which Bills veterans remain on the roster? These are questions that we'll attempt to answer over the next week or so.
We continue those discussions today with an examination of Buffalo's defensive tackles. To view our previous discussions on Buffalo's DT situation (pre-off-season), bang it here.
John McCargo: After a rookie season that was severely limited by injury, McCargo was healthy for all 16 games last season and made strides in his second year - despite rather limited playing time. His 2.5 sacks were good for second on the team (hear that, Chris Kelsay?), and amongst last year's Bills defensive tackles, McCargo was easily the most explosive. He has the ability to penetrate a line quickly and make explosive tackles behind the line of scrimmage; he didn't do it often last year, however, because of the lack of talent surrounding him. That's expected to change in 2008, as McCargo elevates to the starting lineup.
Kyle Williams: The most underwhelming talent of Buffalo's top four tackles - a group that will be rotated heavily this season - Williams is yet another hard-working tackle that isn't a strong athlete, but never quits. He's got some power and a nasty streak up front, but he'll need to play much more consistently if he still wants to receive substantial playing time. You can't go wrong having a guy like this on your team, but Williams is very clearly the fourth tackle on this roster.
Jason Jefferson: He's stuck with the Bills for about two and a half years at this point, and it's hard to figure out why. Injuries have kept Jefferson on the roster, and while he's very clearly not a playmaker, he rarely makes mistakes. Jefferson has an uphill battle to make this year's roster with four guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but hey - he did it last year, too. I wouldn't be shocked to see him stick as a fifth tackle, especially considering the injury histories of McCargo and Marcus Stroud.
Corey Mace: Entering his second year, Mace spent 16 weeks on the practice squad as a rookie, was elevated to the active roster for Week 17, but was inactive. He'll likely compete with undrafted rookie free agent Teraz McCray for a spot on the practice squad once again.
The Additions: Marcus Stroud, Spencer Johnson, Teraz McCray
For the first time in a very long time, the Bills' significant off-season move was to pick up a legitimate, NFL starting-caliber defensive tackle. The last time the team did that was when they acquired Ted Washington. Stroud hasn't been the "Stroud of old" for a couple of seasons now as he's dealt with injuries, but he still represents a significant upgrade over Larry Tripplett for this team. Stroud adds a dimension of power to Buffalo's interior line with the ability to play either the 1-technique or the 3-technique, but the trick for him will be to stay healthy in '08. If that happens, he'll have a good season.
Johnson, who appears to be strictly a 3-technique tackle and possibly a swing end on run downs, is a stellar athlete who is looking to emerge from the shadows of Pat and Kevin Williams in Minnesota. He is quick and explosive, and figures to see most of his time on pass downs. He'll factor into the rotation heavily, and he'll definitely give McCargo a run at the starting job next to Stroud as well. This was an excellent signing.
The Subtractions: Larry Tripplett
Signed in the off-season of 2006, Tripplett never evolved into the playmaking tackle that the team signed him to be. Granted, he wasn't awful (well, he was pretty awful against the run), but the occasional QB pressure and gift play (see: INT vs. Washington) does not a starting defensive tackle make. As a new member of the Seattle Seahawks, Tripplett will return to Buffalo in Week 1 of the '08 NFL season.
Pre-Season Outlook: Of any position on the Bills roster, defensive tackle has easily seen the biggest changes this off-season, both in terms of personnel and talent variety. By shedding Tripplett and adding Stroud and Johnson, the Bills now have four defensive tackles who can play either the 1-tech or 3-tech spots, get after the passer, and (hopefully) stop the run. This group is more athletic, more powerful, and better gifted at penetration. There's a lot riding on this group. If they're not up to the task, the team may be forced to go back to the drawing board once again. But as it stands now, a failure from this group isn't very likely. I'm excited to see this unit get on the field this fall.
Change: Power and depth.
As always, your thoughts and opinions on this analysis are welcome and encouraged in the comments section.