Stroud will be counted on as leader in '08 (Photo Source)
Leadership may be a bit of a cliche when it comes to discussing NFL rosters, but the fact of the matter is that good NFL teams have good leaders. Whether that leadership comes in the form of coaching, star quarterbacks or even punters, NFL rosters these days are so full of young players that it takes a certain type of leadership structure to get the most out of that inexperienced talent. Just look at how the leadership of the 2007 New York Giants milked outstanding play out of several rookies en route to their Super Bowl championship.
With one of the youngest rosters in the league, where does Buffalo's leadership come from? That's the question we'll attempt to answer this morning. Due to the youth of the roster, especially at key positions, Buffalo's roster leadership structure is slightly different than those of teams like the Patriots and Colts, who have natural leaders at the quarterback position. The Bills have players that they rely on, but each goes about his leadership duties in different manners.
Locker Room Leaders
Being a team built on high-character standards, the Bills have a locker room full of hard workers that are relentless on the football field (even if those types of players aren't routinely spectacular on the field). But even amongst this group, there are players that stick out. OT Jason Peters is a former undrafted free agent who has worked himself into a Pro Bowl left tackle (hear that, Marshall Faulk?). That fact, coupled with his work ethic, make him a role model for Buffalo's younger players.
Punter Brian Moorman and defensive end Chris Kelsay were both team captains last year and figure to serve in that capacity again. Moorman has been one of the NFL's elite punters for multiple seasons at this point, making him a leader by example (though he could stand to regain some consistency in '08). Kelsay is a classic blue-collar worker who is on the field simply because of his hustle. Sure, we as Bills fans would like to see more statistical production out of him, but those types of players earn the admiration of their teammates. Kelsay is looked up to.
Models of Consistency
Any player that performs well week in and week out, especially statistically, becomes a leader by default. Last year, then-rookie running back Marshawn Lynch became that player for Buffalo's offense. Despite having to play in games where he was literally the only source of offensive yardage for his team, Lynch never rushed for fewer than 63 yards in a game - and that came in a Week 2 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lynch will need to be as consistent in '08 as he was in '07, all the while increasing statistical production. That's a tall task.
Defensively, Buffalo's model of consistency is linebacker Angelo Crowell. He's not the league's best linebacker, and he has off days, but in general, Crowell was Buffalo's best defender last year. Entering the final year of his contract, Crowell's production is expected to increase and become even more consistent as he plays for a new deal. That may sound selfish on the surface, but if he plays well, it helps out young Bills defenders, specifically Paul Posluszny.
These types of players are the guys who are either the "big play" guys, or the guys you see romping up and down the sidelines and on the field, jawing at opponents and teammates alike and getting the crowd fired up. The prior, in Buffalo's arsenal, is wide receiver Lee Evans. The Bills need more out of their top receiver production-wise, but if the team is looking for a big play, they're targeting Evans. Defensively, the "ra ra" guy is strong safety Donte Whitner, another player that needs to up his production in '08. Both Evans and Whitner are elite talents, but neither made many big plays last season. When these guys are on - both in the leadership department as well as making plays on the field - the Bills are going to be very difficult to beat. Evans and Whitner hold the keys to Buffalo's offense and defense, respectively.
Buffalo's return specialists will be counted on to provide big plays and team energy this season as well. Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish have done that for the better part of three seasons as one of the elite return duos in the league. Adding a third explosive returner in top draft pick Leodis McKelvin only adds to the big-play potential of Buffalo's return units; this unit will be incredibly difficult for opposing teams to game plan against, and these three guys have to make big plays to help out the team's developing offense.
Ultimately, considering the style of football the Bills play offensively and defensively, the Bills are going to have to rely on guys in the clutch. The Bills will be playing a lot of close games - just like they did in '07 - and they'll need excellent play from two players in particular to win those tight games. Defensively, that player is Marcus Stroud - as the "big-name" addition being billed as the guy who will save Buffalo's defense, he'll ultimately shoulder the glory or the blame in tight situations.
You didn't think I'd go an entire leadership post without mentioning quarterback, right? Trent Edwards, as a second-year starting quarterback, likely won't be asked to shoulder all of the leadership responsibilities of this team - yet. He needs to concentrate on scoring touchdowns first. But in those close games, no matter if your quarterback's name is Brady or Rob Johnson, quarterbacks must perform. Edwards showed flashes of an ability to perform in the clutch last season in a win at Washington and a near-miss on a desperate final drive in Cleveland. He needs to improve by leaps and bounds in this area. But like Stroud, he'll ultimately shoulder the responsibility in late-game situations.
Buffalo has a wide-spread and varied leadership tree on their roster. Whether that structure leads to more wins, however, remains to be seen.