Open competition for DT slot next to Stroud (Photo Source)
Note: As Buffalo Rumblings counts down the days until the start of the Buffalo Bills' 2008 training camp (current count: 3), we'll be breaking down some of the bigger battles we're sure to witness during summer practices. We continue our Battles series by looking at the battle for the (supposedly) vacant starting DT position. Previous installments: Backup TE, Backup LT, Starting CB, Returners
As the Buffalo Bills' big-name import from the 2008 NFL off-season, defensive tackle Marcus Stroud will not only be an immediate starter, he'll be counted on as a leader from the moment he dons his new red, white and blue uniform. Who will Stroud's running mate be inside? That's the real question, and ultimately, it's a question that probably doesn't need to have a clear answer (and might not when push comes to shove). Meet the candidates for Buffalo's remaining starting DT slot...
The Slight Favorite: Kyle Williams (95)
After signing a 5-year, $14.5 million contract extension with $5.7 million guaranteed earlier this month, Williams - Buffalo's most consistent interior performer last season - seems to have the inside track at earning the honorary role of "starter" next to Stroud. An underwhelming (yet underrated) athlete, Williams has steadily improved over his first two seasons, and his aggressiveness and motor make him a disruptive force up front. A fifth-round pick in 2006, Williams has proven to be an excellent value for the Bills to this point in his career.
The One Guy Who'll Play a Lot: John McCargo (97)
Perhaps the most athletically gifted of Buffalo's interior linemen (notice I didn't say physically gifted; that honor belongs to Stroud), McCargo performed admirably in the second half of the 2007 season and seems poised to become a sparkplug for an exciting young defense this season. Entering his third season as a former first-round draft pick, McCargo - who had to watch the Bills hand out new or revamped contracts to all three interior linemen on this list besides him - might just be the most motivated guy of the bunch.
That Other Guy Who'll Play a Lot: Spencer Johnson (91)
Buffalo's other off-season import at the DT position, Johnson seems the least likely of the three candidates to start simply because he's unique from the group. The smallest and quickest of the four tackles, Johnson will likely be the most specialized; sure, he's been asked to learn both the one-tech and three-tech positions during spring practices, but if there's one tackle who should be playing mostly on passing downs, it's Johnson. He'll play a lot, and he'll even play a lot on run downs. But Johnson, unlike Stroud, Williams and McCargo, is far better suited to playing one phase of the game - which makes him last on this list.
Predicting the Winner
Ultimately, the answer to this question doesn't mean a lot. All three of these players will see significant amounts of playing time this season and are being counted on to play crucial roles in a deep, revamped front four rotation. But one of these guys will be playing more than the others, especially early in games and on early downs. For now, the answer appears to be Williams. However, ideally it will be difficult for Williams to hold off McCargo at some point this season. McCargo has elite ability, and with just a season and five games' worth of experience, it seems likely that he'll really come into his own at some point this season. When (if?) that happens, it will be impossible to deny McCargo a starting role - no matter how much the coaching staff may like Williams or Johnson.