Regime change in the National Football League is many things to many different people. For fans, seeing their favorite team begin anew is both cathartic and challenging to one's patience. To ownership, it's pretty similar. With coaches, it's all about the opportunity to not only build a team from scratch and try to build a consistent winner, but about making a name for yourself as well.
It's very different for players. Take the current Buffalo Bills, for instance. Buddy Nix is the new GM, while Chan Gailey is the new head coach. The team will be making massive changes on both sides of the ball, particularly defensively, where they're switching to the 3-4 alignment. With those changes, many players could quickly be out of jobs. Bills players such as Chris Kelsay, Kyle Williams, John McCargo and others may be released or see their roles change drastically under the new regime. Many more players are in the same boat.
However, the inverse is true as well. The new regime is looking to build this Bills team from the ground up, and many as-yet-unproven Bills players will have an opportunity to establish themselves favorably with Gailey, Nix and the new way of things at One Bills Drive. All five players we'll list after the jump play at positions which the new regime will likely address with new talent this off-season. But all five are likely to stick around, and if any one of them turns into a good player worthy of starting at this level, it'll make the new regime's job a heck of a lot easier.
OLB Aaron Maybin. He suffered through a slow rookie season in which he didn't get much playing time, and when he did see the field, he was handled with relative ease by opponents. With the switch to the 3-4 defense, Maybin will be moving from traditional defensive end to outside linebacker, where he'll get more favorable blocking matchups while rushing the passer, but also be asked to play in space more as a cover player. Maybin has the raw athleticism to handle the position, but he's got a long way to go in the experience and technique departments. If Maybin begins to realize his vast potential in 2010, Buffalo will have a true centerpiece to their 3-4 defensive attack.
OT Demetrius Bell. Anointed the team's starting left tackle after the pre-season failings of Langston Walker, Bell made eight starts protecting the blind side a year ago while dealing with various injuries. His 2009 season ended with a knee injury. After the retirement of Brad Butler, Buffalo is woefully thin depth-wise at tackle. It is a position that the team absolutely must address this off-season, and there's a chance they could do it via free agency and the NFL Draft. Still, Bell - and second-year man Jamon Meredith is in the same boat - has some solid raw physical tools, and if he can emerge as a viable starting option once again (whether at left or right tackle), it'll certainly help Gailey assemble his offensive line.
WR James Hardy. If people think Maybin was invisible early in his career, meet Mr. Hardy. Through two seasons as an NFL receiver, Hardy has a whopping 10 catches for 96 yards, though he does have two touchdowns to his credit. He spent most of the 2009 season on the inactive list, only seeing the active roster later on in the year. With Terrell Owens and Josh Reed listed as unrestricted free agents, there's a chance the Bills could be looking at a youth movement at receiver while they address other, more important positions with talent. Lee Evans is locked in as a starter, obviously, but if both Owens and Reed depart, we'll likely see a competition for the other starting spot. It would be lovely if Hardy, a second-round pick in 2008, emerged as the lead candidate for that spot as he enters his third NFL season.
QB Trent Edwards. Yes, Mr. Edwards makes this list. Of every player on this list, Edwards plays the one position which I believe Nix and Gailey will seek to address first; I don't think either believes a franchise signal-caller resides on the roster. But I also don't believe that Nix and Gailey will bring in any old player at the position, either; if they can't find "their guy" this off-season, they might decide to build up elsewhere and go with the status quo at quarterback for a year. That would be a golden opportunity for Edwards, entering his fourth year out of Stanford, to re-insert himself as the team's starting quarterback. The talent that allowed him to show flashes of high-level competence early in 2008 is still there. Gailey might give him a chance to prove that he has what it takes.
NT Lonnie Harvey. I'm certain that there are still Bills fans out there who don't even know who the heck this Lonnie Harvey character is. He's a 6'3", 342-pound space-eater out of Morgan State who spent time with Carolina last year as a rookie before being signed to Buffalo's practice squad. At 23, Harvey is a young unknown, but the team's switch to the 3-4 under defensive coordinator George Edwards has provided this unknown with a golden opportunity. Nose tackles aren't exactly easy to come by, and even when you have one, they're not every-down players, so depth is usually an issue. Harvey is the only defensive lineman currently under contract with the Bills with the size and strength to man a two-gap nose tackle position. That probably won't ring true in a month or two if Nix or Gailey have anything to say about it, but the fact remains the same - Harvey has a shot to impress this coaching staff, and if he does, he could be in line for a lot more playing time at nose tackle than anyone expects.