This post is part of a series entitled State of the Buffalo Bills on a position-by-position basis. If you're confused about the number and letter classification appearing after each player's name, read this post. You can check out all previous installments of this series here.Roster, in which we're breaking down and evaluating the
Earlier this week, Der Jaeger helped us break down multiple defensive systems, fit defensive tackle Kyle Williams into those systems, and then anticipate how the Bills might scheme around their star defensive player. The general consensus: staying multiple in alignments can be advantageous, but the Bills need to find a way to scheme to keep their subpar linebackers clean.
Should that end up being Buffalo's goal this off-season, the Bills will need to find as many linemen capable of playing two gaps as they can. Exiting year one in which the team transitioned out of a 4-3, the majority of the Bills' defensive linemen are still better suited as one-gap defenders - including Williams. As such, if the goal is to allow more freedom (and less gap responsibilities) for the linebackers, more two-gap linemen are needed.
A quick breakdown of Buffalo's non-nose tackle defensive linemen lies after the jump.
Right now, the Bills have six interior defensive lineman types that, in a 3-4, would mostly play end in their organization.
Dwan Edwards (2-B). Signed to a four-year deal as Buddy Nix's first major free agent signing with the team, Edwards performed well individually in 2010, but did not galvanize the team's new-look defensive line as most expected him to. Which is fine; all he can do is what he can do, right? Edwards was the NFL's leading tackler among defensive linemen with a career-high 57 prior to his season-ending injury, adding a sack and an interception, as well. He enters 2011 with some rehab in front of him, but barring a setback, he'll be in the starting lineup when training camp opens.
Alex Carrington (3-D). Chan Gailey was pleased with Carrington's progress transitioning from Arkansas State to the NFL, even though that progress did not manifest itself frequently on the field of play. He is almost certain to see a significant increase in playing time entering his second season, and his development - or lack thereof - will be one of the more noteworthy developments in whether or not the Bills improve defensively next season.
Marcus Stroud (3-E). Reviews on Stroud's first pro season with George Edwards ranged from average to awful - and he still finished tied for third on the team with three sacks. Stroud has lost much of the explosion that made him a star years ago, and he might be on the verge of slipping out of "steady veteran" territory, as well. If the Bills are looking to trim fat from their roster and upgrade at a very important position, Stroud is a likely target. At the very least, a diminished role is called for.
Spencer Johnson (3-E). Had a solid year playing end and tackle in Buffalo's various schemes, making a few plays behind the line of scrimmage. Still, Johnson is a rotational player at best, and lacks the ability to stack and shed that the Bills badly need from their defensive linemen. As long as the Bills stay multiple-front, he'll have a role schematically - but most of his technique's reps would go to Williams.
John McCargo (4-F). The former first-round pick had an Aaron Maybin-esque impact, spending most weeks inactive, and barely seeing the field of play when he was up. An impending free agent, it'd take a miracle of a not-yet-known magnitude to keep him in Buffalo.
Boo Robinson (4-F). Added to the practice squad very late in the season. Beyond that, there's not a lot to say; the rookie out of Wake Forest may merit a look this spring, but that's certainly not guaranteed.
Contract situations to monitor: McCargo is a free agent (and unlikely to return), and Johnson is entering the next-to-last year of the five-year deal he signed in March of 2008. Edwards and Carrington are locked up long-ish term, and Stroud has two years remaining on the misguided (from a team standpoint) four-year, $28 million deal he signed in April of 2009.
Outlook: Right now, the Bills have a steady veteran (Edwards), a nice-looking project (Carrington) and a bunch of veteran question marks at this position. Edwards and Carrington can, and have, played two gaps - but Edwards was still utilized in a one-gap capacity frequently in Baltimore. Stroud, Johnson and the rest are better as one-gap penetrators. You see the problem: the Bills need two-gap defensive linemen; at best, they have three at the moment (Edwards, Carrington and Torell Troup).
Most fans place the blame for the team's issues defending the run on their patchwork group of linebackers, but when Edwards went down, this team did not have a single defensive lineman - aside from Williams - that could shed a block on a consistent, routine basis. Upgrades are required here, though it can certainly be argued that they're not as urgent as at other positions.
Possible Acquisition: The team has a mix of veteran and youth, but they could upgrade on the veterans, and they could use more youth. Expect a young guy - or, more likely, multiple young prospects.