The Buffalo Bills released veteran pass rusher Shawne Merriman on Monday, sparking a brand new position battle that very few saw coming: the battle for the fourth (but perhaps not final) defensive end spot on the roster.
By most accounts, Kyle Moore - a four-year veteran that appeared in the last four games of the 2011 season for the Bills - is the clear front-runner to be that fourth defensive end. The 6'6", 263-pound lineman has enjoyed a strong training camp this year, and many predicted that he'd make a push for the final roster regardless of Merriman's presence.
But GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey insist that there is more than one candidate for that spot. Two players that have received very little attention this off-season will challenge Moore (and others) for a spot on the active roster: Robert Eddins and Jarron Gilbert.
Eddins, a 6'3", 248-pound rusher in his second year out of Ball State, made Buffalo's final roster as an undrafted free agent a year ago, appearing in the season opener against Kansas City. He was eventually released and re-added to the practice squad following an injury, however.
Gilbert, meanwhile, was a player that the Bills added off of the New York Jets practice squad late in the season after injuries forced players like Lionel Dotson onto the game day roster. Always a much better athlete than football player, the 6'5", 289-pound Gilbert spent the vast majority of the off-season playing defensive tackle. He's now running with the second-team defense at right end, however, after impressing his coaches enough in spot duty at end in camp to keep him there.
In the end, Moore is still the overwhelming favorite to be the fourth defensive end on opening day, but Eddins and Gilbert are undoubtedly intriguing prospects. I'd guess that Gilbert has a better shot at sticking as an additional ninth lineman based on his end/tackle versatility if the Bills do keep nine - but he'd have to beat out a glut of young defensive tackles for that role, as well.