Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, officially hired by the team on Thursday, has revealed that he will not be committing to one defensive scheme in his new job, instead using multiple looks within an attacking framework built specifically to highlight the talents of the players on hand.
The next logical question, of course, is this: which defenders will Pettine be building around, and which of the team's many young defenders are capable of playing specific roles? That's the question we'll open up for debate this morning. There are five players, in my opinion, that will be featured heavily in Pettine's defense next season.
It starts up front, where the team has three money makers - literally and figuratively. Mario Williams will be Pettine's top pass rusher, while Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus will also be on the field quite a bit. All three defensive linemen are players that opponents must account for the vast majority of the time, and all are players that Pettine can move around in his scheme-diverse, attacking defense.
In the secondary, Pettine has two high-quality prospects in second-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore and free safety Jairus Byrd - an impending unrestricted free agent that the team will almost certainly retain, whether via a long-term contract extension or the franchise tag. Byrd is one of the best safeties in the game, while Gilmore consistently flashed top-end coverage ability through an up-and-down rookie season.
That's five high-quality players around which Pettine can coordinate his defense. The key will be finding not just complementary players for the starting lineup, but sufficient depth to help bolster one of the league's worst defenses of the past half-decade.
Nick Barnett, who will turn 32 in May, is Buffalo's only every-down linebacker; he played nearly 92 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2012. His production slipped a bit from an excellent 2011 campaign, however, and Pettine may need to decide if Barnett is capable and worthy of maintaining that role moving forward. Without much in the way of options for that role at the moment, it's pretty safe to assume that we'll see a lot of Barnett next season - but in general, 32-year-old linebackers are not players around which a defense is built.
There are two defensive linemen that will likely be used quite a bit in rotation with the three names above: Mark Anderson is still under contract despite his disappointing, injury-shortened 2012 campaign, and defensive tackle Alex Carrington finally showed signs of progress as a wave player last season. Both are guys that Pettine will be able to use; Carrington, in particular, offers some interesting versatility for Pettine's style of defense.
In the back seven, Pettine will have five worthwhile Buddy Nix draft picks to work with. Nigel Bradham and Kelvin Sheppard could thrive in an attacking-style defense - particularly Bradham, who is an outstanding athlete - while defensive backs Aaron Williams, Ron Brooks and Da'Norris Searcy will likely get long looks as well. All of these players offer prototypical athleticism and physical measurements for their respective roles, and all have flashed some upside; Pettine has a lot of raw talent to work with in this highly unproven group.
What do you think, Bills fans? Which players do you consider building blocks for Pettine's defense, and which players would you add or subtract from the list of intriguing young defenders that Pettine and his staff will be coaching up in 2013?