As Buffalo Bills training camp creeps ever closer (it begins in just 25 days at St. John Fisher College), Bills fans are still trying to get a handle on the team's roster as the battles for 53 spots on the team begin. In particular, the attempt to figure out where battles might take place on the defensive side of the football has been a struggle thanks to the vague, versatility-based concepts of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Kyle, a Buffalo Rumblings reader, submitted the following question to me for this week's Friday Bills mailbag post (which you are still encouraged to do via email); I'm breaking it out into its own post because it is sufficiently involved to warrant a bigger discussion. Kyle's question reads as follows: "Brian, is there a simpler way to try to understand how Pettine will use personnel? For example, he's not going to concentrate on keeping a specific number of strong-side linebackers, right? For a defense that harps on versatility, that would seem too specific to me. How do you think he breaks up the personnel in his scheme?"
What I believe Kyle is driving at (and I hope he's here to correct me if I'm wrong) is a method of splitting up the Bills' 41 defenders into groups. Because of the type of defense Pettine is installing, the best way to go about doing this, in my opinion, is to have the fewest number of groups possible. I can't tell you how Pettine and his assistants view it, because I obviously have no idea, but this is my method.
When you get down to brass tacks, there are really five functional groups in this type of defense: linemen, pass rushers, linebackers, corners and safeties. Easy. The flexibility of the scheme may force players within those specific headings to wear other hats on occasion, or to do slightly different things within that group - pass rushers will occasionally play linebacker (but may also line up on the defensive line), linebackers may line up on the weak or strong side, and safeties may drop down and play corner - but for the most part that's the easiest way to split the players up.
This is how I view Buffalo's defenders as training camp approaches. Within the five positional groups, I've listed the players by the order in which I believe they rank with the pre-season on the horizon. There are plenty of battles to ensue and a lot of sub-package roles to define and flesh out, but if you're looking for a quick and dirty way to get a handle on what Buffalo's depth chart looks like - and potentially how many at each position could be kept - this is a method that has worked for me.
My questions for everyone this morning: do you agree/disagree with the placements of certain players, and how many at each position do you anticipate the Bills will keep? Have at it.