Buffalo Bills Roster: Depth Questions At Defensive Tackle

Matt Sullivan

The Buffalo Bills have two quality defensive tackles that play a majority of snaps, but there are still questions to be answered when it comes to depth at the position.

Unlike some of the other positional groups that we have thus far covered, the Buffalo Bills are in a pretty good situation at defensive tackle - a position we may want to re-brand as "defensive line" (as opposed to "pass rushers," which we've already covered) within the context of new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's multiple-front scheme.

The team's two interior starters, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, both played over 72 percent of the team's snaps on defense in 2012; you won't find many defensive tackle pairings around the league capable of that feat. Those two guys are fine - and Dareus still offers significant upside - but there are a few questions that the team must answer from a depth perspective to really solidify what is already a solid positional group.

Kyle Williams

  • Age: 29 (30 in June 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2016 season. Owed a $1 million roster bonus at the start of the new league year. Scheduled to make $3.85 million in base salary in 2013.

Williams' best season was in 2010, when he burst onto the scene as one of the better interior defensive linemen in the league with a Pro Bowl bid, 76 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Williams is about to go to his second Pro Bowl (again as an alternate) thanks to an impressive five-sack campaign made more so by the fact that he did it with essentially half of a functional right foot.

There's little doubt that Williams remains Buffalo's best and most consistent front seven defender when healthy. Basing his game off of speed off the ball, Williams is good for a handful of offsides penalties per year, but they're forgivable offenses within the context of his usually stellar play. While not a premier run defender, he holds his own in that regard while demanding constant attention on passing downs.

Williams is in the prime of his career, and he'll likely have two healthy ankles for the first time in a very long while when training camp begins in July. Knowing that Pettine will design an attack-first defense, you can very safely bet that Williams will be one of his favorite and most-used tools on the defensive line. He could have his best season yet in 2013.

Marcell Dareus

  • Age: 23 (24 in November 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make a fully guaranteed $2.23 million base salary in 2013.

From the outside, Dareus' 2011 campaign may look like a disappointment. While the players drafted around him in the Top 5 in 2011 emerged as bona fide super stars, Dareus' brilliance appeared only in rare flashes, and he did not improve significantly from his rookie season to year two despite an influx of defensive line talent around him.

That's not the whole story, though. Not by a country mile. Dareus' 19-year-old brother, Simeon Gilmore, was murdered the night after Buffalo's first regular season game in 2012. Dareus would admit in December that the tragedy left him in a permanent on-field funk (and off) for nearly three months, with his play only picking back up over the latter portion of the season. The numbers back it up: 3.5 of his 5.5 sacks came in that home stretch, and he was a much better run defender and a much more disruptive presence in that time frame, as well.

Still, Dareus has not yet lived up to his billing as a potential No. 1 overall pick (he went No. 3 to the Bills). It's telling that his numbers have represented Williams' best years - particularly the sack totals - yet he's still falling short of expectations. Dareus can definitely be better, but perhaps the problem is the level of expectation. Dareus is the best young prospect on the roster, however - and a new, more aggressive scheme may allow him to finally reach his full potential in 2013.

Alex Carrington

  • Age: 25 (26 in June 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2013 season. Scheduled to make $575,000 in base salary in 2013.

There were some that believed Carrington wouldn't even make the team heading into the 2012 season (I had those doubts), but Carrington emerged as a reliable wave player last season. He's still not playing a lot (31.43 percent of snaps), but he's proven he can be an effective interior pass rusher in that role. Carrington is versatile enough to be a valuable reserve in a multiple-front defense, and given his kick-blocking prowess, he's got lasting value to the team. He'll be back next season; how much he plays defensively will be up to the new coordinator.

Spencer Johnson

  • Age: 31 (32 in December 2013)
  • Contract: Unrestricted Free Agent

Surpassed by Carrington as the top interior reserve last season, Johnson struggled with a couple of minor injuries and did not have much of an impact - which can also be said of his full five-year career as a Bill. With a new coordinator coming in with a new scheme, Johnson - an impending free agent - may be looking for work elsewhere come March.

Torell Troup

  • Age: 24 (25 in June 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2013 season. Scheduled to make $575,000 in base salary in 2013.

It's been a strange (and mostly depressing) three-year run for this former second-round draft pick. After a so-so at best rookie season, Troup has appeared in just five games in the last two years with well-documented back issues that ultimately led to a surgery last year. Now purportedly healthy, Troup will be back in camp next summer to compete for a role as a two-gap run plugging reserve in Pettine's defense - but given his injury history, it's hardly a comforting thought to think that the team may need to rely on Troup for that role.

Jay Ross

  • Age: 25 (26 in October 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2013 season. Scheduled to make $480,000 in base salary in 2013.

Ross played just eight snaps last season while flip-flopping between the practice squad and the active roster a couple of times. It's clear that he's not in the team's long-term plans at the position, but could come back for another shot in camp.

Jarron Gilbert

  • Age: 26 (27 in September 2013)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $630,000 in base salary in 2013.

After making some waves as a defensive end during pre-season play, Gilbert was ultimately released and added to the practice squad, where he spent the entire season. Now out of practice squad eligibility, Gilbert was signed to a reserve/future deal, and the intriguing athlete will get another look in Pettine's defense this summer.

Corbin Bryant

  • Age: 25
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

Signed after Pittsburgh (surprise!) released him last season, Bryant spent the latter part of the season on the practice squad and was signed to a reserve/future deal in early January. The 6'4", 300-pound end-tackle 'tweener will get a look next summer alongside Gilbert, in all likelihood.

Free agency outlook: Johnson is the only player whose contract is up, and as the eldest player of the group, it seems more likely than not that he's wrapped up his career as a Bill after five largely uneventful seasons. Unless the team pursues Mike DeVito, a Williams-like player that played for Pettine in New York, it seems likely that the Bills will focus on larger areas of need in free agency.

2013 NFL Draft outlook: Don't be surprised if the Bills look seriously at acquiring a two-down, two-gap interior run stuffer in the middle portions of this year's draft. That's a role player that the team desperately needs, especially as they transition into Pettine's multi-front defense, and it's a role that the team would be foolish to reliably hand to Troup without serious competition. It would, however, be fairly surprising if they picked one early, given the investments made in their top two players inside.

Discussion topics: As always, we've got two position-specific questions for the community to mull over as discussion starters for the comments section.

  • What level of expectation are you placing on Dareus entering year three?
  • How comfortable (or uncomfortable) would you be if Troup played an important depth role for the team in 2013? Should the team try to upgrade his spot?
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