Last season, the Buffalo Bills finished with 37.5 team sacks - amongst the most dominant team pass rushes in the league. Why, then, are people worried about a defensive pass rush that has seen little in the way of personnel changeover? Simple - the stats lie. Other than Aaron Schobel's 14 sacks, no other defensive end on the roster finished with more than 6. That's quite the drop-off for a position that will need to be even more effective this coming season.
Like it or not, Buffalo's front four - especially the defensive ends (and by extension, the pass rush) - will be the lifeblood of Perry Fewell's defensive scheme. With a linebacking corps and defensive backs that are anything but experienced, the onus will be on our defensive ends to provide both playmaking and leadership. That's a tall order for players that have done little to evoke confidence in the Bills' fan base.
Dick Jauron and Fewell like to rotate their defensive linemen - this is a good philosophy, as it keeps players fresh and wears down opposing offensive lines. Buffalo has four dependable players at the position, but they need to step up their game. Our ends will be unleashed - their goal will be to disrupt the running game and get after the quarterback. That's the long and short of it. The big question: is Buffalo's defensive end personnel talented enough to actually do that?
94-Aaron Schobel: One of two Bills to make the Pro Bowl last season, Schobel is by far the most consistent pass-rush threat on the roster. He will need to continue to be effective while becoming more consistent. Schobel has always been a player that explodes in one or two games for 2 or 3 sacks; the team needs him to be a guy that play after play can at least get in the quarterback's face.
90-Chris Kelsay: His 5.5 sacks in 2006 did not seem to warrant the 4-year, $23 million deal he signed this off-season. Yet the coaching staff loves Kelsay - he's the hardest of workers, gives maximum effort and is pretty consistent against the run. But he needs to do more - he needs to become the consistent edge rusher from the left side that the team expected when they drafted him. If he can do that, it will help out Schobel as well.
92-Ryan Denney: Denney finished second on the team with six sacks, but those numbers are skewed - he had three of them in Week 2 against the Dolphins. Denney is used as an end on rush downs and as a tackle on pass downs, so he sees a lot of action. Expect him to be used similarly this season.
93-Anthony Hargrove: Of the four defensive ends expected to make the roster, Hargrove is the Bills' "wild card". He's still very young (he'll turn 24 prior to training camp while entering his fifth year in the league), so his upside is still high. If he can become a situational pass rusher that excels at getting after the quarterback, this group could be devastating.
Rounding it out: Eric Powell, C.J. Ah You, Ryan Neill. If Hargrove struggles, any of these three could steal his final spot. My bet is on Ah You, a rookie that Marv Levy likes a lot. Powell is sort of a forgotten man, but he was on the active roster all last season.
The position is deep. The players are motivated and work hard. But improvement must be made, or this defense could be a ship that sinks quickly. The pressure is on Schobel to become an even more dominant threat. The pressure is on Kelsay to become Schobel's complement and earn his big payday. This is the most important position of the 2007 Bills defense - time will tell if the players can live up to the pressure.