One of - if not the - biggest questions heading into the 2007 season for the Buffalo Bills is whether or not the Bills' young defense will be good enough to stop the run and keep the team in games. That question mark has grown in size over the past couple of weeks, first with the suspension of Anthony Hargrove, then with the broken foot of Ryan Denney.
The veteran reserve end, who was expected to receive a lot of playing time this coming season at both end and tackle, broke a bone in his foot in the first quarter of Friday night's pre-season contest. Denney was a big contributor to the 2006 defense, platooning with Chris Kelsay to form a solid two-headed monster at the left end position; Kelsay and Denney were both stout performers against the run and combined for 11.5 sacks. Head Coach Dick Jauron was quoted after the game:
The injury is a huge blow to the depth of the defensive line - arguably the most important position in the team's Cover-2 defensive scheme, where quarterback pressure is put at a premium. With Hargrove already out for the first four games on an illegal substance suspension, the Bills are suddenly woefully thin behind starters Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay. Jauron did not rule out addressing the position with a player or two from outside the organization.
If that is the case, and the Bills do explore their options outside of the organization, which players are likely to be targeted? There are four players who are pretty prominent names that, despite not having teams or wanting out of their current situations, would be pretty good fits in Buffalo. They are:
Simeon Rice: The veteran lineman has played in a Cover-2 scheme for a long time in Tampa Bay and was once heralded as a premiere pass rusher in the league. But he has had injury issues the past few seasons, was released outright by the Buccaneers and will likely command a salary that is out of Buffalo's price range. He's a tantalizing name, but nothing more than that - he's got "buyer beware" written all over him. Tennessee and the NY Giants have been the main suitors for Rice's services to this point.
Grant Wistrom: The retired former Ram and Seahawk is the favorite of Chris Brown, who vouched for a possible Wistrom signing in his blog. Wistrom has struggled with leg injuries throughout his career and has lost a lot of the speed that made him a very good player for a few years. Wistrom is currently coaching high school football, and it might take a lot to get him to give up that role.
Marcellus Wiley: A player that is familiar to most Bills fans, Wiley has spent the last two seasons in Jacksonville as a reserve. It has been a long time since the veteran was an effective pass rusher, though he could be an OK addition as a run defender. Wiley is likely too banged up and old for the Bills to seriously consider him.
Alex Brown: Brown, who currently resides on the Bears' roster under Lovie Smith, requested a trade earlier in the off-season. It has been literally three months with no activity on the Brown front, but really - would it hurt to give the Bears a call? Chicago already has two great pass rushers in Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson, which could make Brown expendable at the right price via trade. Brown has played his entire career in the Cover-2 defense and could bring a much-needed pass-rushing element to the Bills, but who knows if the Bears are even willing to part with the young veteran?
In the end, a move for a name as prominent as the four mentioned above is unlikely at best. My best guess as to what will happen? The Bills will keep four defensive ends (Schobel, Kelsay, Eric Powell and C.J. Ah You) and stash Corey Mace - who has experience at both tackle and end - on the active roster as well until Hargrove returns from suspension. When that happens, they will release Mace, stash him on the practice squad and keep five ends until Denney returns (unless his injury is so bad he ends up on IR, which unfortunately is still a possibility).
But don't rule out a possible move either. The Bills have always been short an impact defensive end other than perhaps Schobel; now seems like the perfect opportunity to go out and get one. Let's hear your thoughts on this one, Bills fans.