Of all the positions on Buffalo's roster, only one was totally immune to the rash of injuries that the team sustained this season. (Even the offensive line had one missed game, when tackle Jason Peters missed the season finale.) That position was defensive tackle - and surprisingly, the health that the Bills enjoyed at that position didn't help the team's cause. The Bills once again boasted one of the league's worst run defenses, and the tackles struggled to get consistent pressure up the middle on quarterbacks all season long. There is depth at the position - the team's top three tackles all can be effective on a winning football team - but like the defensive ends, there is not a dominant force at the position.
Let's break down the defensive tackles, which also is one of the thinnest positions, numbers-wise, on the roster:
Brought in to shore up this position two off-seasons ago, Tripplett has proven that he can be effective in a limited role. However, he lacks the lower body strength to stand up at the point of attack consistently while defending the run, and his lack of explosiveness has been apparent as he's made very few big plays over his first two seasons. Still, he's a consistent performer, and if the Bills lessened his role to passing downs, he could still be an important contributor up front. He also remains one of Buffalo's key defensive leaders. A valuable player; just not valuable enough.
Will Improve in '08 if - he's used even less on run downs :: it's not necessary that he starts each week
Williams was Buffalo's leading tackler at this position, finishing with 41 stops. He also recorded the first two sacks of his career and recovered a fumble as well. Like Tripplett, he's probably counted on too much in this defense - he's a guy who would excel in a situational role on run downs (and fits well in a rotation), but probably shouldn't be starting. One of Buffalo's grittiest competitors, he's far more likely to come off the bench if the Bills either promote a starter (John McCargo) or bring in help at the position.
Will Improve in '08 if - he's used more often on run downs :: he's used more rotationally than as a starter :: he's used in conjunction with a pass rusher
Towards the end of the season, McCargo really started to develop into a dominant player defensively. Yes, he's still inconsistent to the point that he can be completely erased from plays occasionally, but he also began making big plays in the backfield as well. His consistency improved as the season wore on, and he stands a good chance of starting next season. The former first-round pick took a while to develop due to an injury in his rookie season - and he's still not there yet - but the Bills may have found themselves an underrated tackle two years ago.
Will Improve in '08 if - play becomes more consistent :: he's used far more in the rotation, specifically on pass downs :: he shows a little more of a mean streak on a play-to-play basis
After the pre-season trade of Darwin Walker and a rash of injuries at defensive end, Jefferson made the '07 roster on the simple basis that he was familiar with the defensive scheme and they needed a warm body at end. As the season wore on, Jefferson worked his way into the rotation at tackle - again, mostly as a warm body to keep the top three tackles fresh. He's not ever going to wow you with big plays, and doesn't hold up well at the point of attack. He looks like a guy who would be a good reserve end in a 3-4 defense, but his days in Buffalo appeared to be numbered.
A nice talent that the Bills stashed on their practice squad until the end of the season. Mace is an undersized tackle with solid athleticism, but even if he continues to develop, he'll only ever be a low-end rotational player. He might stick around on the practice squad again next year.
Much like the defensive ends, the Bills have a core of three players who, at present, are solid, hard-working rotational players who specialize in one thing. But just as the ends lack a player with speed, power and explosion, the tackle position is missing a true run-stuffer. We're not even talking about a massive 330-pound tackle in the mold of Ted Washington; I speak specifically of a player who has the lower body strength and a little extra girth to get a push up the middle. A penetrator by sheer force, rather than athletic pass rushing moves. Whether it be via the draft or free agency, the Bills need to find this fourth, missing piece to what could be a solid rotation.
Possible additions: Power penetrating run stuffer
Possible subtractions: Jefferson, Mace