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State of the Roster II: Bills Defensive Ends

Schobel looking to rebound from subpar '07 season (Photo Source)

Prior to the 2008 NFL Draft - in fact, prior to the free agent signing period of this past March - we took a look at the Buffalo Bills' roster position by position, breaking down then-current personnel, finding holes, and building our community needs list.

Now that free agency and the Draft have been completed, and the Bills have infused their roster with new talent, it's time to repeat our process.  Where has Buffalo gotten better?  Where have they gotten worse?  How will additions impact which Bills veterans remain on the roster?  These are questions that we'll attempt to answer over the next week or so.

We continue those discussions today with an examination of Buffalo's defensive ends.  To view our previous discussions on Buffalo's DE situation (pre-off-season), bang it here.

Aaron Schobel: A 2007 Pro Bowl alternate, Schobel is coming off of his most puzzling season to date - Schobel has retained the respect of his peers for becoming far more consistent and a better all-around player, but it's not often that a player earns a trip to Honolulu after notching only 6.5 sacks.  Schobel is an excellent defensive end, but he can't do the job by himself.  In 2006, the left end platoon (see next two names) combined for 11.5 sacks; in '07, that number dropped to 3.5.  No wonder Schobel had trouble replicating his 14-sack '06 output.

Schobel is the Bills' best run end and their best pass rusher.  He'll need to become a much more explosive threat in 2008 if this defense is going to work, however.  He'll be able to do that if some of his running mates step up their play.

Chris Kelsay: A defensive team captain, Kelsay is statistically one of Buffalo's biggest underachievers.  Sure, he's a good player to have on a team - hard worker, tough guy, solid person, good leader.  But Kelsay's 2.5 sacks are a pitiful amount for a starting end, and his inability to rush the passer hurt Schobel's production severely last season.

Kelsay does make the occasional big play - see his tipped pass/interception for TD against the Cowboys last season as an example - but the team would be better served if Kelsay played a situational role.  He's not a starting-caliber end, especially in a Cover 2 defense, and his presence does more harm for Schobel than it helps the defense.

Ryan Denney: See Kelsay, Chris, but add two years and a serious foot injury.  Seriously, these guys could be carbon copies of each other - Denney is a smart, tough football player, and his height makes him an asset on passing downs as an inside rusher and on special teams, but he's only notched 7 sacks in the past two seasons (Kelsay, for the record, has 8 in that time span).  Denney is 30.  This may be his last season as a Bill.

Copeland Bryan: Talk about a waste of a roster spot - Bryan, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears, was acquired by the Bills prior to Week 2 last season after the team decided to release Eric Powell.  Keep in mind that this occurred while the Bills were desperately thin at end - Denney was injured, Anthony Hargrove was suspended, and reserve DT Jason Jefferson was playing end on run downs.

Bryan did not play in that Week 2 loss to Pittsburgh.  He wouldn't play a down for Buffalo until October 28, and ended up playing in a whopping two games for the Bills.  He recorded one special teams tackle in his first season in Buffalo.  Hello, Chris Ellis.

Shaun Nua: Nua is a product of the Steelers' system that spent the last month of the '07 season on the practice squad.  He's not an ideal fit for this defense at end or tackle, and he'll likely be a training camp roster casualty.

Ryan Neill: In the mold of Kelsay and Denney, Neill offers very little at the NFL level in terms of defensive end play.  He is, however, an excellent special teams player - and not just because he's the team's long snapper.  Neill struggled in the elements in his first year as the full-time long snapper, but in general, he performed pretty well in that capacity and should continue to get better.  At this point, he's a virtual lock for the roster.

The Additions: Chris Ellis
There's an unusual amount of pressure on Ellis to perform this coming season as a rookie third-round pick.  It may not be fair, but it's necessary - Ellis is by leaps and bounds the best natural athlete at defensive end on Buffalo's roster and will be counted on to be a situational pass rusher in his rookie season.  Blessed with excellent quickness and a good first step, he should make an impact early - and he's got the potential to be a top-flight starter given time to develop.  I'm really excited about this kid.

The Subtractions: Anthony Hargrove, Al Wallace
These guys won't be missed.  Hargrove is currently out of the league - he is without team and will likely be suspended for the entire '08 season after yet another substance abuse issue.  Wallace looked like he was going to be a nice veteran addition during last pre-season, but a knee injury landed him on IR and he wasn't re-signed.  The Bills will be fine without these guys on the roster.

Pre-Season Outlook: One thing is certain - even with very minor changes within this positional group, there's more healthy talent here than there was last season.  Denney has been participating in OTAs, signifying his return to full health from his foot injury, and Ellis should provide a nice energy boost - especially on pass downs, when Schobel needs the most help.  I actually like the mix of talent here - Schobel and Ellis are the pass rush guys, Kelsay and Denney are the hustle guys with grit.

If the talent here is utilized correctly, this group could be serviceable.  Not elite, but serviceable - and far better than they performed as a unit last season.  And, of course, the help brought in at other positions - specifically the two defensive tackles we acquired - should help as well.

Change: Energy internally; external help.

As always, your thoughts and opinions on this analysis are welcome and encouraged in the comments section.