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State of the Bills Roster: Defensive Ends

Can Schobel still contribute in '09? (

The "State of the Bills Roster" series trucks on! If you're new around these parts within the past nine months or so, this series is an off-season progression of posts in which we'll break down Buffalo's roster in-depth. From these discussions, we'll put together a "Community Needs List" in priority order, then begin researching potential free agent and draft acquisitions that will satisfy all of the Bills' needs as we perceive them.

Hey - at least this way, we're doing the job right. Right? Unlike a certain front office we're forced to support.

And now, we continue our foray into heavy-duty off-season work at Buffalo Rumblings. It's our "State of the Roster" series, off-season mode, and we'll continue the discussions by breaking down the Bills' situation at defensive end - arguably the team's biggest weakness. This discussion should be fun....
   Previous installments: QB :: RB :: TE :: WR :: OT :: G/C
   New: Prioritized Offensive Needs List


Opening statement
When was the last time the Buffalo Bills had a consistent, aggressive, athletically gifted pass rush? You'd have to go back to the mid-to-late 1990s, when Hall of Fame nominee Bruce Smith and linebacker Bryce Paup were wreaking havoc on opposing backfields. Since then, Buffalo has statistically had some good pass rushers - Aaron Schobel chief among them - but the lack of a difference-maker at this position is painfully apparent. This, folks, is the weakest point not just of Buffalo's defense, but perhaps of its entire team.

#94 Aaron Schobel (starter)
  6'4", 243 pounds
  Age: 32 in September 2009
  Contract status: 4 years remaining (UFA after 2012); owed $37.525M in base salaries, $9.525M of which is guaranteed.
- Schobel missed three-quarters of Buffalo's 2008 campaign with a Lisfranc foot injury that couldn't heal in time for the season's stretch run. At age 32, Schobel - once a double-digit sack machine despite being a dominant pass rushing force - is thought to be slowing down significantly. He's still a guy who gives maximum effort on every play and can pick up sacks with that approach, and he's improved tremendously against the run during his career. However, he was never, in reality, a guy to build a defense around, and he's definitely not that player now. My take: Schobel can still contribute - and he'd better, considering the money he's owed - but the talent around him needs a complete face lift.

#90 Chris Kelsay (starter)
  6'4", 261 pounds
  Age: 30 in October 2009
  Contract status: 2 years remaining (UFA after 2010); owed $6.7M in base salaries.
- Ah, yes. Everyone's favorite whipping boy. Kelsay is what he is - an effort defensive end and a solid locker room guy that's limited athletically. He'll never be a difference-maker for a defense, particularly now that he's entering the stretch run of his career. His contract is no longer an issue; he only has two years remaining on the deal at relatively modest salaries. If the Bills want to cut a defensive end in order to bring in some talent at the position, Kelsay should - and likely will be - at the top of their list.

#92 Ryan Denney
  6'7", 264 pounds
  Age: 32 in June 2009
  Contract status: 1 year remaining (UFA after 2009); owed $2.4M in base salaries.
- Denney has long been lumped into the Chris Kelsay Category in terms of defensive ends amongst the Bills fan base; that should no longer be the case after Denney's solid 2008 season. Filling in for an injured Schobel, Denney became one of Buffalo's best run defenders, consistently stopping rushers in the backfield, and also tied for the team lead in sacks with four. Clearly, Denney isn't a starter in this league, but as a rotational guy, he has a lot of value. With only one year left on his deal, it's perfectly acceptable to make him a part of the team's plans at the position, particularly because his size gives the team some scheme flexibility as well.

#96 Copeland Bryan
  6'4", 240 pounds
  Age: 26 in July 2009
  Contract status: Undisclosed.
- Bryan was one of just a few surprise additions to Buffalo's opening day roster last fall, and we could have done worse than him, believe me. Still, he's a fringe player with only near-sufficient athleticism, and he's certainly not the pass rush threat we need. He'll stay with the team for training camp competition; if he's counted on for more than that, we're in serious trouble.

#93 Chris Ellis
  6'5", 267 pounds
  Age: 24 in February 2009
  Contract status: 3 years remaining (UFA after 2011); owed $1.41M in base salaries, with another $695K achievable through incentives.
- Ellis was arguably Buffalo's most disappointing rookie in 2008. Buffalo's need at defensive end was dire last off-season too (just ask Kurupt), and Ellis, by default, was the response to that need. He was inactive for much of the season, ineffective when he got onto the field, and ended the season on IR. His work ethic and motivation have been openly questioned as far back as his rookie training camp. One season is far too early to give up on any rookie, but counting on Ellis as a contributor in 2009 is incredibly risky business.

The Breakdown
Keepers: Schobel, Denney, Ellis. Schobel's contract dictates he'll be back; hopefully, he can still contribute. Denney is a solid reserve, and Ellis still has potential, though there are enough question marks to outweigh that potential at this point.

Extendables: Yeah, definitely none here.

Expendables: Kelsay, Bryan. I highly doubt I'm going to get much heat for putting these two guys here.

Questionables: None.

Goners: None.

What we need: I think this one's pretty obvious - we need a pass rusher. Also, less apparently but just as critical, we need <em>youth</em> here.  Schobel, Kelsay and Denney will all be at least 30 next season.I like effort defensive ends and hustle guys just as much as Dick Jauron, but now is the time for the Bills to add an actual athlete - or, better yet, two actual athletes - to the mix at this position. Unless the Bills can find a consistent pass rush, we've essentially reached our potential defensively - middle of the pack statistically with few big plays. Everything revolves around the pass rush. Help is swiftly needed here.

That's it. I'm done with the easy stuff. Now it's on you, folks. Should the Bills look to add multiple athletes at this position? Can we count on a rookie to solve our pass rush woes? Have any names of potential additions you'd like to throw into the ring? Have fun with this, and let's get brainstorming.