I'd be remiss if I didn't start off an article on Buffalo Bills DE Aaron Schobel by mentioning the fact that he is, by a considerable, my favorite players to don a Bills uniform in the last decade. Football is full of prima donnas that love their camera time and coach-speak that usually wastes time; on the rare occasion that Schobel speaks with the media, however, he's blunt, honest, and extremely low-profile. I respect that about him. His indifference towards that side of the game is very endearing, particularly when considering how hard he plays when he's on the gridiron.
Unfortunately for the Bills, Schobel didn't get to spend a lot of time there during the 2008 season. After registering just one sack through the first four games of the year, Schobel suffered a Lisfranc foot injury that caused him to miss eleven games - the first games he'd missed in his eight-year NFL career. The injury eventually landed him on IR, and the Bills were without the player that had led the team in sacks in each of his first seven seasons as a pro. Needless to say, the impact was felt; Buffalo's leaders in sacks - LB Kawika Mitchell and DE Ryan Denney - registered just four each as the Bills' pass rush reached historic lows.
Schobel elected to abstain from surgical remedies to his foot; he's expected to be full go for training camp after having participated in the team's mandatory June mini-camp and most of the voluntary OTA sessions. It's nowhere near a secret that the Bills will struggle to compete in the AFC East if they cannot put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Now, more than ever, Buffalo needs a big year from Schobel if they wish to meet their playoff aspirations.
It's an unfortunate reality in the NFL that when you make a lot of money, judgments are passed about you a bit unfairly. Schobel is in the midst of playing out a seven-year, $50 million deal he signed in August of 2007. In short, he's paid like a franchise cornerstone - and, in reality, Schobel is one of the centerpieces of this franchise. But despite his consistency (registering between 6.5 and 14 sacks in each of his first seven seasons), most don't consider him the type of player around which a sturdy defense can be built. He's not a superstar. But don't blame the player - he's very good at what he does.
Simply put, Schobel is one of the best pass rushers in team history - and he's gotten there in his typical low-key way, emerging as one of the most underrated (yet simultaneously overrated... figure that one out) pass rushers in the NFL. He put up excellent statistics despite playing with little to no help from his defensive end counterparts. He's carried Buffalo's pass rush through good defensive seasons and bad. It's about time the Bills went out and got him some help, in the form of rookie DE Aaron Maybin.
Whether we want to admit it or not, Schobel is still the centerpiece of Buffalo's defense. Or, rather, he's the centerpiece figure in the most important aspect of Buffalo's defense - the pass rush. With Maybin on board, the Bills finally have two legitimate pass-rushing threats to work with. In reality, we don't need much more from Schobel than is unreasonable to expect - somewhere between 7 and 10 sacks and a whole boatload of hustle. But the idea of relying on solely Maybin in the pass rush department is, quite literally, terrifying. With Schobel, this Bills defense finally has a shot to make opposing quarterbacks think about getting rid of the ball quickly. Without him, we're right back where we ended 2008.