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Is Aaron Schobel Buffalo's most indispensable player?

Over the past few years, each individual Buffalo Bills season has passed by with the Bills failing to adequately answer two questions: can the team find a long-term answer at quarterback, and will they be able to field a potent pass rush?

While the team believes it may be on track to answering the first of those questions with QB Trent Edwards - an experiment about to enter its second full season - the Bills are still struggling to answer the pass rushing question. The team drafted DE Aaron Maybin in the first round this season, but he is now on Day 26 of his rookie holdout. Veterans Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney have spent long years in Buffalo without developing into top sack artists (though each player, it should be noted, has his uses). While the team keeps waiting for Maybin, and hopes that a young player such as Chris Ellis can fill the void, the big question in regards to the pass rush is as follows:

How much, if anything, does Aaron Schobel have left in the tank?

Schobel is entering the third year of a seven-year, $50 million extension he signed just prior to the 2007 season. He was, and remains, Buffalo's highest-paid defender (with only WR Lee Evans signing a comparable contract). Yet Schobel only has 7.5 sacks and a serious foot injury on his resume from the past two seasons. Naturally, when named Schobel the Bills' most indispensable player, a few eyebrows might have shot skyward.

Let's take a look at blurb on Schobel - penned by John P. Lopez - to break down the reasoning behind Schobel's indispensable label.

Forget Terrell Owens or Trent Edwards or any other headline-grabber for a moment. When Schobel has his health and his game, he lifts the Bills defense to higher places.

Well, he did up until the 2007 season, at least. Schobel played a healthy, full 16-game schedule that season, yet only registered 6.5 sacks as the team itself registered a mere 23. That latter figure was eclipsed by the 2008 Bills, who played nearly 12 full games without their most feared pass rusher.

Last year, he had neither, missing all but five games. And whether it was because of injury or age catching up to Schobel, he had just 7.5-sacks since 2006, after accumulating 26 sacks the previous two years.

Now's a good time to also mention that, despite the disturbingly widespread public notion that Schobel was productive on mediocre pass-rushing defense, the Bills combined for 74 sacks in 2005 and 2006. That number has since dwindled to 47 over the past two seasons. 74 seemed like an issue at the time, but I doubt you'd find a Bills fan out there who wouldn't agree to 37 sacks this season. It's a start. Schobel should get some credit for productive seasons on semi-productive defenses; this is one fact that I'm glad Lopez mentioned.

This year, Schobel appears healthier and spry.

He certainly does. I've read, seen and heard people freaking out at two pre-season games this season as Schobel has "rushed the passer," but watching him in a camp setting, he moves like he's in his prime. He's very quick. As long as he stays healthy, we'll see the same old Aaron Schobel, at least to start the season.

The younger players on the defensive side, specifically linebacker Paul Posluszny and Aaron Maybin, can learn a lot from him, if he can stay healthy all year long.

Well, Posluszny has played with him for about a year and a half now. I'm not sure how much a middle linebacker can learn from a defensive end to begin with, and I'll take Posluszny's work ethic over Schobel's any day of the week - and that's not a knock on Schobel in the slightest. As for Maybin, well... I'm sure you know where I'm going with this.

If not, well, you're probably looking at a second consecutive season of finishing in the bottom-five in sacks in the NFL.

That's probably true, and it's solid rationale for naming Schobel as the team's most indispensable player. Perhaps there are masses of Bills fans out there who happen to agree with Mr. Lopez; that's why we've got a poll going here. If you're asking me, however, Schobel isn't a Top 3 contender. In order of indispensability, I'd take QB Trent Edwards, WR Terrell Owens (both of these guys were randomly and irrationally tossed aside by Lopez, and I can't figure out why), and DT Marcus Stroud.

So I'm voting "no" in the poll. I'd love to hear more commentary from the Rumblings community on this particular subject, however. Have at it.