This post is part of a series entitled State of the Bills Roster, in which we're breaking down and evaluating the Buffalo Bills on a position-by-position basis. If you're confused about the number and letter classification appearing after each player's name, read this post. You can check out all previous installments of this series here.
The nose tackle position in Buffalo is rather difficult to get a read on. The team was not able to employ a base 3-4 defense in 2010 based on lack of personnel suitable to the scheme, and by the end of the season, the Bills were mixing in just as much - if not more - 4-3 defense as they were playing in their intended 3-4 scheme. As a result, the team did not frequently end up lining a defensive tackle up over the opposition's center - that's the zero technique - as a true 3-4 defense calls for.
Still, Buffalo managed to find themselves a good player on the interior of their defensive line - and they've got another guy that didn't show much as a rookie, but could continue to develop into a stout run defender the longer he's in the league and in George Edwards' defensive scheme.
An analysis of Buffalo's nose tackles lies after the jump.
Right now, the Bills have three nose tackles in their organization.
Kyle Williams (1-A). Prior to the start of the 2010 season, nobody was quite sure how Williams would play in his new role as the team's 3-4 nose tackle. We got two answers: first, he was destined to play extremely well, and second, he wasn't going to be playing traditional 3-4 nose tackle techniques and responsibilities all that often. Williams was put to use in the capacity he was used while Perry Fewell was here: he played a little, one-technique, a little more three-technique, and was asked to shoot gaps and disrupt plays, rather than stack, shed and hit. He did his job extremely well, landing in the Pro Bowl after setting career highs with 76 tackles and six sacks.
It's very clear that Williams isn't going anywhere. The real question is how the Bills plan to fit up the run around him in 2011 and beyond, and right now, the best answer we have is that they'll continue to mix 3-4 and 4-3 looks. They'll do so not just to maximize Williams' talents - that's the biggest reason they'll stay "multiple," as Chan Gailey called it - but to continue to try to get bigger and more physical up front.
Torell Troup (3-D). Last year's second-round pick out of Central Florida did not have himself a very good rookie season. He played quite a bit more as the season wore on as the Bills used more four-man lines on run downs, but never made an impression as a run defender. He struggled to get off blocks, and his limited athleticism will never allow him to be the type of player Williams is - Troup is a true zero-technique player. True, Troup is one of the youngest players on the roster - he will not turn 23 until about a month before 2011 training camp opens - but technically, he has a long way to go if he wants to be an effective run defender in this league.
Kellen Heard (4-F). As exemplified by Lonnie Harvey last season, the Bills like to carry the biggest human being they can find as a reserve defensive tackle to see if they can't develop him a little bit. That's why this 6'6", 355-pound mammoth from Memphis was added to the roster. He'll turn 26 next October, and while it's never a bad idea to employ big, physical players defensively, Heard's upside appears to be limited. He did not dress for any games while he was with the Bills in 2010.
Contract situations to monitor: Williams is under contract for two more seasons; it's possible that the team looks to lock him up longer-term this spring, but it's more likely that he gets that treatment in the spring of 2012.
Outlook: Williams is going to be a player that this team builds around, regardless of what that means for the overall scheme(s) that they run. The coaching staff and organization love Kyle, for obvious and very excellent reasons, and they'll figure out the rest from there. Because of Williams' ripple effect on how the Bills scheme defensively, Troup may end up being a situational run defender over the long haul for the Bills. That might make him a waste of a 2010 second-round pick in some eyes, but very few people will complain if Troup improves and helps the Bills get out of the league basement in terms of run defense.
Possible Acquisition: I don't know that we'll see one, even though the Bills clearly need to do something to stop the run more effectively. Williams and Troup will be here for the foreseeable future - and if the Bills want another big body, it'll likely be an experimental signing, like Heard was toward the end of last season.