The Buffalo Bills made it a point to upgrade their defensive line this offseason, adding several free agents and using their top draft pick in April on defensive end A.J. Epenesa. Following the draft, general manager Brandon Beane highlighted one of Epenesa’s qualities as a strong suit of the rookie.
“The thing about Epenesa that I really liked is his versatility,” said Brandon Beane. “He’s got production from the inside as a three-tech and then from the outside, so I see him lining up as a left defensive base end. And then reducing down as a sub-rusher at times, so the versatility is what I like.”
Versatility had been the hallmark of Lorenzo Alexander, a linebacker who would come down and play defensive end and defensive tackle in pass-rushing situations. Defensive end Shaq Lawson took reps at defensive tackle on pass rushing situations, too. Using Epenesa in this role will make a lot of sense in certain situations.
“The way I believe building it, in being strong up front with a guy who can rush,” continued Beane. “And again, I love Epenesa’s versatility as a inside-outside player.”
It didn’t stop with Epenesa. Beane mentioned the versatility of the rest of the defense line, as well. In a June press conference, head coach Sean McDermott mentioned the “top five” defensive linemen coming in as rotational waves so they can stay aggressive. Beane and McDermott have aggressively built up that versatile depth to achieve the rotational play they want.
“Mario [Addison] could play on the right and the left,” said Beane in April. “I would think, Epenesa is going to be more of a lefty and for us that can reduce down. Mario can go inside. Trent’s going to be still you know the lefty end, but he can go inside. I think [Quinton] Jefferson can go inside and can go outside. Vernon [Butler] can play a one- or a three-[technique]. So, as many guys as you can get just like on the o-line that can play more than one spot does help us. You know we like to rotate eight, nine guys in the game. Not every team does it that way that’s just, that’s our style.”
It also adds another benefit Beane and McDermott love; competition. With “iron sharpens iron” as a mantra, the Bills have added depth on the d-line just like they did last offseason on the o-line.
“Competition and versatility is probably the two words I would say up front,” said Beane. “We got experience as well. Jerry Hughes, he had a couple surgeries and ceiling up, by all accounts nicely, in Houston and we add Mario Addison and we had Trent Murphy, and those guys on the outside, Darryl’s [Johnson] back and we’ve added Epenesa just inside with Jefferson, Butler, Star [Lotulelei] and Harrison’s [Phillips] coming back from the ACL and we got some other young guys in there. So, it’s really just gonna be a competition, I think.”