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Buffalo Bills training camp battles: Defensive end

The Buffalo Bills have spent heavily on the position in recent years, using their top pick in 2020 and their top two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft to secure three pass rushers. Couple that with large contracts for vets Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes, and there is a lot to digest in training camp.


Greg Rousseau vs Carlos Basham Jr. vs A.J. Epenesa

Maybe “vs” is the wrong verb because they will all play and all rotate, but make no mistake this is a competition. Rousseau is the highest-drafted and physically gifted, Basham is considered the most “pro-ready,” and Epenesa spent a calendar year re-shaping his body. It’s a fascinating dynamic in the room.

Hughes and Addison aren’t going anywhere. The way Bills’ general manager Brandon Beane talks about the pair of veteran leaders, it’s clear they are in Buffalo’s plans in 2021. Maybe not beyond that, as both players are in the final year of their respective deals, but that makes the three-way battle even more important.

Head coach Sean McDermott loves to use the “iron sharpens iron” cliché and this is a prime example. Having these players pushing each other is only going to make them better.

Basham has been expected to come in and contribute right away out of Wake Forest. His body is ready for the NFL and he has experience rushing the passer from both the defensive tackle spot and the edge.

Epenesa changed his body to be more explosive, defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier said earlier this offseason. Because of the COVID-19 protocols, Epenesa couldn’t be at the team facility for most of his first offseason with the team, so this is the first time he’s been able to have access to the facility and staff to develop.

Rousseau is the wild card of the group. Physically gifted, he spent last season sidelined after opting out due to COVID-19. He trained, but hasn’t played a game in almost two years. While folks were trying to set expectations low for the raw but talented prospect, he had a good spring by all accounts and could play a bigger factor in year one than previously thought.

I’m expecting Hughes and Addison to be the first wave with Basham and Epenesa as the second-string and Rousseau sprinkled in. If the two veterans start going on a pitch count down to a 50 percent share instead of 66-75 percent like in years past, there will be plenty of snaps to go around for the three youngsters.