Last week I posted an article on my blog at BuffaloBills.com stating five very good reasons to be optimistic about our offense. And I still believe all of those are true. I am very excited about the offense next year for those five (and MORE) reasons!
But what about the defense?
When you hear people talk about how the Bills are at best a long shot to make the playoffs in 2007, it mostly revolves around the loss of three key veteran players – all from the defensive side of the ball. Nate Clements, London Fletcher, and Takeo Spikes. Those three guys have had some serious impact for the Buffalo Bills over the past several years.
Fletcher has led the team in tackles (being named the 2006 Buffalo Bills Review Season MVP, and a closer runner up in 2007!) and was a leader in the locker room.
Spikes was another emotional team leader whom all the players respected and looked up to. His play on the field was mostly absent for 2006, even when he was dressed and playing. He wasn’t the same TKO.
Clements is probably a different story. He will be missed to be sure. But the fact that the Bills did not go out and get another CB of similar ability… makes you think they must be at least somewhat satisfied with who they have now.
All three of those guys contributed while they were here in big, big ways. They were great Buffalo Bills, and we cheered for all of them. But now they’re gone, and it’s someone else’s turn to step up. And if you really look at it, we’re losing a player who was mostly gone (Spikes), a player that didn’t fit the Bills’ defensive scheme (Fletcher), and an overpriced DB ($80Million?!??!) When you look at it that way, it doesn’t seem so bad.
Let’s take a look at a few things that we can really look forward to this season on defense.
A Great, Young Defensive Line
Well, the first DL you might think of on our team is not really so young… but he is great. Pro Bowl DE, Aaron Schobel, returns to anchor the right side of our line, as does his bookend Chris Kelsay. Rumblings of grumblings regarding the contract Kelsay signed this off-season were likely a bit overblown as Schobel was at the mini-camps, and doesn’t seem to have as much of a problem with his salary as everyone else does. Add to those guys Ryan Denney (similar player to Kelsay), a decent DE in Anthony Hargrove, and then a couple other guys for depth during training camp… and we’re pretty good at DE.
The biggest problem last year was stopping the run consistently. That usually is up to your big ol’ fat guys in the middle. Problem is, we don’t have too many of those. In comes Darwin Walker via trade with the Eagles. Or, does he? Walker (as you all know) has not reported to the Bills yet, and it’s looking like he never will. This was the one big move the Bills made to add depth to what most feel is a sorely lacking position, and so far it has not gone through.
Who does that leave them with? Well, a pretty good stable of guys, actually. Veteran Larry Triplett returns, along with youngsters Kyle Williams, a repaired John McCargo, and Tim Anderson. McCargo was a first-round choice last year, so if he’s healthy, we could expect some great play from him. The other guys seem to be good enough that the coaching staff is happy with them. They all fit the mold of the light-but-quick DL the Bills scheme calls for.
Question is, with mostly no additions to this group, what will allow them to improve on a very bad run-stopping defense last year? One more year of experience, a healthy McCargo, and being more comfortable/familiar with the scheme may help… but again, will it be enough?
Great youth and talent at LB
Bills fans rejoiced when their team moved up in the second round to get Paul Posluszny from Penn State. Many hoped he would be our first round choice, but after landing Marshawn Lynch with that pick, perhaps gave up hope. After the trade, most Bills fans were elated beyond words. Lynch & Poz are an exciting start to the 2007 Buffalo Bills draft! And from the film I have seen of him, including interviews on BuffaloBills.com, he seems like the real deal. He was definitely worth trading up.
Beyond “Poz”, the Bills have some great young depth at LB. Angelo Crowell returns along with Keith Ellison, both of whom played well as starters last season. Crowell now (by default) assumes the role of “leader” as he has the most experience of the group – going into his FIFTH season.
Add to those three (likely) starters Josh Stamer and John DiGiorgio, and a handful more for training camp, and there is some pretty raw talent in the linebacking corp for the Bills this coming season. The problem is they are SO green. We have no idea till they get out on the field whether that will help or not. Time will tell…
Great youth and talent at DB
But… I thought we lost our best DB? How can we still have “great youth and talent” at DB?
Remember last year’s draft? The Bills picked SS Donte Whiter with the 8th overall pick. Donte Whitner??!? And then they picked Ko Simpson and Ashton Youboty. THREE DBs in the TOP FOUR PICKS? That seemed insane. But after watching Whitner and Simpson play together as perhaps one of the better safety tandems in the league last year – one has to be at least slightly optimistic. And add to those two this year’s 6th round pick, John Wendling. Apparently quite the player himself.
But what about CB? With Nate gone… and McGee a bit suspect last year, aren’t Tom Brady and Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Ben Watson, Wes Welker, and even Kyle Brady going to eat us alive??? Maybe. But maybe not.
(SIDENOTE: Do you think if Tom connects with Kyle more than once this season they might start calling the Pats the “Brady Bunch”?) 🙂
If the Bills felt there was a hole at the CB spot for them, they sure didn’t try very hard to fill it. We brought in Jason Webster from Atlanta, who has starting experience, but is relatively unknown. I guess we’re expecting Ashton Youboty to step in and play well despite no NFL starts. Beyond that we have some depth returning from last season in Jabari Greer and Kiwaukee Thomas. Most of the other guys are complete unknowns.
This position (defensive backfield) seems to me to be the weakest spot on the D. (Perhaps rivaled by defensive tackle.) While our starting safeties seem great (and that rookie we drafted!) I can’t help but wonder who’s going to step up and take on the other team’s number one receiver. Who’s going to step up?
I’m not sure… but I am sure there are going to be a lot of guys trying!
There are certainly less reasons to be optimistic about the defense this year – at least, fewer proven reasons. This season is all about potential. Mostly on offense. Perhaps the team pulls it together and surprises everyone. Perhaps we make the playoffs on the backs of some very young, as yet unproven talent that will prove itself for the first time this season.
Until we see them on the field, against other players in full pads and hitting full-on, we can only take our best guess. And if that’s what we’re doing, why would we not BILLieve? 🙂