2012 Buffalo Bills Season Preview Part 1 – Defense

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Updated: May 8, 2012

2012 Buffalo Bills Season Preview Series.

Part 1 – Defense

There is little doubt that the upcoming season for our beloved Buffalo Bills is among the most anticipated in recent history. After what many including myself are concluding to be an “A” offseason we now must wait to see what our team with undeniable improved talent and depth can do in the always tough AFC East division. If there is one thing that is true, it’s that the Bills have gotten a lot better under the Nix/Gailey regime. Straight from the horse’s mouth, the two stated that year one and two would be for talent evaluation and rebuilding while year three would lead us to the promise land that is the NFL playoffs. Well it’s do or die time gentleman, year three is fast approaching.

As a diehard Bills fan, I have to admit that Gailey and Nix have earned my trust over the past few years. They have done an exceptional job at identifying players that fit their scheme and have now started to stack up depth at several key positions.  Halfway through last season I started to recognize that they might actually know what they’re doing as opposed to previous regimes and coaches in terms of personal decisions.  It was the outstanding performance of the offensive line throughout the duration of the season, all while dealing with injuries and positional changes that really solidified my confidence in the two. An offensive line that was ranked as the worst in the league in a preseason publication that finished ranked #1 in pass protection, allowed the fewest sacks, and continually opened up running lanes for Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller to run wild through opposing team’s secondary’s, really says it all. These guys know what they want out of their players and have built a team of selfless, team oriented leaders.  They do more with less, and as fans we should ultimately trust them they didn’t need a Michael Floyd in the first round. They believe in who they already have on the roster. They MUST. We should too. Everything is speculation until we see how the players come together and play as a unit against the Jets in week 1.

If one thing is for certain about the 2012 Bills, it is that our defense has the ability to be something special. We finally have the talent to become a top 10 unit and everything in me is screaming that Dave Wanstaadt will be a phenomenal D-coordinator. His head coaching pedigree and college recruiting background has been a tremendous asset to Chan Gailey’s staff and the Bills front office already. I expect our new 4-3 base defense to finally be able to generate pressure without sending extra blitzers. There is little doubt that Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus are going to be dominant regardless of who lines up at the other defensive end spot.  We should see a combination of Chris Kelsey(run downs) and Mark Anderson (passing downs). Both of which could put up career numbers just due to the fact that opposing offenses are going to be forced to double team the “Big Three”.

With rookie first-round pick Stephon Gilmore expected to earn a starting job on the outside right away, I expect the Bills to split the #2 spot between oft injured Terrence McGee and last year’s 2nd round pick Aaron Williams. McGee has always been a great player, but he plays so violent that I doubt if he makes it through the first 8 weeks. Luckily though, Williams will be ready to take over by then. A lot of Bills fans don’t know that Williams was actually the top rated safety prospect in last year’s draft class, even though he played corner exclusively for Texas. The kid can flat out ball. Gilmore and Williams should give us one of the best upcoming and physical cover corner duos in the entire league.

While extremely unaware and a complete disaster waiting to happen in man to man coverage on the outside, Leodis McKelvin’s sheer athleticism can allow him to stay with most any slot receiver outside of say maybe Wes Welker. With that being said, don’t be surprised if rookie CB Ron Brooks from LSU ends up taking McKelvin’s spot as by the end of training camp, as he is just as athletically gifted, headier and a better playmaker.

The Bills line backing core should be solid this year and features a decent amount of depth following the draft. Adding OLB Nigel Bradham from Florida State and ILB Tank Carder to a roster that already has Arthur Moats, Chris White, Bryan Scott, and Kirk Morrison should provide a solid group to back up Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard, and Shawne Merriman. I believe that Merriman will finally get back to having a “lights out” type (7-9 sacks) of year that he has been known for in the past, due to the fact that he is literally going to be the 4th or 5th options that many teams will worry about planning for. One thing the guy has going for him is ability, and ability doesn’t just leave a player…it simple disappears from time to time. I have faith he will find himself once again, or quite simple he’ll be out of the league!

Kelvin Sheppard is one of my favorite players on the Bills. He is set to come in for his second season after leading the nations’ best defense at LSU two years ago. I expect him to start calling plays in the defensive huddle and become the true leader of the defense, taking after and learning from Barnett. Expect “Shep” to have a pro-bowl type of season where he tackles anything that moves for upwards of 100 tackles and a few big takeaways.

I am not really going to dive too in-depth into the Bills safeties situation, besides saying that we really do have a top 5 safety tandem in the entire league. Both Jarius Byrd and George Wilson are top 5 at their respective positions. You can agree or disagree, but the truth is that stats don’t lie. After that crazy 9 interception rookie year, Byrd has developed into one of the most complete safeties in the league. Guy gets pass breakups and multiple tackles a game from his free safety spot. He also has a great knack for causing fumbles.

After being an undrafted wide-receiver in college, Wilson caught in with the Bills exclusively as a special team’s ace. It was actually “Skeletor” (Dick Jauron) who asked him to switch to the safety position.  His combination of athleticism and smarts has allowed him to successfully make the conversion of the past couple of years and he continues to get better. Believe it or not, Wilson was actually having a defensive MVP type of season before he got hurt last year. Look at his final stats for the year, boy put up some serious numbers. What’s more, he has been putting up steady numbers every year since he became a strong safety. Although I am definitely all for drafting a “true” strong safety in the next year or two to replace him, Wilson is solid until we have his replacement ready to take over.

I think that barring injury, this year we will start to see this defense become a dominant unit by midseason and continue to grow and evolve into a premier playmaking defense in the NFL. Getting bigger and faster certainly won’t hurt. The Bills front four should be able to make life very uncomfortable for quarterbacks which should lead to hurried, untimely throws. We have always had a talented, playmaking secondary. We finally have a D-line to play with them. Does anyone remember the Bills early season takeaway party last year?? Don’t be surprised to see the boys in the running for most takeaways in the league this year. Let’s just hope our offense will be able to convert all those turnovers.

(Offensive Preview – Coming soon!)