The Buffalo Bills are heading to St. John Fisher College in Rochester to begin Training Camp in just a few weeks. Heading into the summer practices, the team’s depth chart looks awfully different than it did just one season ago. Entering the third consecutive season in which the team will be playing under a new defensive coordinator,the transition from Mike Pettine’s scheme to Jim Schwartz’ will make the team look a bit different.Here at BillsMafia.com, I broke down the depth chart by roles and the levels of talent.
On Sunday, I wrote about the offensive depth chart, which you can find HERE
Note: Depth chart order is a combination of OTA rotations and my own personal opinions
Last year, the Bills’ defense operated primarily out of 4-3 “Under” fronts. An Under front is a shift of the defensive line that utilizes concepts similar to a 3-4 defense. With Jim Schwartz, who uses a more basic 4-3 front, the defensive ends will be relied upon to create pressure from the edge, whereas pressure was created mostly from stand-up edge defenders last season.
Jerry Hughes, who had 10 sacks as a situational pass rushing linebacker in Pettine’s defense will be called upon to take on a bigger role this season. Hughes will likely be the team’s starting right defensive end opposite Mario Williams. While many analysts have questions surrounding Hughes’ ability to overcome a lack of size (6’2” 255 lbs) to beat offensive lineman, in addition to being able to consistently set the edge against the run, he’ll likely be put in a position that minimizes his weaknesses.
Manny Lawson, who played strong-side linebacker last season, is also moving up to the line of scrimmage, where he’ll be a base defensive end, rotating with Hughes.
Mario Williams’ role will remain the same, as the 6’6” 290 pounder will line up against right tackles, where he’ll have to continue to be a beast, to say the least, on the edge.
The defensive tackle position also appears to have talent and depth, that should ease the pain of a looming Marcell Dareus suspension. Alan Branch is a quality veteran that fits perfectly as a one-technique (shade nose tackle) run stopper. Behind Branch is Stefan Charles, a raw, but physically talented that made an impact on nearly each one of his limited snaps last season. Charles projects well to both the three and one technique.
The linebacker position looked absolutely stacked just over a week ago, but a torn ACL suffered by Kiko Alonso will put a huge load on the shoulders of rookie Preston Brown and third-year linebacker Nigel Bradham.
Brandon Spikes will be the starting “Mike”, while Keith Rivers, Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham compete for playing time alongside him in a defense that is expected to be in nickel (4-2-5) sets on a regular basis.
Manny Lawson is also likely to see some time at linebacker, as the 6’5” 245 pound defensive end has experience at both SAM and WILL.
While Alonso’s injury definitely hurts the defense, the team has done a good job of adding talent and athleticism at the linebacker position over the past two seasons.
While the Bills’ front seven has gotten the majority of publicity throughout the offseason, the secondary could sneakily emerge as a top tier unit in the NFL. Leodis McKelvin had a great 2013 season, while Stephon Gilmore, who has received immense praise are locks on the boundary, while Corey Graham, Nickell Robey and Ross Cockrell provide a combination of veteran leadership, athleticism and intelligence in the slot.
At safety, Aaron Williams will be moving to free safety, in order to fill the void left by Jairus Byrd’s departure. Jim Schwartz ran a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3 with the Lions, which hints to Williams seeing significant time playing “center field.”
At the strong safety position, Da’Norris Searcy will look to fend off 2013’s fourth-round pick, Duke Williams, in what should be a premier camp battle to watch.
The Bills defense has serious boom or bust potential this upcoming season. With Kiko Alonso missing all of 2014, coupled with Marcell Dareus facing a multiple game suspension, the team has the athleticism and pieces to be an elite unit. However, that talent relies on a bunch of “if this happens” statements.
What are your thoughts on the Bills’ defensive depth chart, #BillsMafia?