We see it all too many times in sports. The back-up that is thought to have loads of potential finally gets his shot at extended playing time, and he completely flops.
That was not the case in Detroit on Sunday with Bills defensive tackle Stefan Charles. Thrust into a larger role due to the knee injury sustained by Pro Bowl tackle Kyle Williams, Charles proved to be well worth the hype as the Buffalo defense turned in a dominant outing against the heavily favored Lions.
Sharing time with Corbin Bryant, another unsung hero from Sunday, Charles played in 36 of the team’s defensive snaps (58 percent). His stat line was nothing to brag about – two tackles (one for loss). But Charles’ play went far beyond the stats.
His ability to provide a consistent push on the inside aided several of Buffalo’s season-high six sacks. Then there was his key individual effort midway through the final quarter.
With just over eight minutes remaining in a 14-14 tie, Matthew Stafford handed the ball to George Winn on a 3rd-and-1 from the Detroit 29. Charles battled his way through the line and corralled Winn for a one-yard loss.
“He made a hell of a play on that third and short,” said Head Coach Doug Marrone.
Not only did he make a great play, he kept the momentum on the Bills side after the offense had just driven to tie the score.
There had to be some concern headed into the game. The Bills were down what many consider to be their best defensive player against the high-powered Lions. In that scenario, there aren’t many teams that can just plug a back-up into the lineup without missing a beat.
This does not mean that Charles is better than Williams. The Bills need their defensive leader healthy to continue their run at the AFC East.
What it does mean, however, is the Bills have an outstanding option to spell Williams or Marcell Dareus throughout the game. Charles has already earned 31 percent of the snaps this season in relief of Buffalo’s Pro Bowl duo.
It may also mean the Bills have found a running mate for Dareus for years to come as Williams nears his mid-30s. Charles is just 26 years old and has a lot less wear and tear when it comes to both playing time and injuries.
What makes the entire Charles situation even better is how he ended up in a Buffalo uniform. A product of the University of Regina (Canada), Charles signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tennessee Titans in September of 2013. Less than two months later, Bills GM Doug Whaley plucked Charles off of the Tennessee practice squad.
Dressed for eight games, Charles posted 12 tackles, six of which came along with his first career sack at New England in the season finale. That performance put Charles on the radar of many and apparently motivated the Regina-product to get to work this offseason.
“He’s done a great job, even in just changing his body type,” Marrone said. “It’s the best shape that he’s been in since we’ve had him, which is a credit to him. He’s done some good things in games and I really like him. He’s a good football player.”
Charles’ transformation was evident during the preseason as he was consistently seen disrupting the offense both in practice and exhibition games. Listed at 6-5, 323, Charles has impressive athletic ability for a man of his size. That combination of size and athleticism, as we often see with Dareus, can prove to be a huge problem for the opposition.
There are certain positions on the field where the Bills possess above average NFL depth, but defensive tackle is no doubt the best.
Charles is under contract at a bargain price through 2015 before becoming a restricted free agent. If he continues to put in the work and perform at this level, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills lock him in more long term at some point this offseason. For the money the front office will need to shell out for Dareus’ new deal, a few million a year for Charles will be an afterthought.