As Offseason Training Activities (OTAs) continue at One Bills Drive, it’s very difficult to ignore the overwhelming sense of positivity radiating through the halls. Notable national media pundits like Pat Kirwan and Len Pasquarelli have recently written articles about the potential of this squad having a breakout season in 2012, something we weren’t reading about by any stretch in the preseason last year. Countless interviews and press conferences from the Bills in the past few months have been brimming with excitement and praise. And most importantly, nobody is hurt! (knock on wood, people.)
With marked improvement on the offensive side of the ball under Chan Gailey’s watchful eye in the last two seasons, the emphasis for the Bills has revolved mainly around the defensive side of the ball. The biggest move this offseason still has to be the signing of prized DE Mario Williams in March. As Ryan Fitzpatrick stated after day one of OTAs, ‘[he’s] like a Madden character you create when you sit there and up-up the strength.’ In a game that’s largely based on a players’ mental health and confidence (aka swagger, if you will), Williams is one of the league’s most dynamic pass rushers in the prime of his career…and teammates notice this. He addresses what was the biggest weakness for the franchise at the end of the 2011 season. The pass rush has been lacking – the Bills produced only 29 sacks on the season, 10 of which in one game. Because of the current trend of pass-happy offenses in the NFL, putting pressure on the quarterback has become extremely important in recent years. Williams is tenacious in that right; he is a feared presence in the NFL, giving the Bills instant credibility with their front four.
As far as Williams’ character goes, he’s also a small town guy who prides himself on putting the extra work in to be extremely effective – something Buffalo fans take pride in, and expect from players being paid the amount of money Williams is getting. Time will tell how his tenure as a Bill plays out, but it’s difficult to not be excited about the next 6 years from a fan’s perspective.
Other notable additions to the roster include free agent signings DE Mark Anderson and QB Vince Young. They will mostly contribute to further address the nagging issue of player depth on the roster, which came to bite the Bills big time last season. Both players are seasoned veterans who will need to be able to step up and sustain momentum when their number is called.
Management also addressed player depth with a very solid NFL Draft in late April. But for the sake of being repetitive, I’ll ask you to check out our draft analysis in the last LEG post ‘Nix and Gailey are getting it done for Buffalo’ instead of rehashing the same information here.
With all of the personnel revamping, it’s easy to forget that the team will approach the defensive side of the ball in a much different way in 2012. The promotion of Dave Wannstedt to Defensive Coordinator is going to change the mindset of Bills defenders. Gone are some of the more ineffective zone coverages we have seen in previous years. In enters a more aggressive scheme that focuses more on smacking people in the mouth at the line of scrimmage. I’ll leave it up to Wanny to elaborate; he spoke about the new scheme back in February. He stated, “For us to take a jump in the defense that we’re going to run, the front four needs to make a difference. They need to make an impact…Our defensive line, as a group, they need to be a major, major factor, run and pass, every week after week after week, for this defense to work.” He continued, “When you reflect back on the defenses that I’ve been responsible for, for me the guys up front have been playmakers and we expect guys to make plays. We want it to be a defensive line friendly scheme. It’s really trying to put those guys in the best position where we can use their talent, where they can play fast and give them the opportunity to make plays.”
That’s the reason why we have seen Chris Kelsay make the shift back to defensive end after a brief stint at linebacker. That’s also why we have seen first-rounder Stephon Gilmore working on jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage immediately on the first day of rookie mini camp. That may even be why a player like Mario Williams chose to come to Buffalo in the first place. Either way, we can only hope that the end result will be more promising than the end results we have seen in recent memory. I think we all can agree that we are due for it!
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