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NFL – Bills’ Season Review- Part 3

19 Jan

Part 3 of our Buffalo Bills’ season review looks at the defensive side of the ball, which had an up and down season and looks like it will be going through a lot of changes entering the 2018 season. Here’s a positon-by-position look at the defense, and also the special teams:

 

Defensive Line

 

There a lot of question marks with this unit heading into next season. Will Kyle Williams be back? Who will replace the departed Marcel Dareus? How can the pass rush be improved? There’s no question Bills’ management wants Williams, a major locker room leader, to return. Should he come back, his role in the line rotation may be diminished due to his age but he is unquestionably still a very productive player. How much the trade of Dareus hurt the team is debatable, but there’s no question the team needs to find another big run-stuffer to replace him, preferably one with more of an unselfish, team-first attitude. The current management hasn’t shown a lot of patience with players brought in by the previous regime, so the futures of Adolphus Washington, and even Jerry Hughes, are very much up in the air. Washington’s play has been average, although he is still young and developing. Hughes, on the other hand, has underperformed since signing a big contract a couple of years ago, and looks like a prime example of the type of player the team wants to replace with an upgrade in talent. Shaq Lawson, who ended the season on injured reserve, is a cross between Washington and Hughes. He’s still young, but hasn’t lived up to his first round billing. Will the team give him time to develop, or decide he doesn’t fit into their plans? Three other members of the D-line rotation, Ryan Davis, Cedric Thornton and Eddie Yarbrough, performed admirably but are just stop-gap players. Attempting to find some depth along the defensive front as the year went on, the Bills added a pair of street free agents, Cap Capi and Rickey Hatley, late in the season. Both saw playing time, and should be afforded an opportunity to expand on their roles in training camp this year.

 

Linebackers

 

This unit could look radically different entering the 2018 season. Rookie Matt Milano, who won a starting job during the season, might be the only member returning. Lorenzo Alexander and Ramon Humber are aging, average players, and Preston Brown is not necessarily a fit in the style of defense the Bills want to employ. There will be a concerted effort to find more speed at the linebacker position, either through free agency or the draft. Two other LBs on the roster, Deon Lacey and Tanner Vallejo, are almost exclusively special teamers, although Vallejo, a rookie, will be given every chance to try and crack the lineup in his sophomore season. There’s no question the lack of quality players and depth at linebacker need to be addressed this off-season.

 

Defensive Backs

 

The biggest surprise of the 2017 season was how well the completely revamped Bills’ secondary jelled together. Buffalo entered the season with all new starters – E.J. Gaines (acquired from the Rams for Sammy Watkins) and rookie Tre White at the corners, and free agent signees Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer at safety. An argument could be made that White, Hyde and Poyer all deserved to be Pro Bowlers. The regular nickel corner, Leonard Johnson, was also a newcomer. He had his ups and downs, but was mostly a solid contributor. Injuries forced Shareece Wright, Lafayette Pitts, Shamarko Thomas and Colt Anderson into action at different times in 2017, with varying results. Pitts, Thomas and Anderson were big special teams contributors, while Wright looked liked an aging stop-gap player who won’t be on the roster in 2018. Another late-season signee, Breon Borders, didn’t get to show much.

 

Special Teams

 

The biggest bright spot on the bomb squads in 2017, and one of the highlights of the entire team, was the free agent addition of kicker Stephen Hauschka. “Hausch Money” was a dramatic improvement over Dan Carpenter, who declined badly in 2016. Punter Colton Schmidt was hot and cold, but mostly adequate. He will likely get training camp competition, though, on a team always striving to get better in all areas. Long snapper Ryan Ferguson was barely noticeable, which means he was practically flawless. The kick coverage teams did an admirable job all year. The Bills’ return game could use a shot in the arm. Brandon Tate was uninspiring most of the year as the primary punt and kickoff returner. They need to upgrade to a more dynamic player in 2018.

 
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