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Replenishing the defensive front

Posted Feb 17, 2011

For the Bills one of their top offseason priorities is to fortify their 32nd ranked run front with an influx of bigger and stronger players to mix in with some dependable veterans and promising youth already on the roster. Fortunately for the Bills this year’s draft class affords them a bounty of defensive line talent particularly at defensive end.

“I don’t think there’s a position with more quality depth than the defensive end position this year, and there are all different shapes and sizes,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. “Teams will rank these defensive ends differently based on what they’re looking for. Maybe it’s a traditional right end in a 4-3, a pass rusher, it might be a power end that can play that left defensive end position or a defensive end-outside linebacker tweener type to play a 3-4 OLB spot. It’s going to come down which one is on the board.”

For the Bills most of the lot should still be on the board come the third overall pick, though there’s a good chance that both Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers and Auburn’s Nick Fairley could both be gone. By the end of round one however, McShay believes there will be more defensive ends off the board than at any other position.

“There could be nine guys depending on (Ohio State’s) Cameron Heyward and what comes out on his durability,” he said. “Nine defensive ends that wind up coming off the board in the first round is impressive, and even if Heyward doesn’t you’re still at eight.”

Nix sees the same bounty of talent at the end position, and though he drafted two defensive linemen last year on day two of the 2010 draft, he’s not against taking a couple of more in 2011.

“I think there’s a good group of defensive ends and that’s normally the hardest thing to find,” Nix said. “Obviously you’ve got to have a big nose tackle (in our defense). We drafted one last year. We’re happy with Troup. We’re happy with Carrington, we just need a couple of more now.”

With the Wednesday release of veteran Marcus Stroud the need to reinforce defensive end is all the more significant with just three ends under contract for 2011 on the roster. Add in the possibility of free agency being a non-entity if the league’s labor situation goes without a resolution prior to the draft at the end of April and that bevy of talent in this year’s draft class could prove vital.

The prime candidates to replace Stroud in his starting role at left defensive end for the Bills are currently Alex Carrington and veteran Spencer Johnson. Head coach Chan Gailey believes his soon to be second-year end is on the right path of progress.

“Carrington didn’t play a ton and wasn’t recognizable, didn’t have stats, but he improved,” Gailey said. “He got better as the year went on and so I thought that he made strides.”

Whether it’s enough to overtake the dependable play of Johnson remains to be seen. In all likelihood however, there will be other candidates added to the mix, potentially high in the draft.

One player that could be a fit, if defensive line is the play, is Alabama’s Marcell Dareus.

“When this guy is going and is 100 percent he’s as disruptive as any guy in this draft,” McShay said. “He’s a lot stronger than people think. He has great awareness. He’s not as big and athletic as Nick Fairley, but he might be a more complete player when he’s 100 percent. I think he can play a 4-3 or 3-4 for a team that’s going back and forth and he can get after the quarterback.”

McShay sees Dareus as an end in a 3-4 defensive system and he’s widely forecast as a top 10 pick. Even if Buffalo chooses to wait on addressing their defensive line, there is likely to be more than capable talent waiting to be selected in rounds two and three. Rounds where the Bills found some pretty promising young defensive line talent in the draft last year.