Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. With Year 3 under head coach Chan Gailey and veteran player report day at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 24th and Sept. 9th.
After experimenting with a 3-4 defensive system for two years, the Buffalo Bills are switching back to a 4-3 defensive scheme. Dave Wannstedt is making the change in his first year as the team's defensive coordinator. Each position group will have to adapt to the new defense this season. The defense is now moving from a three man to a four man front, which has led to several position changes this offseason.
Defensive linemen have very different roles in a base 4-3 defense compared to a 3-4 set. Instead of having a true nose tackle they will now have two defensive tackles. They will keep two defensive ends, but in a 4-3 the defensive ends play much more of an attacking style.
With edge rushers like Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Shawne Merriman, and Chris Kelsay this will only benefit the group, but there will be adjustments nonetheless. It doesn't hurt that they have a defensive tackle pairing upfront of Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
"It's going to be a defensive line friendly scheme," said Wannstedt. "By that I mean we'll be as good as our guys up front. The guys up front it all starts there."
Another common theme this offseason is linebackers switching positions and individual roles. Kelvin Sheppard will now anchor this group as the middle linebacker heading into just his second season. This move speaks volumes in terms of what this coaching staff thinks of him. He believes that he is more than ready to take on this responsibility.
"I'm the starting middle linebacker so my job is to know all of my assignments as well as those of my teammates," said Sheppard. "So I'm kind of the general on the field. I've worked and played in this defense pretty much my whole career so I'm really familiar with the schemes."
Sheppard may have to know the roles of every defensive player on the field, but it will not hurt to have two proven veterans beside him. Both Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison are the frontrunners to lockdown the two outside linebacker positions a year after they were inside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme. There will certainly be adjustments like dropping back into coverage more often, but Barnett doesn't believe it is anything too difficult to overcome.
"It is not too different from what we were doing before, but it is a challenge to learn different things," said Barnett. "I walk out a lot more on number two than I did last year, so there are a lot of different things that I have to get used to."
Barnett is also very confident that Kelvin Sheppard will be able to lead this defense for years to come.
"I think he could potentially be one of the best linebackers Buffalo has ever seen, if he has his head on straight and continues to grow the way that he is growing," Barnett said. "The way that he plays he could be a great player."
Moving into the 4-3 scheme the defensive backs should have the easiest transition. This is not only true because of their two experienced safeties, but because the coverages are largely the same in any defense, so not a whole lot changes for them. While there is a chance that they will have two first-year starters outside in Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore, Bills free safety Jairus Byrd believes the secondary is more than ready to adapt to the change.
"As far as the secondary and things like that it's nothing that we haven't run or been exposed to in the 3-4 system," said Byrd. "We've run a lot of the stuff."
Coach Wannstedt agrees with his free safety in that the coverages may be altered in some aspects of the game, but nothing has drastically changed.
"I think there's probably the most carry over in the secondary," Wannstedt said. "People make too much of it, but the coverages that we're running and that they ran before Chan got here or that they'll run after we're gone, there are a half a dozen coverages. It's just a matter of not really adding new coverages; you're going to tweak some things in how you play them."
Without a doubt there will be several adjustments made this offseason by the defense. The secondary seems to have the edge as far as picking up the new system the quickest, but with the talented players on this defense there should be a smooth overall transition to the new 4-3 scheme.