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.
Defensively, expectations are very high for Buffalo heading into the 2012-13 season. The Bills have a good mix of youth and experience on the defensive side of the ball, and a plethora of talent. There are several established veterans on this defense, but also some young talented players that are prepared to make a name for themselves. The question is who will take that next step and become a playmaker on defense?
Marcell DareusDuring his rookie season, Marcell Dareus showed signs that he is capable of becoming a dominant defensive player in this league. On the other hand, as a rookie he really never put his full game on display week in and week out. It is difficult for any rookie coming into the league, but a lockout shortened offseason and several key team injuries didn't help his cause either. Dareus can now take advantage of his first full offseason and reap the benefits of playing with this extremely talented defensive line. He is very excited about playing with his new teammates and has been taking in any information he can from the veterans during both OTAs and mini-camp.
"I never really played with a group of guys as talented as this group of guys," said Dareus. "I'm like a sponge right now really just trying to learn as much as I can."
Stephon GilmoreBuffalo selected Stephon Gilmore in the top 10 of April's draft with the intention that he would come in and contribute immediately to this defense. Gilmore has been lining up during OTAs and mini-camp as the team's starting right cornerback. He will certainly see plenty of game action this year and figures to be tested often. As a rookie, quarterbacks will want to consistently throw to his side of the field and see how he responds to certain situations. Gilmore has the talent and playmaking potential to be successful when the ball comes his way.
Stevie Johnson has played against some of the best cornerbacks that this league has to offer and he believes that Gilmore could develop into one of them.
"Even if he wasn't on my team and just checking out film on him you can tell he's going to be something special," said Johnson. "He has that fight and that hunger and you can see it in him. I think he's going to be one of those dominant cornerbacks in the league."
Kelvin SheppardThe Bills switched back to a 4-3 defense and will have a second year player anchoring the middle linebacker position. Kelvin Sheppard finished his rookie season with 70 tackles, but expect that number to increase during his second year. He will now be in the middle of the defense at a tackle accumulating position and will benefit from having a monster defensive line in front of him. This will give him the opportunity to run free and make plays all over the field without offensive linemen reaching him at the second level.
Nick Barnett believes that Sheppard is prepared for this responsibility and could develop into an elite talent.
"I think he could potentially be one of the best linebackers Buffalo has ever seen," said Barnett. "If he has his head on straight and continues to grow the way that he is growing. The way that he plays he could be a great player."
Aaron WilliamsAaron Williams is likely to play opposite Stephon Gilmore as the team's left cornerback. His long frame should allow him to get his hands on a lot of passes, which will lead to more pass break-ups and interceptions. He should factor in more in the takeaway game, not only on passes, but in run support with his physical style. Williams had a successful rookie year, but is now expected to play even more of a key role in this defense.
Bills head coach Chan Gailey sees a difference in Williams this year that he did not previously see during his rookie season.
"I think he is a much more confident player this year than he was last year," said Gailey. "He was feeling his way through some of the time last year."
All of these players have the ability to become playmakers, but with the talent that the team has added upfront, Marcell Dareus really has a chance to explode onto the scene during his second professional season. He should benefit from the talent surrounding him on the defensive front, and have more playmaking opportunities.