It's one of the last Bills minicamp practices of the spring. Mark Anderson is lined up on the right side of the formation. The defensive end is dug in ready to explode out of his three-point stance. After beating the young offensive tackle opposite him around the corner on the previous series he's got an edge. As the ball is snapped Anderson fires to the corner again, but chops his steps short, rips inside of the tackle and is bearing down on Ryan Fitzpatrick again for another tap out sack. Set to enter his eighth season, there is a book on Anderson, but there isn't an offensive player that can read him any better than they could when he had 12 sacks as a rookie.
"He's very clever and hard to figure out," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "He rushes the passer like Stevie (Johnson) runs routes. You can't get a read on him. He's got all these different nuances to his game that's difficult for linemen to anticipate."
Anderson does respect the fundamentals of defensive line play, and does play off of what the opposing offensive tackle gives him. He also has a very unorthodox approach when it comes to rushing the passer.
For a results-oriented head coach like Chan Gailey, as long as Anderson's improvisational approach works within the scope of the Bills defensive scheme he is fine with it.
"He puts a lot of feel into it and a lot of quickness and you don't know what you're going to get next sometimes, which is good if it falls within the system," said Gailey. "If it falls outside of the system it's not very good. So far all of the little things that he's done have fallen within the system and he looks like he'll be a force to be reckoned with out there."
Much like Stevie Johnson, Anderson uses change of speed, shoulder fakes and stutter steps to freeze his one-on-one matchup and gain an advantage. In a high-speed environment like NFL football, using hesitation might not seem like an option, but Anderson makes it work because of his lightning quick burst off the ball.
"My style is basically number one get off the ball," Anderson told Buffalobills.com. "And once I get off the ball it's whatever the offensive tackle gives me. My moves are based off my get off."
"It works. It definitely worked from last year," said Mario Williams of his teammate's 10-sack season in 2011. "It does look… I'm not going to say odd. It's not normal. Unconventional, that's what I was looking for, but it's fine with me. He can do whatever he wants. He can do back flips if he wants."
Anderson maintains that the foundation of his game is technique. He reps his fundamentals in practice to the point where they become routine on every pass rush. That allows him to improvise to keep pass protectors guessing.
"There's creativity," he admitted. "I have go-to moves and moves that I like and it's based off of what the defense gives me. I'll throw in some wrinkles, but it's rooted in technique."
Having watched Anderson up close and personal for the better part of a month in OTAs and minicamp, defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt understands why Anderson had a 10-sack campaign last season.
"Just watching him his feet are as fast as Jason Taylor's," said Wannstedt. "He's not Charles Haley, but his game reminds me of him a little bit too."
High praise even if he just has a few of the same attributes of a pair of future Hall of Famers. Anderson however, isn't trying to emulate anyone. He's just lining up and playing.
"I just feel it," he said. "I'm trying to throw the tackle off, but I just play off instincts."
Instincts that should vastly improve Buffalo's pass rush this season.