The desire on the part of the Bills fan base for a long term answer at quarterback could very well be answered by the Bills with their top pick come April 28th. However, armed with nine draft choices overall it would be no surprise if Buffalo's decision makers use the majority of those selections for the defensive side of the ball.
"If I had to say today, I'd say we're going to use most of our picks defensively," said head coach Chan Gailey during a half-hour Tele-Forum with Bills season ticket holders Tuesday afternoon. "I think we have to try to shore up our defensive football team. We have to try to get stronger there, get quicker there, get nastier there. I won't say all of them, but I would say a majority of them will work toward that defensive side this year."
Buffalo's timing for defensive help could not be better with one of the best defensive end classes in the modern era along with an unusually deep class of defensive tackles and a good crop of outside linebackers. After finishing last in run defense and 27th in sacks the front seven would appear to be the primary area to address.
"The main thing we need to improve on is playing defense and stopping the run," said Bills GM Buddy Nix. "Until we do that and get some pressure on the passer then we're not going to be where we want to be. That would be the biggest change I would see us making."
The Bills situation defensively entering this year's draft may appear a bit muddled with plans to be more a hybrid scheme using both 3-4 and 4-3 concepts. Nix insists getting to a 3-4 is the primary aim, but they won't be writing prospects off that might not fit that scheme to a 'T'.
"The thing we're trying to get to is a 3-4 scheme and when I say that it's for scouting and for drafting more than anything else," said Nix. "That's what we shoot for when we go out and evaluate players. There's not a lot of difference though. We'll try to do what players can do best. We're going to take those guys and if they can make plays we're going to put them in position to make them whether it's a 4-3 look or a 3-4 look."
A good example might be Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. Most draft analysts believe he's a left end for a 4-3 scheme, but the Bills aren't going to a write a talent of Bowers' caliber off just because he might be better suited for a four man front.
"He is an explosive player. He really is," said Gailey of Bowers. "He can make things happen as a pass rusher coming off the edge. He plays the run better than people give him credit for. I think that if we ended up taking that guy we'd find a place for him. We'd make it work. You can't take a guy that is that good of a player and not make him fit in to what you're trying to get done defensively. We're not going to pass up a very, very good football player just because he might not fit perfectly. We'll adjust to get good football players on our team."
A pass rusher whether it comes at the end position or outside linebacker is something that any NFL club covets and the Bills are no different. That's why the Buffalo front office is open to adding another outside rusher at linebacker even with Shawne Merriman in the fold.
"There are a couple of those guys in the draft and I think the question that you ask yourself in the draft situation when you're sitting there is how do you weight the guys for your football team," said Gailey. "I feel like a pass rusher, an outside backer, there are a couple of those guys that can make a difference coming off the edge. We hope we have one in the fold already in a Shawne Merriman. If we've got one and can get one of the other side to put some pressure on the passer that'll help us tremendously. If we end up trading out of the number three pick, that might be something that would be a viable option for us."
Last year Nix and company had nine draft choices, much like they do this year. Four of the nine were used on the defensive side of the ball. No one can predict how the board will fall, but no one would be surprised if six or more of Buffalo's picks went to the defense.
Whether Buffalo addresses defense with the third overall pick is the most intriguing question. The only thing that has such a decision still up in the air a month before draft day is the possibility of a quarterback being the pick early.
"You hope that you don't pick three again for a very long time," said Gailey. "So if there's a guy that is sitting there that you believe is a so called franchise quarterback, if you pass it up at this point for the long term best interest of the franchise that might not be the best decision to pass that guy up.
"The quick fix is to try to go fix the defense and we understand that and we need to try to get some more impact players on defense if we possibly can. That would help us in the more immediate future, but if you're looking at the long term and you believe the guy is a franchise quarterback, you bring him in, you let him learn and sit behind Fitz."
Most draft analysts believe Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton are the only prospects that could prompt Buffalo to go quarterback early and worry about defense later. Gabbert is scheduled to make a pre-draft visit. Newton visited with Gailey at One Bills Drive Tuesday.
"I had a chance to see what kind of person he was," said Gailey. "You find out a lot about a guy when you go to dinner with him, yourself and your wife. How he treats her and the conversation he has in a situation like that. He handled himself extremely well. I was very impressed with him overall."
Even Nix, who first earned his stripes in football as a defensive coach, recognizes how much offense has taken over in the NFL.
"I'm an old school guy that coached defense all my life," he said. "If you can stop people you've got a chance to win come December and January, but this is an offensive league. That's the reason one of our goals was to hire the coach that we did – a guy that was offensive-minded and coached the quarterbacks. I think in this league you've got to score points to win."
When it comes down to it, decisions for offense and defense could largely be determined by the talent that's still on the board when the Bills are on the clock. Nix made it clear that they're still not dead set on where they're going come April 28th.
"We've still got a month's work to do," he said. "We're researching and I'm not giving a company answer. We're not sure right now. We've got a lot of areas that we can improve in so we're going to look at everything and take the best guy available at that time."