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Bills Training Camp Preview: Who's ready to emerge on defense?


With training camp just weeks away, it's time to sift through the roster to figure out who could emerge as a difference maker in 2023. From offense to defense, there will be plenty of competition within position groups once camp begins. There are also several players on the team who are ready to take that next step forward or take on a new role this season.

In Part 1, we looked at five offensive players who could emerge.

Here are five defensive players to watch for during training camp.

DT Ed Oliver – Fresh off a new contract

Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver isn't going anywhere as Oliver signed a four-year contract extension in the beginning of June. After signing, Oliver explained he couldn't imagine himself anywhere but Buffalo and wants to prove why he was worthy of a second contract.

The DT has started in 53 games and played in 62 since being drafted by the Bills in 2019. He has totaled 14.5 sacks, 42 quarterback hits, 30 tackles for loss and forced four fumbles in his four NFL seasons. Oliver has been an impact player at times, so in Year 5 it's about becoming consistent.

Bills GM Brandon Beane believes his best football is ahead of him.

"Ed's greatest trait is his get off and sometimes people use that against him, and he may run himself out of a play, just a misdirection or whatever," Beane shared. "Knowing what they're trying to do to him, reading his keys--those are the types of things that can take him another step. But I think his best football is ahead of him. Obviously, we wouldn't have done this move. That position, it's a premium position in our league and they're hard to find, especially if you're having success."

Beane also shared that Oliver is wired to have a chip on his shoulder and has a prove-it mentality to him. The DT is focused on getting his body right this offseason so he can be one of the best on the field.

"I think the main thing to being consistent is for one taking care of your body and making sure your body is consistent because that goes hand in hand with your play," Oliver said. "And I think long as my body is consistent, I think I can be just as dominant as any d-tackle in the league."

While Oliver only had 2.5 sacks in 2022, the former first rounder has the tools and the health to show the doubters why he got a second contract with the Bills. With Oliver's help on the defensive line as a consistent playmaker in 2023, the group could pose as a big threat to opposing offenses. Be on the lookout for a new mentality and attitude from the DT in training camp.

CB Kaiir Elam – Year 2 in Buffalo's defense

Bills cornerback Kaiir Elam enters his second season in Buffalo with a chance at the starting corner job opposite of Tre'Davious White. Year 1 is out of the way, which means Elam can approach his sophomore season with more comfortability and a better understanding of the defensive playbook. 

During his rookie season, Elam flashed in more than a few games showing his potential to be a difference maker in the NFL. The CB started in six games and played in 13 in 2022. Elam totaled 39 tackles, four passes defensed, two interceptions and one tackle for loss in his first season in a Bills jersey. 

He turned heads down the stretch during the wild card round of the playoffs when the Bills beat the Dolphins 34-31. Elam registered two passes defensed and one interception. The former UF player did a great job of showing his physicality against Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill when he was opposite of him. What could be Elam's biggest play of his rookie season came when Buffalo needed it most. The CB's interception against Miami happened in the third quarter when the Bills needed points. Thanks to Elam, the offense capitalized and took the lead heading into the fourth quarter.

As the CB gets ready for Year 2, his position coach can tell his comfort level has improved.

"It's just that consistent soak (of the playbook) that's made him more comfortable," defensive backs coach John Butler said. "So he isn't only understanding my language but maybe my intensity sometimes, 'This is how we do it here, these are the expectations.' And that will allow him to continue to play with a little more freedom which allows him to showcase his skills a little bit more."

Bills GM Brandon Beane said Elam came back early to train and hopes his consistency in practices will show on the field once the season begins.

"He is all in as much as anybody, and I think we'll see him continue to progress," Beane shared. "You know us here though, we're going to make everyone earn it. Doesn't matter where you were selected or what your salary is. And so Kaiir understands that, and he's prepared for the challenge."

We will see if that comfortability and consistency stands out once Elam hits the field for training camp at the end of July.

S Taylor Rapp – A proven starter

Bills safety Taylor Rapp comes to the Bills with plenty of starting experience thanks to four seasons with the Rams, one of which included a Super Bowl ring. With this much knowledge, it'll be interesting to see how Buffalo uses Rapp in their defense this season.

The former Ram has started in 48 games and played in 57 over his four-year career. Rapp has racked up nine interceptions, 23 passes defensed and 323 tackles during those years. Buffalo's defensive backs coach John Butler has gotten to see Rapp on the field during OTAs and mandatory minicamp, and Butler has been impressed with his physicality and aggressive mindset.

"He understands he's walking into a room with a ton of experience, but he has toughness, football IQ and experience, as well as we feel like he's a versatile player," Butler explained. "We love guys who have a versatile background. Just in the concept of their ability to play man, their ability to play zone, their ability to tackle, their ability to play the ball. I think he's been a great addition to us, and he's fit in well not only from a football player perspective but culturally."

Rapp brings experience, aggressiveness and versatility to a defense that was ranked top two in points allowed last season. His role hasn't been revealed just yet and that's exactly why it will be fun to watch the talented player during training camp.

DE Greg Rousseau – It's a Year 3 thing

Several players like QB Josh Allen, TE Dawson Knox and more took a big jump in their NFL careers in their third season. Defensive end Greg Rousseau is in Year 3, and it's safe to say everyone is excited to see the edge rusher take another step forward.

The former first rounder has two years of starting experience under his belt as he's started in and played in 30 games. In 2022, Rousseau had a career-high eight sacks which was double what he had during his rookie year. And just a reminder, part of those eight sacks came when Von Miller was sidelined with a knee injury.

Many people would love to see those numbers increase because the young defensive end has already done so much in just two short seasons. Rousseau has gotten to learn from players like Miller, and now he gets to learn from another guy who gets after the quarterback at a high rate in Leonard Floyd.

CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso thinks a Year 3 jump is in the cards for Rousseau.

"The recently turned 23-year-old defensive end now gets to learn from and play with Von Miller and the similarly sized Leonard Floyd on Sean McDermott's defense, and he'll presumably be bigger and stronger than his first two NFL campaigns. Rousseau's an unconventional outside rusher at nearly 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds. He's decently flexible, has an enormous tackling/sack radius and his pass-rush move arsenal has noticeably diversified in his first two NFL seasons."

While gaining knowledge from the vets will definitely help, playing next to them will also have an impact on Rousseau's play. The Bills added Floyd and DT Poona Ford to their defensive line room this offseason. Pair that with a healthy Miller and Jordan Phillips, and Rousseau could get the help he needs to wreak terror on opposing offenses this year.

Rousseau has already made a difference in two seasons with the Bills thanks to 12 sacks, 24 quarterback hits, eight passes defensed and two forced fumbles but look for his pass-rushing skills to improve even more this season.

CB Tre'Davious White – Health on his side

After tearing his ACL on Thanksgiving during the 2021 season, cornerback Tre'Davious White returned to the field one year later on Thanksgiving in Buffalo's game against the Lions. While White played in the final six games of the regular season, those games were definitely a ramp up for him. With those games under his belt and White feeling even more healthy, keep an eye on him to return back to the Tre'Davious White we knew before the ACL tear.

Many believe White can return to All-Pro status because of his work ethic this offseason.

"I think he's worked extremely, extremely hard, which I don't take for granted," head coach Sean McDermott said. "And knowing him, knowing his level of commitment, his level of dedication, being the player that he knows he wants to be, and I say that with or without the injury that he went through, he's just a young man that's dedicated and committed and wants to be great. And he puts in the work, he is one of our hardest workers. So, I think he's had a good spring and will continue to work this offseason and this summer to get ready for training camp."

White finished last season with one interception and six passes defensed but has his eyes set on being a bigger force in 2023. The CB's best year came in 2019 when he totaled six interceptions, 17 passes defensed, 58 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack. White is a fan favorite and I know we all want to see him back to making play after play, hopefully we see that come training camp in late July.

Scroll through to see the best shots from the Bills veteran media day shoot on June 12, 2023. This gallery is presented by Ticketmaster.

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