After the 2012 season in which the Bills defense conceded 145.8 rushing yards per game, the front office prioritized sealing things up on the defensive front. The first move was the hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, whose defensive system has players raving over its aggression and versatility. The second move was adding depth to a highly talented front that already features Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, and Marcell Dareus.
Enter Alan Branch.
Drafted by the Cardinals in the second round in 2007, Branch spent his first four seasons in Arizona. Four starts and four sacks later his tenure in the desert was finished, and the defensive lineman moved on to Seattle where his play blossomed. Branch quickly became a key cog in a Seahawks defense that was among the very best in the NFL over the past two seasons. Branch started 31 games, had four sacks, and anchored a defense that allowed just eight rushing touchdowns in 2012. It should come as no surprise that the Bills would vigorously pursue such a player.
"Buffalo definitely had the most interest," said Branch. "They were the first ones to invite me, first one to show me the defense and show me my place in the defense."
The interest was not one-sided, as Branch was immediately intrigued by what Pettine showed him and the talent that already existed on the roster.
"The defensive scheme [was most appealing]," explained Branch. "It's a varied front plus it fits with all of my strengths, because I can play the two gap and I love doing all the slanting.
"We've got talent all across from the first team all the way back to third team. It's pretty cool we've got a strong front because the last few years I've been on a strong one."
Branch played defensive tackle in Seattle's four-man front, but will play outside at defensive end when the Bills line up in a 3-4.
Branch missed voluntary workouts as his wife, Ashley, gave birth to the couple's second daughter, but the big man was back for mandatory minicamp where he worked with the second and third units while adapting to the new system and tempo.
"This tempo is something," said Branch. "I don't think no matter how hard I trained at home, there was no way I was going to be ready for what we just did and the only thing you can do is go out there and practice and get yourself into the shape and get used to the tempo that they have."
Branch believes adapting to the high-tempo is vital given the recent success of offenses utilizing such a pace.
"Last year, the Patriots ran no huddle, and a lot of teams are trying to convert to no huddle to try to get the defenses off balance," explained Branch. "I think it's a good thing [to practice it] and it only makes us better with conditioning and being ready for what we have to do."
While his time away from the field may have set him back a bit, Branch still had his team-issued iPad, which gave him access to the practice tape and installations that occurred in his absence.
"I definitely think I have a good understanding," said Branch. "They put a couple of plays in when I wasn't here, so I've got to keep my head in the playbook and get really familiar with those and all positions on the defensive front. But for the most part, I feel like I'm pretty good right now."
Looking forward to the regular season, Branch is hopeful he can spark a turnaround in the Bills defensive line, especially when it comes to stopping the run.
"Hopefully I am [the key]," said Branch. "I don't like to count my eggs before they hatch, but that's the goal to go in there and stop the run because that's one of my best attributes."