Coming off a pair of foot surgeries Ryan Denney was likely hoping to just make it through a 16-game season healthy. Ironically, another foot injury led to the most productive season of his career in 2008.
With Aaron Schobel sidelined for the last 11 games of the season with a serious foot injury, Denney stepped into the right defensive end position and played some of his best football in a Bills uniform.
"Personally I was happy to be back especially after my injury last year," said Denney. "You never know coming off a couple of surgeries like that, how your body will react. I was happy with how my body felt and I felt quick and strong, but I was probably on the field more this year than any other year in my career and that contributed to my better numbers this year."
Denney finished with a career high 94 tackles, second only to Paul Posluszny (129), led the team in sacks (4) with five pass breakups and a forced fumble to his credit as well.
Surprisingly however, the veteran defensive end has started more games in a season than he did in 2008. Back in 2003 Denney had 13 starts and had 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, a pair of pass breakups and a forced fumble. His previous best in tackles was 72 in 2006 when he appeared in all 16 games, but did not start.
"If you can dissect the numbers of the last couple of years, I've actually had good numbers based on the play time I've had. That's something I've worked on and sometimes it's gone unnoticed. I've looked at the numbers myself and they've been pretty consistent over the last couple of years as far as my play time goes."
Unfortunately for Denney some of his best performances came in losses. He set a single-game career high in tackles this season with 11 against the Patriots in each of the two meetings with New England this season, including eight solo stops in the Week 10 matchup.
His other standout performance came against San Francisco as he contributed six tackles and a pair of sacks.
But one of his more annoying attributes for opposing quarterbacks is his wide wingspan, which batted down five passes this season to tie a single-season best. With all the quick passing game the Bills defense saw this season, the defensive linemen made getting their hands up a point of emphasis.
"You're always trying to get a hand up if you're not able to get the quarterback," said Denney. "The pass breakups often come down to being in the right place at the right time. But across the board we had quite a few between Spencer Johnson, Chris Kelsay, Marcus Stroud and myself. People don't give that the credit it's due because if you break up a pass it's as good as a tackle for no gain, so we work on that."
Denney has always been a solid run defender, but seemed to be more of a recognizable presence against the run this season particularly on tackles for no gain. The end felt getting more reps as a starter helped him.
"Once you're out there from the first play in the game you get a better feel for what the opposing offense is doing and how the offensive tackle or tight end is going to block you so you're able to react quicker and make more plays," he said.
And defense wasn't the only place Denney made plays. His fake field goal reception from Brian Moorman for a touchdown against Seattle in the season opener was unforgettable.
"It was nice," said Denney of the play. "I never caught a pass before but it was exciting. So far I haven't dropped one."
And Denney also didn't drop the ball when handed a starting role, making some outside observers wonder if he might challenge for one in 2009.
"We'll see how it goes. If you look at my numbers over the last four or five years, especially coming off the bench, my numbers are right there," said Denney. "It's been the same way for the last couple of years and I've been pretty consistent and I'm happy with the opportunity I get, but we'll see what happens next year."