A respectable contingent of Bills fans has lobbied for some time to change the team's defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment. Now it appears that group of fans has gotten its wish. Saying it and doing it however, are two very different things, but the man entrusted with making the change work is fully committed.
Defensive coordinator George Edwards has been a part of defensive transitions in the past. He knows the kind of challenge he's undertaking.
"I have been a part of a program that was a 4-3 for a long time and made the transition to a 3-4," he said. "When I first went to the Dolphins five years ago, they were 4-3 team forever. Then all of a sudden we come in there and we transition to a 3-4 defense. Is it hard? Yeah, it's hard. Is it different? Yeah it's different. But at the end of the day it still boils down on defense to being able to attack a blocker, get off a block and make a play on a running back or whoever the ball carrier is. That's what defense is all about."
Edwards has immersed himself in Bills defensive game tape from 2009 in an effort to gain a firm grasp of the talents and capabilities of every player on the current roster, so he knows how realistic a full scale switch can be, and where they made need to make some additions. But in no way will he try to put a square peg into a round hole.
"We know 3-4 is where we want to start schematically," Edwards said. "But we also have to adjust to what our personnel can do."
The front seven is where many of the possible personnel changes could occur. Marcus Stroud and Spencer Johnson look like prototype ends in a 3-4 system. Aaron Maybin, Aaron Schobel (if he plays) and possibly Chris Kelsay could shift to outside linebacker roles. Kawika Mitchell could presumably shift inside to team with Paul Posluszny. Where a talented player like Kyle Williams fits is tough to say as he does not appear to be the typical two-gap nose tackle in a 3-4 system. But those decisions are up to Edwards and his defensive staff and they do not intend to miscast talented players.
"You have ideal size that you want at particular positions," said Edwards. "That doesn't mean you're always going to have the ideal size at those positions so you have to play to the size and the strength of the people that you have on your roster."
Edwards does admit however, that having a true two-gap nose tackle is essential when it comes to having a solid run front in the 3-4.
"That's where it starts," he said. "It starts at the nose. You want to be strong up the middle. That is a position that you definitely have to concentrate on and you have to look at what you're going to ask that guy to do. That is a position where it's imperative that you get good play inside. Closing off the gaps inside as far as the run game, that will be a main emphasis for us defensively. That is a cog and a necessity to make sure you're able to get the best fit at the nose position."
Filling such a role is far from easy as 320-pound nose tackles do not come a dime a dozen. And some of the more notable ones in free agency this year are likely to be franchised by their respective clubs.
Though Edwards does not have all the answers at all the positions right now, he assures that his defense will have an attitude.
"We will play aggressive, attacking defense, so that's what we'll be looking to do," Edwards said. "Right now as we go through the evaluation phase, that's what we'll be looking for. We want smart, tough, physical football players. We want to be physical and we want to be aggressive."
Edwards knows the transition for the players will be challenging at the outset. There will be ups and downs, but he's hopeful that with good coaching and a professional approach by the players that they can succeed in making a lot of the 3-4 defensive principles work.
"Any time you're unfamiliar with something as a player or a coach, you're going to be asked to do different things," he said. "When you're asked to do different things that means the learning curve is going to be different because you're not as comfortable with what we're asking you to do initially. But that's the whole transition process."
Ultimately Edwards realizes they may not be operating out of a 3-4 look all the time. He knows the transition will take time and sometimes the talent you have requires the coach to adjust instead of the players.
"Just like every player is different, different things change for us as coaches too," Edwards said. "Our main objective is to get the most out of a player. We have to find out what they do well and concentrate on things that they can do well. That's what we're going to do."