In an offseason full of change, new general manager, new coaching staff, new defensive scheme, the Buffalo Bills have emerged with a new identity this summer at St. John Fisher. Also making noticeable switches are the Bills defensive linemen, with all tackles aside from Kyle Williams making the move to defensive end, and the ends transitioning to outside linebackers in the new 3-4 defensive scheme.
One such player moving to strong side linebacker is Chris Ellis, the 72nd overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech. While playing under head coach Frank Beamer with the Hokies, Ellis excelled at the defensive end position, starting 35 games, recording 165 tackles, 82 quarterback pressures and 19 sacks for his career.
Ellis' potential is still relatively unknown, given the fact that he has only appeared in 10 games during his young NFL career. With a shortage of game experience at end in the professional ranks, and now making the switch to linebacker, Ellis admitted the transition has been difficult, but he's managing.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't tough, it is a different situation. It's a lot more coverage, a lot more to learn," he said. "But, all in all, I think it's going well. We're getting good responses from the coaches, so it's just a matter of adding on and being consistent."
Prowess as a pass rusher is what led the Bills to draft Ellis originally, and that part of the game has come easy to him at his new position. One assignment he is now primarily responsible for is pass coverage, something largely unfamiliar to traditional defensive ends. The instruction of the coaching staff has helped him to improve greatly from the spring, which has translated into Ellis making an impact on the field, all while continuing to hone his technique and perfect the fundamentals of the game.
"There's definitely always something you can work on. Pad level is probably the biggest thing, but that's been my issue since I ever started playing football, just to continue to get lower, being one of the taller guys at the position. Get my pads down," Ellis said. "As far as making the transitions and being where I'm supposed to be, it's going along pretty good."
Ellis' progress was helped even more this past week with Chris Kelsay sidelined with a shoulder injury. It enabled Ellis to get valuable first team reps in the veteran's absence.
Head coach Chan Gailey, in particular, has taken note of the effort that the 6'4", 260-pounder has put in to make his change in position a successful move for this season.
"I'll tell you what, he may be one of the guys that's made some of the biggest improvements from the first OTA that he went through to this point in camp. He's made a lot of progress," Gailey said. "He'd never done this (played linebacker), he looked awful when he started, and the guy can go on the field and play right now. He's improved tremendously."
As if learning a new position was not enough of a task, the brand new terminology of the 3-4 scheme of defensive coordinator George Edwards is something that all Bills defenders are learning together. The number of repetitions he was able to take in the spring to mentally prepare gave Ellis a jump start on fitting in to his new role.
"It was a little rough (learning the new defense), but OTAs were a big help. We had a few extra practices with the new coaching staff, all of that was beneficial," he said. "I was there for the rookie camp, so adding in those days, we got all of the plays in before the end of OTAs. That was a big help. Studying over the summer to put it together this August, everything should be ready to go come September."
Although he has not seen extended game action thus far in his NFL career, Ellis is a veteran holdover for the defense, and has been through the rigors of training camp the past two summers. Given the opportunity to experience summer practice from the perspective of both rookie and veteran has provided Ellis with a clear outlook on the summer practice slate, and what it will take to accomplish team goals in 2010.
"I don't even know what outside linebacker stats are, so for me just to get playing time out there and help the team, that's enough for me right there," Ellis said. "Just to go out, help, and be the player that I know I can be."