During Buffalo's bye week the list of priorities was pretty clear for their defensive staff. A long hard look had to be taken with respect to the team's run defense, but there was a close second right behind it.
"Our focus is to shore up our run defense first," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. "And then what we can do with our top pick to help him be more effective in the second half of the season."
Fewell is referring to defensive end Aaron Maybin. Drafted 11th overall last April, there have been high expectations for the rookie as it was widely anticipated that he would give Buffalo's pass rush an added shot in the arm.
Through the first half of the season it hasn't happened, as his opportunities have been limited by lack of playing time on defense and solid play by the veterans in front of him. He's logged just six tackles thus far this season.
Knowing the amount of playing time he receives is out of his control, Maybin is doing the only thing he can do, which is his level best in the practice setting.
"I'm out here working," he said after a recent practice. "I'm trying to push the envelope and give guys competition and improve my game as much as I can on the practice field, and on game day. Hopefully that's going to start paying dividends and we're going to start seeing a lot more production."
From a pass rush perspective Buffalo's defense has fared well. Their 18 sacks in the first eight games ranks seventh in the league, but if they can tap into Maybin's God-given abilities the unit could really excel.
"When we drafted him we knew what he was, he's a speed rusher off the edge," said head coach Dick Jauron. "He's not a giant defensive end, but he's a strong guy and he's got a great motor. We knew that it would take some time and thought he could help us right away in our pass rush and that's still pretty much where we are."
Part of what has kept Maybin off the field is the defense's inability to put opponents in passing situations. With the defense's lack of success stopping the run combined with Buffalo's inability to score points their opponents have not been forced into a passing mode, which is when the Bills want to make use of Maybin the most.
In the times that he has seen the field Maybin has found himself just a step away from making something happen.
"I've been close to a few plays that I haven't been able to get, just a split second type of thing and that's all technique," he said. "The devil is in the details. I think if I can pay attention to detail and continue to close those gaps a little bit and close that window of time I'll start to make a lot more plays."
And that's why the coaching staff has made finding more ways to put him in situations where he can be successful a top priority this bye week. They know with Maybin that making plays is a matter of when, not if.
According to Fewell the staff will be looking at what down and distances are the best for putting him in a situation to succeed as well as sharpening up his individual game to help make him more effective in the time he is out there playing.
"I feel as though everything that I possibly can do to help put myself in a position to contribute and make a difference on this team I've done," said Maybin. "And I'll continue to do that. This is something I've really poured my heart and soul into. So it makes me feel good to know that the coaches are trying to reward that and trying to find ways to utilize those things. But at the end of the day it's up to me to go get it done. When they put me out there I have to be able to make a difference and change the tempo of the game."