The defensive tackle position is probably one of the most physically demanding in all of professional football. It is a high action zone on the field, as the tackles go to constant battle with the interior offensive linemen with the goal of disrupting offensive execution. The big men in the middle of the line are often the biggest players on defense, with many weighing in excess of 300 pounds. With the switch to the 3-4 defense, three Bills tackles are moving to the outside, including one of the team's top draft picks from four years ago.
John McCargo, Buffalo's second first round pick (26th overall) in the 2006 NFL Draft, will now be one of the edge linemen in George Edwards' new defensive scheme. For the 6'2", 307-pound McCargo, this is his first time ever playing the defensive end position.
"It's been challenging, but it's kind of what was expected. I've never played end before, so I'm going into it trying to do something totally new," McCargo said. "I'm taking it a day at a time, just trying to learn and do the techniques that my coaches want me to do because it's totally different. (But) nothing I can't handle."
A standout defensive tackle at North Carolina State, McCargo totaled 134 tackles, 29 for loss, along with four sacks in his three-year Wolfpack career. His production with the Bills has not been comparable thus far, recording only 46 tackles and 2.5 sacks in his first four seasons on the squad. With Kyle Williams and rookie Torell Troup likely to occupy the nose position in the center of the defense, McCargo and the other tackles are hard at work learning assignments on the outside. Though he is officially considered an end, McCargo said that he still may line up inside as part of specific packages.
"When you are in a 3-4, those ends are (essentially) defensive tackles, so when we get in nickel and dime, we probably will be on the inside a little bit more," he said. "You've got the 2-gap, and you have to take up two men anyway, so it's not like a traditional end. We are going to get the opportunity to rush from the outside, but it's not going to be that much."
McCargo suffered through an injury-plagued 2008 season, where an October trade to the Indianapolis Colts was voided due to failing the required physical. He was placed on injured reserve in November of that year, and played sparingly in 2009, recording 11 tackles in 11 games. With new coach Chan Gailey and defensive coordinator Edwards taking the reigns in Buffalo, McCargo feels he is getting a fresh start with the Bills at his new position.
"They told everybody they'd be coming in with a clean slate, not just for me, for everyone," he said. "They are going to give everybody a clean shot to get out there to see who the best at each position is."
Fighting back from injury, switching positions mid-career, all while trying to live up to the expectations of a first round draft choice, may seem like a large hill to climb for any player in the NFL. In spite of all the obstacles he has faced, McCargo is focused on learning the new defensive scheme, and getting into a comfort zone.
"Once you do that, you will make plays," he said. "The scheme is set up for you to make plays, we just have to get in there with technique, know where we have to be, and I feel like the plays will come."
While McCargo, along with former tackle Marcus Stroud, are making a first-ever transition out of the middle, teammate Spencer Johnson already has experience at both tackle and end. McCargo said that Johnson has been instrumental in helping him to grasp and understand important differences between the two positions.
"I talk to Spencer all the time, about having good hands, and how to be stout in there," McCargo said. "He tries to coach me up on good hand work, good hand placement, and finishing (the play)."
With players shifting positions on the line, and some even moving into linebacker roles in the 3-4 scheme, the Buffalo Bills defense will certainly have a new look in 2010. McCargo said that the team has high hopes for the season, based on what has transpired thus far in preparation with Edwards and his staff.
"We want to put the offense in position to win. If we can allow no points (at all), that's what we want to do," McCargo said. "We want to go out there and play lights out defense, to play the best we can play, and show people that we can be a force in the AFC East. We just want to go out there and play good defense and help give our offense and opportunity to win the game."