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2022 Training Camp

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"We got all the juice" | Bills' D-line sets the tone for highly-touted defense

Von Miller (40), Tim Settle (99). Day Two of Buffalo Bills Training Camp at St. John Fisher, July 25, 2022.  Photo by Bill Wippert
Von Miller (40), Tim Settle (99). Day Two of Buffalo Bills Training Camp at St. John Fisher, July 25, 2022. Photo by Bill Wippert

Every team has a position group that sets the tone, and for the Bills, all signs point toward it being their defensive line this season.

"We got all the juice over there," defensive end A.J. Epenesa said. "They're the guys that really bring it every day and get the energy up."

Take roll call of the Bills' front, and the names — both new and old — just keep pouring in. There's the returning core of Epenesa, Ed Oliver, Greg Rousseau, and Boogie Basham. Then there's a trio of defensive tackles who joined in the offseason in DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle and former Bills DT Jordan Phillips. The Bills' 2016 first-round pick Shaq Lawson has also made his way back to Buffalo after playing for the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets in 2020-21. 

Oh and if that wasn't enough, the team inked two-time Super Bowl champion and edge rusher Von Miller to a six-year contract worth up to $120 million.

Even other position groups on the team have taken notice of the D-line as the Bills progress through training camp.

"They're monsters," rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam said. "Yeah, they're freaks. Our first string, second string, third string, they just come rolling in."

The depth, on paper, is obvious and should bolster one of the best defenses in the NFL. But there's more to it that helps the unit click as seamlessly as it already has. The fun and boisterous personalities, particularly among the newcomers in the group, have meshed together with the returning core.

Guys like Settle and Phillips are earning praise in the building for their play and intensity.

"Tim's just always loud. So, I think Tim wins the cake for being the loudest," laughed safety Micah Hyde. 

Added Epenesa, "Tim is just a ball of energy that spins. He's a great dude. He's hilarious but he's a hard worker, too."

Settle started the first day of camp with an interception and has continued to make plays since.

Phillips' return to the fold is a welcome sight. He played for the Bills in 2018-19, then went to Arizona for two seasons. Epenesa described Phillips as a 'beast' who looks ready to get back to form when he had 9.5 sacks for the Bills in 2019. 

"He came back with a calm confidence," added Bills GM Brandon Beane. "He's always been confident. But the maturity level has risen and he's been such a pro. He picked up like he never left."

Beane described an impressive play from Phillips early in camp when he and Miller were in tandem pressuring QB Josh Allen. Miller rushed from the top of the pocket, allowing Phillips to loop behind Von and force Allen to escape and throw the ball away for an incompletion.

"That goes to his hustle," Beane said.

The trajectory for fourth-year pro Ed Oliver continues to climb, especially with the added depth around him. That should give the 6-1, 287-pound DT a chance to have his best season yet. Oliver has been a standout during practice, getting pressure on the quarterbacks each day, then lighting up the room away from the field.

Oliver's engaging personality with the D-line is evident, as he's frequently been spotted dancing on the sidelines before practice and even filming some of his teammates' dance moves. When Oliver and other defensive players aren't at practice, it hasn't been hard to spot him as he and fellow DT DaQuan Jones have been cruising around the campus of St. John Fisher on scooters.

"DaQuan showed up with a scooter and I was like, you know what, I need a scooter," Oliver shared. "So I just went and got one."

With lots of potential in the room, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier can mix and match combinations up front that very few NFL teams have the capability of doing on a weekly basis.

"This group, this size, this athleticism. I don't know if we've ever had that before," Frazier said. "It's unique."

But what could truly elevate the group and turn the energy displayed in practice to a championship-caliber team is the addition of Miller. The NFL leader in sacks since 2011 with 115.5 is now in Buffalo and ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

"They had solid defense before I even got here," Miller said. "I just feel like I'm the missing piece for this team. They've been close for a few years now."

Miller's competitive nature alone will bode well for the team, though it's his leadership and ability to improve those around him that could pay big dividends. 

"All Super Bowl teams, they have similarities and success leaves clues. And as long as we just keep chipping away at it, I feel like we'll be OK. Whenever I can interject some of my knowledge and some of my wisdom where if I see something I could put my two cents in, I'll do it.

"It's a big room, there's a lot of energy in there and I'm excited about it," Miller said.

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