If you missed part one where I covered the offense, or loved it so much you want to read it again, check it out here.
A lot has changed on defense since the end of last season. Mario Williams was released and is now giving roughly 70% effort in Miami. A.J. Tarpley retired due to his concussion history. And Nigel Bradham, Leodis McKelvin, and Ron Brooks decided to form their own version of the Dream Team in Philadelphia. Future Hall of Famer Ed Reed is even a defensive assistant.Not all of the change was bad though, Rex and company brought in guys who will better fit his system and are “all in” to what he’s trying to accomplish. Expectations are high for Rex to turn the defense around and make it a top ten unit once again. Let’s take a look at what he might be working with come opening day.
Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Shaq Lawson, Corbin Bryant, Adolphus Washington, Justin Zimmer
Outside of the last guy on this list, not too many surprises here. Depending on the package being deployed, pass rushing experts Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson might line up with their hand in the dirt or standing up. With Kyle Williams back healthy (fingers crossed), look for Marcell Dareus to move around more this year as well, hopefully spending less time at nose tackle more or less just eating up blocks. As good as he still was last year, I expect Mr. Big Stuff to fill up the stat sheet a whole lot more in 2016. For those of you unfamiliar, Justin Zimmer is a freak of an athlete (See Exhibit A and Exhibit B). I predict he will turn enough heads in training camp and earn a roster spot.
Preston Brown, Reggie Ragland, Zach Brown, Manny Lawson, Lorenzo Alexander, Eric Striker
One of the biggest issues last season on the defense was the ineffectiveness of the linebackers, namely Preston Brown. Many including myself expected big things after a very promising rookie season. It got so bad for Brown, that he had his play calling duties stripped late in the season. Enter: Reggie Ragland and Zach Brown. Ragland, the former heart and soul of some really good Alabama defenses will be expected to step in and contribute heavily right away while providing some needed toughness. Zach Brown was a solid signing in free agency who can play inside or outside linebacker. Lorenzo Alexander will earn his paycheck on special teams, but provides quality depth. Not just a feel good story because of his draft day speech, but Eric Striker is another name to keep an eye on throughout camp. He brings unique athleticism to the linebacker group and was constantly in the backfield while at Oklahoma, earning First Team All-Big 12 honors in 2014 and 2015.
Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Nickell Robey, Sterling Moore, Mario Butler
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better starting tandem at cornerback than that of Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby. The duo provides Rex the ability to leave them both comfortably on islands for prolonged stretches. The release of Leodis McKelvin left a hole that Buffalo will hope can be filled by free agent signings Sterling Moore and/or Corey White. I gave Moore the slight edge because even though he’s better suited to play in the slot, he can play on the boundary as well. Butler returns to round out the group as nice depth.
Aaron Williams, Corey Graham, Robert Blanton, Colt Anderson
If Aaron Williams can return from his terrifying injury last season and pick up where he left off, then this group will be fine. If he can’t, then look out. Corey Graham was a large pile of “meh” last season after converting from corner. Blanton is an adequate depth piece, but not much else. And Colt Anderson is on the roster purely for special teams.
Kicker, Punter, Long Snapper
Dan Carpenter, Colton Schmidt, Garrison Sanborn
I still believe in Dan Carpenter and I hope Rex does too. I’d hate to see him get cut after one down year only to have him be lights out somewhere else (like what happened in Miami). Sanborn and Schmidt are both great at what they do and would have to fail terribly to not make the roster.
That does it, BillsMafia. What do you think? Let your voice be heard in the comments section, or on Twitter @GeoffHarkins