Bills work out draft plan

The Bills coaching staff, scouts and administrators are reassembling at Ralph Wilson Stadium to begin plotting strategy for the college draft April 26-27. After a flurry of signings in free agency so far, the draft seems like icing on the cake.

 

The Bills primary objective this off-season was to upgrade a defense that ranked last in the NFL in takeaways, 27th in points allowed and 29th against the run.

Obtained for the defensive line were veteran run-stuffer Sam Adams and pass-rushing ends Marcus Jones (actually signed last November and placed on IR) and Keith McKenzie. Obtained at linebacker were star Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey. Obtained for the secondary was Denver starting free safety Izell Reese.

"You've got to be pleased with what we've done, even before the draft," defensive coordinator Jerry Gray beamed. "We filled some needs. We got a big run stopper, a more active 'will' linebacker, a good "sam" linebacker and we've got some competition back their are safety. Even without the draft, we've got competition on the team and that's going to make everyone better."

The significance of signing of Adams, a 6-3, 330-pounder, can't be overstated, Gray said.

Teamed with Pat Williams, another beefy presence in the middle, Adams will discourage teams from running up the gut on Buffalo – last year, the Bills gave up 4.5 yards per carry – and he can also collapse the pocket.

Fletcher, who had a team-record 209 tackles last season, in theory, can start making hits closer to the line of scrimmage instead of five yards down field.

And Spikes and Posey should be free to run to the ball or to the quarterback.

"Those guys will keep London Fletcher clean," said Gray of Adams, Williams and third-year pro Ron Edwards, who will rotate into the mix.

"The offense has to understand now they can't just double-team Pat and single block everyone else like they did against us the past two years.

"To me, (getting Sam Adams) was one of the biggest moves we made. Spikes is going to be great, but if he can't stay clean, he won't be as great. If he's got a tackle in his face all day, he's in trouble. Right now, we have the chance for Spikes, London and Posey to play in space an use their athletic ability without anybody on them."

As for rushing the passer – the Bills had just 31 sacks – Spikes and Posey figure big into the plan. But Buffalo also needs consistent threats from the ends.

Aaron Schobel, going into his third year, is a solid player, registering 6.5 and 8.5 sacks his first two years without much help.

"The thing that will get Aaron to the next level is having another good defensive end on the other side," Gray said. "He's proven he can get six sacks, but what about 12? With more heat form other side, he's got a chance."

That heat source could come from second-year pro Ryan Denney or McKenzie and Jones, two veterans whose solid careers have been slowed by injuries.

Another possibility is drafting a pass-rushing end from a good pool of prospects. Texas' Corey Redding and Penn State's Michael Haynes are most often mentioned as possible picks for the Bills with the 23rd overall pick obtained by Atlanta in the trade for Peerless Price.

Gray, 40, a four-time Pro Bowl defensive back as a player, has been tested under fire his first two seasons in Buffalo as one of the NFL's youngest defensive coordinators.

A dogged competitor, Gray's unit seemed to turn a corner the second half of last season when he made some impressive adjustments in personnel and schemes.

Over the final three games (wins over San Diego and Cincinnati and a close loss at Green Bay), the Bills allowed an average of 283 yards and 10.7 points while collecting 7 sacks, 5 takeaways and getting off the field on 31 out of 42 third-down situations. It was enough to earn Gray a one-year extension on his contract.

"To me, when I talked to the team at the end of last year, you could see how disappointed they were that we couldn't keep playing," he said. "The hardest thing to do is to get back to where you finished...But that's our expectation, to pick up where we left off."


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