Bills head coach Dick Jauron may be deemed a lot of things. Stupid is categorically not one of them. He's keenly aware the key to refining a defense ranked next to last in 2007 begins with the front four. So when a defense that was 19th against the run, and 30th versus the pass, adds only one new starter to that front four, how does it become more firmly enriched?
When that one guy is Marcus Stroud.
Buffalo jumped at the chance to give up third and fifth round draft picks to Jacksonville to obtain Stroud, and with good reason; even if his best days are behind him he's still one of the best run stuffers and lane cloggers in the business. At 6-foot-6 and 310-pounds, Stroud has the capacity to swallow up space and allow teammates around him to make more plays. If you calculate Stroud by his numbers, and you're the classic stat geek, you're sure to come away disenchanted. Stroud's career high in tackles is 65 and he's never had more than 6.5 sacks. But the things he brings to the defense can't be arbitrated by statistics. Stroud, assuming he can stay healthy, is like a terrific NBA point guard. He'll make others around him better.
Nobody should profit more than Aaron Schobel. Despite making the Pro Bowl last year for the second straight time, one could argue the nod was given on reputation more than performance. Schobel only had 6.5 sacks in 2007, less than half the 14 he recorded the previous year. With blockers more centered on Stroud it should free up less double teams and give Schobel a chance to do what he does best; play in open space.
Chris Kelsay also saw his sack total drop in half last season (2.5 from 5.5 in 2006) and stands to benefit from the presence of Stroud.
Kyle Williams started at defensive tackle out of necessity last year. He's received the nod again, but this time he's starting because he earned it. Many expected John McCargo to take over but after coming to camp in poor condition and not being a factor during the preseason, Williams secured his keep in the starting lineup.
Nobody talks about Spencer Johnson coming from Minnesota, but they may be before this campaign ends. Johnson is a versatile defender who can get after the quarterback at tackle or end. He's ahead of McCargo in the rotation for the foreseeable future and will get ample opportunity to contribute.
Chris Ellis was drafted in the third round this April, but don't expect much of an impact just yet. He's shown flashes of great pass rush skill in camp, but at other times looks dumbfounded. He'll be eased into a fourth defensive end role behind Ryan Denney, who's looked solid this summer.
McCargo is the real enigma. He's got first round talent, yet sometimes plays with scout team passion. He's entering year three of his career and he teeters on the bust-line. It could be now or never for him, at least in a Bills uniform.
Lastly, if the preseason is really inconsequential, someone forgot to tell Copeland Bryan. The undrafted free agent of two years ago seemed destined for unemployment or the practice squad, until he dominated Detroit in the final preseason game. His performance was so strong the Bills kept only six linebackers to ensure Bryan a spot on the 53-man roster.
More than a few analysts project the Bills as a team on the rise for 2008. If this holds true, it'll be due in large part to the defensive line showing opponents our offense isn't the only one with an abundance of three-and-outs.