Bills' Unit-by-Unit Rundown

A quick look at each position heading into a crucial off-season...

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Trent Edwards. Backups -- J.P. Losman, Gibran Hamdan. Injured reserve -- Matt Baker.

Edwards will return as the entrenched starter, but he still has much to prove heading into this third NFL season. Injuries have hurt his development, and he enters the offseason with a suspect throwing shoulder. When healthy, he has performed brilliantly at times, but his 12-11 record reflects his growing pains. His 65.5 percent completion percentage in 2008 was second best in team history and sixth overall in the league. He improved his yards-per-attempt average from 6.06 to 7.22, a mark most playoff quarterbacks hit. Still, he struggled with his accuracy later in the year and really struggled facing 3-4 defenses, something he needs to improve on playing in the AFC East. Former first-round pick Losman failed to lead Buffalo to wins in four emergency relief appearances, struggling with taking sacks and committing turnovers. He's a free agent and won't be retained, putting Buffalo in the market for a veteran backup.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Marshawn Lynch. Backups -- Fred Jackson, Xavier Omon, Bruce Hall, FB Corey McIntyre.

Lynch and Jackson formed a very productive 1-2 punch, and coordinator Turk Schonert will continue to look for ways to build the offense around them and take the pressure off Edwards. Lynch topped 1,000 yards for a second consecutive season, while Jackson added a career-best 571 yards rushing, including 136 in the season finale against New England. Meanwhile, the pair combined for 84 receptions, which led NFL running back combinations. Overall, Buffalo's running game averaged a hefty 136.5 yards per game the second half of the season when the Bills made a commitment to their run game with more two-tight-end blocking schemes.

TIGHT END: Starter -- Robert Royal. Backups -- Derek Schouman, Derek Fine, Jonathan Stupar.

This unit does what's asked of it, which is to block first and catch passes second. The problem is failing to provide Edwards with a better option that would maximize his strong intermediate passing range with the occasional long ball thrown in. Buffalo's tight ends combined to catch 58 passes, led by Royal's 33. More than 10 tight ends in the league caught 50-plus passes by themselves. The Bills desperately need to address this spot.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Lee Evans, Josh Reed. Backups -- Roscoe Parrish, Justin Jenkins, Steve Johnson. Injured reserve -- James Hardy.

Evans had a better season, improving to 63 catches for 1,017 yards and three TDs. Unfortunately for the Bills, No. 1 receivers earning $7 million a year need more production than that. Evans ranked 21st in catches, and he caught just 28 balls the second half of the year. While Reed had his best season as a slot receiver with 56 catches for 597 yards and a 10.7 average, teams did not respect him enough to stop double-covering Evans. The coaches put too many expectations on the rookie Hardy, who was not ready to shoulder any load and wound up with just nine catches before going on injured reserve with a torn ACL. Parrish (24 catches, 232 yards) is just too frail to be a heavy-duty answer. Johnson has some potential, but the Bills would be wise to sign a proven No. 2 veteran.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jason Peters, LG Derrick Dockery, C Duke Preston, RG Brad Butler, RT Langston Walker. Backups -- Melvin Fowler, Jason Whittle, Kirk Chambers, Demetrius Bell, Jonathan Scott.

Peters' unsuccessful contract holdout ruined whatever cohesiveness existed coming out of 2007. Run blocking improved as the year went on, and Preston replaced Fowler in the starting lineup. However, sacks soared from 28 to 36, and the team struggled against 3-4 schemes, particularly in the AFC East. Peters is still unhappy with his contract but has leverage after making his second consecutive Pro Bowl. A dominant center is needed with free agent Preston being retained in a backup role. The Bills need more out of Dockery at guard, too, but can't afford to pay two new players in the middle of their line.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Chris Kelsay, RDE Ryan Denney, LDT Marcus Stroud, RDT Kyle Williams. Backups -- Spencer Johnson, Copeland Bryan, Corey Mace. Injured reserve -- Aaron Schobel, Chris Ellis, John McCargo.

The Bills tried to shore up their leaky run defense with the addition of Stroud and Johnson, and the moves paid off. Overall, Buffalo's run defense improved, as did its third-down defense, which jumped from 29th to ninth. The weaknesses were rushing the passer and forcing turnovers. Schobel missed the season's final 11 games with a foot injury. Denney led with four sacks, the team's lowest leading total since sacks became a statistic in 1982. Kelsay had just two sacks but added 82 tackles. Former first-round pick McCargo, whom the team attempted to trade, is at a crossroads, and Ellis, a third-round pick, was a non-factor. The club will look to add a pass-rushing end, particularly since Schobel's health problems are unsettled.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Keith Ellison, MLB Paul Posluszny, SLB Kawika Mitchell. Backups -- Blake Costanzo, Teddy Lehman, Jon Corto. Injured reserve -- Angelo Crowell, John DiGiorgio, Alvin Bowen, Marcus Buggs.

This unit was vastly improved with the addition of veteran playmaker Mitchell from the Super Bowl champion Giants and the return to health of Posluszny from a broken arm. "Poz" led with 129 tackles, and Mitchell added 91 with two interceptions and four sacks. But injuries were a counterforce. Crowell was lost to microfracture knee surgery early on, forcing the gritty but undersized Ellison back into the starting lineup. If he gets a clean bill of health, the team will consider bringing back Crowell, a former 100-tackle man, and saving them a free agent search. Bowen is a good prospect but is also coming off knee surgery.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Terrence McGee, RCB Leodis McKelvin, FS Ko Simpson, SS Donte Whitner. Backups -- CB Jabari Greer, Reggie Corner, Dustin Fox, S Bryan Scott, George Wilson, John Wendling.

Thanks in part to a lack of a pass rush, this unit registered just seven interceptions, none by the safeties. That's only happened three times in team history. McGee had a splendid year with 69 tackles, 21 passes defended and three interceptions, and the rookie McKelvin stepped into the starting lineup for Greer (knee) for the final six games and had two picks. He should open next year as the starter, with Greer an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to be back. Whitner will be coming off a shoulder injury and may find himself shifted permanently to free safety. Scott, a bigger body, started against bigger tight ends with the inconsistent Simpson heading to the bench.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Rian Lindell, P Brian Moorman, LS Ryan Neill, KR Leodis McKelvin, PR Roscoe Parrish.

The Bills ranked among the best special teams units in the NFL for a fifth consecutive year under coach Bobby April. Lindell, Buffalo's career accuracy leader at 83.05 percent, converted 30 of 38 field-goal attempts. Moorman, who maintained his No. 1 ranking on the team's career average list at 43.17 yards per punt, had a career-best net average of 39.13. Opponents returned just 31 percent of his high, well-placed punts, second best in the league. Meanwhile, McKelvin added a fresh jolt to the return game. Taking over for career return leader McGee, the rookie set a single-season yardage mark with 1,468 yards and finished third in the NFL with a 28.2 average. Parrish led the NFL in punt return average for a second consecutive season at 15.3 yards. All of the above players will return, as will the key coverage men, led by Costanzo (26 special teams tackles) and Wendling (18).


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