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Spotlighting the Bills' Defensive Line

 If the Buffalo Bills expect to be legitimate playoff contenders in 2012, the defense will have to drastically improve over their 2011 performance.

Overall, the defense was ranked 26th in 2011. If you break it down, the defense was ranked 19th against the pass and 28th against the run, allowing 139 yards per game on the ground.

The Bills have been notorious for being atrocious against the run in recent seasons, so that has to change quickly. The entire defense managed just 29 sacks, 10 of which came in one game against the Washington Redskins so that minuscule number is highly inflated.

Lets take a look at how the defensive tackle position pans out heading into the 2012 NFL season.

Marcell Dareus

The Buffalo Bills used their No. 3 overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft on Alabama's defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, with the hopes of him playing the three-technique defensive end position in the Bills' 3-4 defensive front. However, when nose tackle Kyle Williams went down with an injury, Dareus took over the nose guard position and performed outstandingly. In his rookie season, the former National Champion racked up 43 tackles and led the team with 5.5 sacks.

With the transition to the 4-3 defense, he will line up alongside Kyle Williams in the middle, and his 6'3" 331 pound frame will allow him to penetrate offensive lines and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Kyle Williams

Kyle Williams is one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the entire National Football League. While he has never exceeded 5.5 sacks in a season, the former Louisiana State product is a force against the run and makes opposing offensive coordinators game plan against him.

Chris Brown, the lead journalist at BuffaloBills.com, believes Williams is already a candidate to make the 2012 Pro Bowl, stating:

When healthy, Kyle Williams proved he is capable of being one of the best defensive tackles in the game. This became apparent when he was selected to the Pro Bowl and placed on Peter King’s All-Pro Team following the 2010-11 season. Last year, he was sidelined for the season after just five games due to a lingering injury to his left foot. If healthy, Williams should have no problem being a Pro Bowl caliber player once again.

Moving to a 4-3 scheme will benefit Williams because opposing offenses will not be able to double team both he and Marcell Dareus. The Bills are also very strong and deep at defensive end, which has not always been the case during his tenure with the Bills. Williams consistently has been double teamed in the past and put up Pro Bowl worthy numbers. Now that he will see more one-on-one blocking situations he should thrive this coming season.

With Williams and Dareus entrenched as starters, the Bills should have one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the National Football League
 
Dwan Edwards

Dwan Edwards was one of the first players the Bills brought in when they made the move to the 3-4 defense, after spending his career as a defensive end in the Baltimore Ravens ferocious defense. Now, he has been relegated to the second team defensive tackle unit, despite racking up 52 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season.

Mark Ludwiczak had this to say about Edwards and his fit on the team:

Based on Wannstedt's comments about not wanting "situational players," I'm expecting Dwan Edwards to be cut. Doesn't fit 4-3 scheme.

At 6'3" 301 pounds, Edwards definitely has the size, power, and ability to take over the starting defensive tackle role barring an injury, but on the other hand, his $3.8 million cap hit may cost him a job during training camp cuts.

Alex Carrington

Alex Carrington was a third round draft choice out of Arkansas State, where he recorded 21.5 career collegiate sacks as a defensive end in a 4-3 front. Now, he isworking with the third string defensive line, and it's unclear how he will transition to the defensive tackle position. He saw snaps at defensive end, defensive tackle, and even outside linebacker last season, recording 16 tackles and a sack.

He spoke to defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt recently, but didn’t get too many specifics on where he’ll be lining up.

“Not too in depth. I’ll still be on the line of course, but he didn’t go into detail about it,” Carrington told Buffalobills.com. “I talked to him a little bit about the defense and the kind of things they would entail. I’m optimistic about it and I’m ready to start the offseason and get into the swing of the new defense

Due only $540,000 this year, it's likely he stays on the roster as he was brought in by the Nix/Gailey era of draft picks, especially if Dwan Edwards doesn't make the team.

Torell Troup

Many Bills fans see defensive tackle Torell Troup as the player the team passed on Rob Gronkowski for. However, the former Central Florida product has high upside and potential after recording 108 tackles and 16.5 sacks in his four years at UCF, but that is if he can stay healthy. Troup had a rough 2011 campaign; breaking his hand at the beginning of the year, eventually landing on the injured reserve list last season after a severe back injury that he continued to play through.

On the injury, Troup told BuffaloBills.com:

“The whole year was just brutal. The Jets game on the road was the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I fought through it the best I could all the way through the season up until that Jets game. Coach Gailey came up to me in the locker room and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We know you’ve been fighting all year and we know you are resilient so if you can’t go we know there’s something wrong. You should stay back here and lay down and relax.’ It was definitely heartbreaking not being able to finish the season with my teammates was horrible.”

Troup's dedication and raw ability will earn him a spot on the 53-man roster, and is expected to suit up for training camp after finishing his back rehabilitation.

Troup's optimism regarding his ability is unquestioned, stating:

“The biggest thing is that first step. If you beat that guy when he hikes that ball and get a step on that guy… and I have a great first step and I feel like I’d be able to use that to my advantage this year.”

Kellen Heard

Kellen Heard is an intriguing prospect on the Buffalo Bills' roster. A massive man stanging 6'6" weighing in at 346 pounds, the Bills signed Heard off of the Oakland Raiders' practice squad in order to add depth to the nose tackle position. He lit it up in the 2011 preseason, and had a solid campaign last year recording 21 tackles, two sacks, and forcing a fumble in his limited playing time.

Heard's size and strength will definitely earn him a spot on the team, even if he is a third stringer in my opinion, especially if he has a training camp and preseason similar to last year's

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