There's a major celebrity at Bills training camp. That's what it feels like anytime Mario Williams takes to the practice field. I sit in the stands to watch practice and will move around from time to time. No matter where I sit, the conversations around me usually center on big number 94.
Mario Williams reminds me of Bruce. Springsteen, not Smith. When the announcement comes out that he's going on tour(we'll use free agency in this case) you're hoping he's coming to your town. When the tour date is announced you're so excited to know you'll see him in person, you buy tickets as soon as they're available and you don't think twice about how much they'll cost.
Then the countdown and anticipation begin. I am counting down the days until August 24th when I will see Springsteen in Toronto. The Buffalo show was so outstanding I jumped on the opportunity to see him again. Bills fans are counting down the days until September 9th when Williams and company make their tour debut at Met Life Stadium. Maybe you bought season tickets in the days after Williams signed the largest contract in Bills history. Maybe you have tickets to one game or two but will run to the box office after watching him play in person.
The E Street Band is one of the greatest ever but there's no question the star is Bruce Springsteen. The Bills might have a dominant defense this season and one of the best starting defensive lines in franchise history but there's no question who the star of the show is, Mario Williams.
As I stated, its been interesting to watch the fan reaction to Williams at training camp. Last Thursday during the first practice, fans quietly watched the offense work out on the main field and then cheered when number 94 jogged onto that field with the rest of the defense,
During the Wednesday night practice, it seemed like they cheered anything and everything Williams did, even his work during the position drills. During the team portion of the practice, Williams would have had a sack on Ryan Fitzpatrick when the QB rolled out to his side. On one pass rush he drew two offensive linemen while Kyle Williams stunted to the outside and had a clear path to Fitzpatrick who would have been absolutely crushed. Later the 6'7" Williams showed how long he can be by reaching up and knocking down a Fitzpatrick pass.
Before I get too carried away, this isn't a one man show. In theory, Williams will have the E Street Band working with him. You can't help but stop, think and possibly drool a little about the front four the Bills will put on the field against the Jets and Mark Sanchez on September 9th. Sanchez shouldn't be worried about Tim Tebow, he should be worried about Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mark Anderson coming after him.
Talk about pick your poison. No question teams will look to double team Mario Williams and use combinations of linemen, tight ends and running backs to slow him down. That leaves Anderson with his explosive first step coming off the opposite edge and the behemoths in the middle who are both adept at collapsing the pocket.
The Bills as a team ended up with 29 sacks last season. The starting front four(if they stay healthy and play every game) could surpass that total all by themselves. If you combine the average yearly sack totals of that quartet, it comes to 22 1/2. Keep in mind Mario Williams missed 11 games last year and 3 more in 2010. Still he averaged just under 9 sacks a season in his Houston Texans career.
Kyle Williams had no sacks last season but was playing on one leg for 5 games before going on injured reserve. The LSU product had a combined 9 1/2 sacks the previous two seasons when he played on bad defenses and had little help around him.
Dareus had 5 1/2 sacks as a rookie last season and Anderson has averaged 6 sacks a season but had 10 last year in New England while playing in only 47% of the Patriots defensive plays.
I'm thinking that group of four combine for around 30 sacks which means the Bills have a very good shot at reaching the 40 sack total as a team for the first time since 2006 and just the fourth time since 2000.
When you see Bruce Springsteen in concert you stand up, cheer, shout and dance. Bills fans are hoping to do all of that and see some dancing on the field(sack dances) with their best pass rusher since "the other Bruce" was playing in town.
From the "for what its worth" department. Mario Williams has 53 sacks in his first 82 games. Aaron Schobel had 47 1/2 at the same point of his career while Bruce Smith had 67 1/2.