Posted: Thursday, 25 July 2013 12:11PM

Bills positional outlook: Defense



(WGR 550) -- The offense of the Buffalo Bills isn't the only side of the ball going through a complete transformation. While fans will see many familiar faces lining up on any given play, the entire approach the unit uses will change entirely.

Gone is the outdated, vanilla 4-3 scheme with barely any unique blitzes utilized. Offenses do too many things to counteract the effectiveness of the once innovative four-man rush theory, leaving the 2012 Bills too often with no way to counterpunch an offense's initial game plan.

With a new landscape of their front office which is now geared towards aggressiveness, it was inevitable that the Bills would want to match that with how the defense approached each season. Replacing Dave Wannstedt as defensive coordinator is former New York Jets coach Mike Pettine, who comes from the Rex Ryan school of pressure.

How will all the pieces fit in to Pettine's puzzle? Here's a position-by-position look at the Bills on defense:

[Related: Bills positional outlook: Offense]

Defensive Line
Returning players: Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Alex Carrington, Jay Ross, Torell Troup, Jarron Gilbert, Corbin Bryant
New faces: Alan Branch, Izaan Cross, Aaron Tipoti
- Thought of as a strength heading in to the 2012 season, the defensive tackles of the Buffalo Bills never really lived up to their potential. Kyle Williams once again dealt with a foot injury which inhibited his effectiveness, while Marcell Dareus had a combination of personal tragedy and inconsistency that completely plagued his second season in the league. All former defensive tackles will now make up the defensive line, with some players fitting in to defensive end roles and others as nose tackles when the Bills are in the 3-4. Williams will be a defensive end and Dareus will play some nose tackle in addition to some end duties. The Dareus versatility can be coupled with the signing of Alan Branch in the off-season, who offers a similar role as the former third-overall pick. Look for Alex Carrington to be a key contributor moving forward as a defensive end, with Jay Ross getting more time than you'd expect on the field during team drills. It's a big season for Torell Troup who has to prove he belongs after countless games lost to a back injury that his taken his career hostage thus far. Jarron Gilbert and Corbin Bryant each are likely on the outside looking in at this point, with the two undrafted free agents (Izaan Cross and Aaron Tipoti) as likely long-shots to make the roster outright.

Outside Linebacker
Returning players: Mario Williams
New faces: Manny Lawson, Jerry Hughes, Jamie Blatnick, Marcus Dowtin, Kourtnei Brown
- A new personnel grouping headed by the highest paid defensive player in the NFL is the first piece of evidence you can point to when talking about Pettine's attempt at a transformation of the defense. With Mark Anderson (cut), Chris Kelsay (retired) and Kyle Moore (not re-signed) all walking out the door, it got rid of the Bills' remaining 4-3 specific pass rushers. Now Mario Williams will have to channel his inner 2011 Houston Texan and attempt to excel in the 3-4 base defense. The team signed Manny Lawson in the off-season with the expectation that he'll start as an outside linebacker in 3-4 looks and the strongside 'backer in the 4-3. Jerry Hughes is the third man in, and likely a situational pass rusher for Pettine, much like he used a player also thought to be a first-round bust in a season and a half with the Jets. We'll just call him 'He Who Must Not Be Named.' Hughes flashed on most days during spring workouts with impressive rushes toward the quarterback, and did enough to help the Bills feel comfortable in cutting Anderson. Marcus Dowtin's versatility to play both outside and inside linebacker will make him especially valuable, and likely keep him on the 53-man roster, while Jamie Blatnick is this group's sleeper. Kourtnei Brown has an uphill struggle to make the roster out of camp.

Inside Linebacker
Returning players: Nigel Bradham, Bryan Scott, Arthur Moats, Chris White, Brian Smith
New faces: Kiko Alonso, Keith Pough
- With the idea of getting faster at inside linebacker, the Bills ditched Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard in the hopes that both second-round pick Kiko Alonso and second-year player Nigel Bradham step up in their place. Unless he looks totally lost in coverage throughout camp and the preseason, expect Alonso to be the favorite to play all three downs. You'll also see plenty of Bradham, whom the front office likes for his coverage skills, hard-hitting and aggressiveness. Bryan Scott and Arthur Moats each return with the hope that one of Alonso or Bradham mess up along the way. Chris White could make the roster for special teams reasons once again this year, but undrafted Keith Pough and his play will likely make that a competition for the roster spot. Signed to the practice squad late last year, Brian Smith likely won't be a threat to make the team.

Cornerback
Returning players: Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rogers, Crezdon Butler, Ron Brooks, T.J. Heath
New faces: Nickell Robey, Jumal Rolle, Kip Edwards
- Returning from a solid rookie season, Stephon Gilmore looks like he's the only sure thing at a position full of questions. It seems to be a four-way competition for the second cornerback job, which will be played on the right side based on spring practices, that doesn't provide a great option that will make fans feel comfortable heading in to the season. At this point, Leodis McKelvin is probably the favorite, but will need to ward off Justin Rogers, Ron Brooks and Crezdon Butler from potentially taking that role. If the Bills choose to keep six cornerbacks, it boils down to T.J. Heath against undrafted rookie Nickell Robey. The advantage goes to the rookie because of not only how many plays he made during spring, but also getting recognized by the coaching staff and earning first-team reps near the end of the sessions. Jumal Rolle and Kip Edwards are likely just training camp bodies that will be amongst the cut list when September comes around.

Safety
Returning players: Da'Norris Searcy, Aaron Williams, Mana Silva, Dominique Ellis
New faces: Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks, Jordan Dangerfield
- The safety group would look a whole lot better with a man that shares the same initials as your fearless author. Jairus Byrd, to this point, is still without a one-year agreement signed which would get him on the field quickly for 2013. Without Byrd, the Bills' safeties look shaky at best. Da'Norris Searcy was prepared for a potential starting gig in 2013 with how much he substituted for George Wilson in 2012. However, he seems to have only marginal instincts when it comes to pass coverage and could get burned. Aaron Williams makes the switch from cornerback to safety, and can certainly take advantage of his natural athleticism to help try and resurrect his career. If Byrd stays away and his situation goes into the season, that's your likely starting duo. On the next line of the depth chart, Duke Williams and Mana Silva make up the next pair. If Byrd comes back, I think that could very well signal the end of Silva's tenure in Buffalo. Jonathan Meeks could sneak on to the roster but the practice squad might be more likely with how he performed during spring. Dominique Ellis and undrafted rookie Jordan Dangerfield really aren't in great spots heading in to camp and remain unlikely to make the team.

As a bonus, here is the special teams outlook as well!

Kicker
Returning players: Rian Lindell
New faces: Dustin Hopkins
- Facing his stiffest competition yet, Rian Lindell will hope to keep calm and kick on in the face of adversity. Sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins has a huge leg, is way better than Lindell at the kickoff-to-touchback ratio and is significantly cheaper. Lindell will have to kick perfectly due to his big contract so the team can ignore the money and cut Hopkins if they so choose.

Punter
Returning players: Shawn Powell
New faces: Brian Stahovich
- This competition is completely wide open. While doing some good things in 2012, Shawn Powell also shanked some punt attempts as the season progressed. This is a a true "let the best man win" type of competition. Powell is more of a directional punter, trying to trap his opponents into the 'no man's land' of catching the punt along the sidelines. Brian Stahovich has a big, booming leg that brings a lot of hang time along with it. Whoever kicks the best, wins. Simply put.

Long Snapper
Returning players: Garrison Sanborn
New faces: None
No matter who wins the first two jobs, their best friend of the season will be Garrison Sanborn. He's back as one of the best long snappers in the league for his fifth year with the team.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP