Bills' offseason has sent clear message: Team needs to be better in the middle of the defense

May 02, 2018 - 7:40 am

“Some people believe in building through the middle, some believe in building through the edge on the perimeter.”

That’s what Bills head coach Sean McDermott said in his post-draft press conference last Saturday night.  And it’s clear by looking at this Bills’ offseason which strategy McDermott is adhering to heading into the 2018 season.

Consider these moves, all made since the start of free agency:

  • Signed DT Star Lotulelei to a 5-year, $10 million contract
  • Re-signed DT Kyle Williams to a 1-year, $5.5 million contract
  • Signed 4-year veteran DT Tony Palepoi to a 1-year contract
  • Signed 5-year veteran ILB Julian Stanford to a 2-year, $3 million contract
  • Traded up and used a 1st round pick (No. 16 overall) on ILB Tremaine Edmunds
  • Used a 3rd round pick (No. 96 overall) on DT Harrison Phillips

McDermott is trying to fortify the middle of a defense that finished 29th in the league in rushing yards per game given up (124.6), and 20th in yards per play allowed on the ground (4.28).

“The game really starts up front,” McDermott said.  “Philosophically for us on both sides of the ball. Down the middle in particular you want to be strong and powerful. In particular more than strong, so power is important. You saw some of our issues last year in the run game on defense, so that has been a major emphasis on defense this year as well. Some of that was just gap assignment rather than power and what-not.”

The Bills haven’t neglected the edges by any means.  In fact, over the same time period they signed pass rusher Trent Murphy to a 3-year, $22.5 million deal, and added ends Owa Odighizuwa and Terrence Fede.  But both of those players were inked to vet minimum deals and replaced Ryan Davis and Cap Capi, who were both released.  The team didn’t use any one of their eight draft choices on any defensive ends or outside linebackers.

Phillips should walk right in from Stanford and be an immediate contributor on a defensive line that McDermott loves to rotate.  The head coach called him “more of a one technique,” which means lined up just off the right or left shoulder of the offensive center in the Bills’ defense.  “He’s extremely strong, which is important to anchor down the middle of our defense, run defense, (and) the power that goes along with that,” he said. “You saw his numbers, what he was able to do in the bench press at the combine, so (he’s) extremely strong, extremely powerful, dedicated, a guy that’s extremely competitive, you name it in terms of those winning qualities. That’s what you feel when you’re around this young man.”

Phillips’ 42 reps of 225 lbs. on the bench press was the most of any player at any position at the 2018 scouting combine.

Edmunds is what some refer to as the “new-age NFL linebacker.”  He can play outside, but projects to be the starting middle linebacker for the team right away.  A hole created when the league’s leafing tackler, Preston Brown, left via free agency to the Cincinnati Bengals.  He can run sideline-to-sideline as well as any linebacker in the draft and can also cover tight ends and runnning backs in the passing game.

“He is a versatile athlete,” McDermott said. “He’s got size, length as you mentioned, he has played inside, he has played outside as well, he has played on the line of scrimmage as well as off the line of scrimmage. Some of that flexibility is what attracted us to him, as well.”

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