Buffalo Bills: kyle williams

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills had a pair of offensive players return to Tuesday's organized team activities (OTAs).

Wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Anthony Dixon, who were both not spotted at Monday's session, were back on the field Tuesday.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams remained out of Tuesday's OTAs, which is voluntary per NFL rules. He also missed Monday's practice.

Tight end Tony Moeaki had limited participation Tuesday after doing rehab work during Monday's practice. Other players working on the sidelines Tuesday were wide receiver Cordell Roberson, cornerback Darius Robinson, running back Ronnie Wingo, guard J.J. Unga, offensive tackle Chris Hairston, wide receiver Marcus Easley, and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.

Goodwin injured his knee in Monday's practice. This is the first time that Hairston, who took some reps at right guard with the first-team Monday, had missed practice.

Defensive Bryan Johnson, who was carted off the field Monday with an apparent left knee injury, was not spotted. Offensive lineman Doug Legursky, defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Alan Branch, and defensive end Manny Lawson were also not on the field.

Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hip) saw limited reps in red zone drills, while cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin (hip) and Stephon Gilmore (hip) also saw reps with the second team in one red zone drill. That was their first action in team drills of OTAs.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills began their final week of organized team activities with two injuries in Monday's practice.

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin came down hard on his right knee while diving for a catch. He met with trainers and briefly returned to practice before eventually leaving the field. His injury doesn't appear to be serious but is worth monitoring.

Meanwhile, rookie defensive end Bryan Johnson was carted off the field with a left leg injury. Johnson, who returned to practice Monday after sitting out two sessions last week, immediately grabbed for his left knee following a play during 11-on-11 work.

Coach Doug Marrone checked on Johnson before the cart left the field. Johnson is an undrafted rookie from West Texas A&M.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Anthony Dixon were not spotted at Monday's practice after participating in the final session of last week. Tight end Tony Moeaki spent practice rehabbing from an undisclosed injury.

Guard Chris Williams returned to action after missing two practices last week. Offensive lineman Doug Legursky remained out after sitting out last Thursday's session.

Running back Bryce Brown, who dealt with an undisclosed injury through the first two weeks of OTAs, was a full participant Monday. He moved well, catching a pass across the middle from Thad Lewis in stride at one point.

Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hip), cornerback Leodis McKelvin (hip), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (hip), and wide receiver T.J. Graham (hip) all sat out team drills. Defensive end Mario Williams saw some limited action in those drills.

Wide receivers Cordell Roberson and Marcus Easley, tight end Mike Caussin, guard J.J. Unga, running back Ronnie Wingo, and cornerback Darius Robinson all remained limited due to injuries.

Defensive end Manny Lawson and defensive tackles Alan Branch and Marcell Dareus were not present.
Training camp is still more than six weeks away, but for the moment, the Buffalo Bills look a little thin at defensive tackle.

Dareus
Marcell Dareus' off-field troubles have led to him sitting out the remainder of organized team activities. His likely replacement in the lineup, Alan Branch, hasn't been at voluntary OTAs and isn't in contact with the coaching staff.

With defensive captain and Pro Bowler Kyle Williams entrenched at one defensive tackle spot, the Bills used Corbin Bryant in Dareus' place Tuesday. Bryant has been in the NFL for three seasons but has little playing experience and is undersized. The Bills would hold their breath if they had to start him in a regular-season game.

The same holds true for the other three players on the Bills' depth chart at the position: Stefan Charles, Damien Jacobs and Colby Way. The latter two are undrafted free agents clawing for a roster spot. Charles showed promise in limited duty last season but is raw.

Bills coach Doug Marrone was blunt Tuesday about Branch, saying he has "no idea" where the veteran has been. The expectation is that Branch will show up for mandatory minicamp later this month, but missing three weeks of OTAs as Jim Schwartz tries to install his defensive scheme won't help Branch's cause.

Dareus' status, meanwhile, is tenuous. The NFL could suspend him for either of his recent legal incidents, while it's no guarantee that his upcoming two-week absence from the team will prevent him from running into further trouble.

That leads to the following question: Should the Bills add veteran insurance at defensive tackle?

The Bills have about $7.5 million in cap space, plenty to sign even a higher-priced free agent. For some players remaining on the free-agent market, they're holding out hope for a bigger-money deal from a team that is more desperate to plug a hole than they were in March.

For others, the question is often health. Is the player still in "football shape" and will he be effective even during the rigors of an NFL training camp?

If the Bills chose to hedge their bets at defensive tackle this summer and add another veteran to the mix, here are some of their options:

Kevin Williams: He's easily the biggest name on the market. He'll turn 34 this August but missed only one game last season for the Minnesota Vikings. At 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds, Williams has the size to replace Dareus or Branch in a pinch. He's a six-time Pro Bowler who notched three sacks last season for the Vikings, so he's probably demanding more than a minimum contract. This would be a more costly insurance policy.

Isaac Sopoaga: Released by the New England Patriots earlier this offseason, Sopoaga hasn't found a new home. He turns 33 in September and wasn't a good fit with New England after being traded by the Philadelphia Eagles mid-season. Still, he's a 330-pounder who could provide more bulk along the defensive line than Bryant, Charles or either undrafted rookie. His price tag would also be significantly less than Williams'.

Aubrayo Franklin: Much like Sopoaga, Franklin is a big body in the middle of a defensive line but is aging. He turns 34 in August and has been well-traveled in recent seasons, most recently starting 15 games for a subpar Indianapolis Colts defense. His price tag wouldn't be too high.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Two veteran players did not participate in the Buffalo Bills' first organized team activity Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Alan Branch and defensive end Manny Lawson were not spotted at the OTA, which by NFL rules is voluntary.

"I haven't talked to them. It's voluntary. We all know that," coach Doug Marrone said. "I tend to not worry about the things that I can't control, and obviously I can't control that."

It's unclear if either will participate in any of the Bills' remaining OTAs, which continue through mid-June before the team's mandatory minicamp.

"I haven't seen either of those guys," Marrone said. "There's a lot of other guys here that I need to be concentrating on. My expectation is that it's voluntary. Any guy that shows up, I'm happy. If you don't show up, you don't have to. Otherwise, it's very difficult for me. So for me, hey, I'm fine."

Lawson started 15 games for the Bills last season at linebacker, but will move to defensive end under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and faces the possibility of a reduced role in the scheme.

Branch, meanwhile, figures to slide inside to defensive tackle under Schwartz after starting 13 games last season at defensive end. If the NFL suspends Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus after he was arrested on felony drug charges earlier this month, Branch could be his replacement in the starting lineup.

Kyle Williams, who was a team captain last season, commented on Branch's and Lawson's absence Wednesday.

"I have a family of my own. Different things happen for different people, so there might be something going on that they need to be there for," Williams said. "I think the guys that, when you're here, when you're in the building, you're going to work hard, do what you need to do, but I think everybody on our team would tell you that family is going to take precedent, no matter what it is. These things are voluntary.

"I'm sure those guys will show up at some point when they can and we'll be glad to have them."
Continuing a position-by-position preview of next month's draft from a Buffalo Bills perspective:

Position: Defensive tackle

Current personnel: Kyle Williams (signed through 2016), Marcell Dareus (signed through 2014 with option for 2015), Alan Branch (2016), Corbin Bryant (2014), Stefan Charles (2015)

Draft need: Low

State of the position: There isn't an immediate need at this position. The starting duo -- Williams and Dareus -- is set, while Branch is likely to slide inside from defensive end in Mike Pettine's system to defensive tackle in Jim Schwartz's scheme. Branch will add depth and run-stopping ability at the goal line. Bryant has some playing experience and could help in a pinch, but ultimately is a replaceable player. Charles is a developmental project.

The wild card at this position is Dareus. He had a rough ending to last season, sitting out parts of the final two games after being late to team meetings. The Bills have until May 3 to exercise Dareus' fifth-year option for 2015 and unless coach Doug Marrone has serious concerns about Dareus' work ethic, it makes sense to keep him in Buffalo for another season. General manager Doug Whaley has said that the Bills have interest in extending Dareus' contract, a sign that he is the team's long-term plans. Dareus' contract situation creates some uncertainty but shouldn't cause the Bills to draft a replacement in the early rounds next month.

The more likely scenario is that the Bills see a player on the board later in the draft who fits their scheme and profile for the position. That player could compete with Charles for a roster spot and potentially add a layer of depth.

Sweet spot: Late rounds.

Possible targets: Shamar Stephen (Connecticut), Bruce Gaston (Purdue), Jay Bromley (Syracuse)
We recently chatted with ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson, a former scout for the Cleveland Browns, about a variety of Buffalo Bills topics.

Next, we'll take a closer look at the Bills defense under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz:

Overall thoughts on scheme: "By judging what the Detroit Lions have done over the years, they're not going to blitz much. They'll do some but their linebackers aren't considered great pass-rushers. They don't have a lot invested at their linebacker positions in Detroit. They want studs up front [on the defensive line]. By that standard, I think Buffalo fits that."

Thoughts on defensive line: "I'm a real, big Kyle Williams fan. [Marcell] Dareus is a bit of an enigma to me, because I think he's a good player, but I don't know exactly what he is. And that doesn't necessarily matter. He's kind of a big, fat guy but he's not Vince Wilfork. He's not Warren Sapp. He's not a 3-4 [defensive] end. So I don't know exactly what he is. But I think he's best in a 4-3 and can be disruptive and is a quality player against the run and pass, he's just probably never lived up to the draft position he was taken [third overall in 2011]."

Defensive end fits in Schwartz's scheme: "It was Kyle Vanden Bosch for a lot of years. They went out and signed Jason Jones this year to play end, who is a 290-pound guy. Generally, in the Wide-9, they're going to look for speed off the edge. I think Mario Williams is a good player, but I'm not sure that's his game. I like how Jerry Hughes played for the Bills this year and I think he's a keeper, but I don't think he can handle every snap as a 4-3 end. They might need another [defensive] end. A 260-pound guy that runs a 4.6 [40-yard dash]."

On possible diminished role for Alan Branch: "Agreed. Short yardage, I guess he's a defensive end. On passing downs, maybe he's a defensive tackle. He's certainly not an end. I don't think he's a great Wide-9 fit. He's not Ndamukong Suh. That's for sure. I think he's more of a 3-4 end. 'Let's be stout at the point of attack, eat up as much space as possible, don't lose in the run game.'"

On Alex Carrington's role: "Yeah, maybe. Maybe he's a third or fourth [defensive] end for you. He's obviously a bigger body than Hughes. So he could do some different things there. But I still think they're an end short, especially because [Mario] Williams isn't young. You could draft an end reasonably high, an upside guy."

On needs at linebacker: "At outside linebacker. But those guys are kind of like [offensive] guards to me. You can almost find them anywhere. The Lions did that too. They had very little resources in their outside linebackers. [DeAndre] Levy was a [third-round] pick. They had a revolving door at the other spot."

On Manny Lawson: "I don't think he fits the scheme. I think he's best as a 3-4 outside linebacker and I think he's not nearly productive enough to count on. It wouldn't shock me at all if he's a cap casualty."

On Nigel Bradham: "I think he fits this new scheme better than the old scheme. I think he can run and hit well enough to be maybe an OK 4-3 outside linebacker. ... I don't think [Sam and Will] are all the distinguishable in Detroit's system. It think they're more left and right [outside linebackers], run and hit guys. I don't remember them having any 6-3, 245-pound 'Sam' guys. It's more that they're outside linebackers are interchangeable than the old school Bucs, Tampa-2."

NFLN survey/franchise player: Bills

January, 16, 2014
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The Buffalo Bills are hoping that EJ Manuel is their franchise quarterback.

But in a recent survey of 320 NFL players, none said that they would choose Manuel if they had to start a franchise with just one player. Instead, 62 players chose Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning while his successor with the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, drew the second-most votes.

Only one Bills player appeared on the survey results: defensive tackle Kyle Williams drew one vote.

Obviously, the Bills would love to have Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or some of the other players receiving the most votes in this survey.

But like most teams, they'll have to keep looking.

NFLN survey/respected player: Bills

January, 16, 2014
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In the Buffalo Bills' locker room, there is little question about who is respected. Running back Fred Jackson and defensive tackle Kyle Williams, two of the team's most-tenured players, provide leadership voices and veteran guidance.

Williams
But in ESPN's recent survey of 320 NFL players, Bills players drew only two votes: one each to Kyle Williams and defensive tackle Mario Williams.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was the leading vote-getter, with 86 players naming him as most-respected, while New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson were tied for second with 24 votes each.

Coincidentally, all three of those players are on the Bills' schedule next season, as they host the Vikings, travel to Denver, and face AFC East foe New England twice.

One ex-Bill drew some votes in the survey, as 11 players said that recently retired linebacker London Fletcher was the NFL's most-respected player.
Breaking down the most-penalized Buffalo Bills players during the 2013 season:

No. 10: Frank Summers
Position: Fullback
Snaps: 19 percent (offense), 32 percent (special teams)
Penalties: 1 offense, 2 special teams
Total penalty yards: 31
Quick take: One of Summers' penalties on special teams came at a critical point in Week 2. He was called for holding on a fourth-and-18 punt, extending a Carolina Panthers drive that later ended in a touchdown. The Bills eventually came back to win.

No. 8 (tied): Ron Brooks
Position: Cornerback
Snaps: 4 percent (defense), 34 percent (special teams)
Penalties: 1 defense, 2 special teams
Total penalty yards: 34
Quick take: Brooks played sparingly on defense, so his one penalty -- a pass interference call in Week 17 -- is a more of a blemish than his infractions on special teams.

No. 8 (tied): Stephon Gilmore
Position: Cornerback
Snaps: 57 percent (defense), 14 percent (special teams)
Penalties: 6 defense
Total penalty yards: 34
Quick take: Having missed the first five games, Gilmore lands higher on this list than most would like. However, flags against a top cornerback aren't necessarily cause for alarm. Rather, they can be a sign of aggressive play.

No. 7: Jerry Hughes
Position: Defensive end
Snaps: 53 percent (defense), 22 percent (special teams)
Penalties: 5 defense
Total penalty yards: 35
Quick take: Four of Hughes' penalties were for being offsides (or a neutral zone infraction). For a pass rusher, especially one who set a career high with 10 sacks, those can pass.

No. 6: Kyle Williams
Position: Defensive tackle
Snaps: 82 percent (defense), 3 percent (special teams)
Penalties: 6 defense
Total penalty yards: 37
Quick take: The Bills could have done without Williams' taunting and face mask penalties in Week 6's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. But like Hughes, Williams enjoyed a career season, notching 10.5 sacks, so his encroachment penalties weren't a major issue.
Back in September, we broke down the Buffalo Bills' 53-man roster, position-by-position. Now that the Bills' season has ended, we'll review those grades:

Position: Defensive line (preseason grades)

SNAP COUNTS
Mario Williams -- 87.4 percent
Kyle Williams -- 82.2 percent
Marcell Dareus -- 72.0 percent
Jerry Hughes -- 52.7 percent
Alan Branch -- 52.1 percent
Corbin Bryant -- 28.8 percent
Alex Carrington -- 14.3 percent
Stefan Charles -- 7.1 percent
Jay Ross -- 4.2 percent

DEPTH

Preseason take: The addition of Branch this offseason was significant. He started 16 games for a top-ranked Seahawks defense last season and stepped right in on Sunday, playing 33 snaps against the Patriots. Ross and Bryant are more developmental pieces who have spent much of their careers on practice squads. In today's NFL, though, depth along the defensive line has become less important as linebackers and defensive backs are used more and more. Grade: B+

Postseason review: This grade was right on the mark. When Carrington went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3, it was Branch who stepped in and filled the void. The seventh-year veteran started the final 13 games of the season and was rewarded with a three-year contract extension in December. He and Hughes may have been the Bills' best acquisitions last offseason. Other than Carrington, the Bills' defensive line stayed very healthy, which prevented Bryant and Charles from being thrust into larger roles.

RELIABILITY

Preseason take: There are a few question marks here. Mario Williams has dealt with injuries since arriving in Buffalo, missing time last season because of wrist surgery and sitting out most of training camp this season due to plantar fasciitis. Kyle Williams played in only five games in 2011 due to a foot injury and had offseason Achilles surgery this year. Dareus, the third overall pick in 2011, still needs to show he can be a consistent threat for offenses. Grade: B

Postseason review: This grade should have been higher. The Bills managed Kyle Williams' health well, sitting him out for most Wednesday practices. He did not miss a game. Same for Mario Williams, who shook off an early-season ankle injury to play in his second consecutive 16-game season. Dareus also brushed off preseason questions and became a consistent force, setting a career high with 7.5 sacks. His late-season tardiness for meetings might be the only blemish against this unit.
The Associated Press announced its annual All-Pro team Friday, and a pair of Buffalo Bills players made the cut.

Defensive end Mario Williams and safety Jairus Byrd were both named to the All-Pro second team. Both were also selected to the 2014 Pro Bowl last month.

At defensive end, Williams was edged by J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn for first-team honors. At safety, Byrd was among six safeties named as second-team behind Earl Thomas and Eric Berry.

The only Bills Pro Bowler who was not selected to the All-Pro squad was defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

All-AFC East: Buffalo Bills

January, 2, 2014
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

It was all about defense this season for the Buffalo Bills.

The arrival of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his pressure-based scheme turned around a defense that had ranked 22nd in the NFL last season, allowing 5.57 yards per play. Pettine's group this season jumped up the charts to No. 6, allowing 4.9 yards per play. It was no surprise then that the Bills sent three defensive players to the Pro Bowl: defensive end Mario Williams, defensive tackle Kyle Williams and safety Jairus Byrd.

It's also no surprise that those three players were among the four who were voted to the All-AFC East team by ESPN.com's NFL Nation. The writers for each AFC East team recently nominated and voted for an all-division team, and four Bills made the cut. Linebacker Kiko Alonso joined Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Byrd as those making the cut for Buffalo. No offensive players were voted into the group.

It's tough to have any Bills honored as All-AFC East on offense, given Buffalo's performance this season. The Bills ranked 29th offensively, averaging 4.85 yards per play. However, there were still standout performers for Buffalo. Running back Fred Jackson leads that group, rushing for 896 yards, while adding 387 yards as a receiver. He had 10 total touchdowns. Making the cut in place of Jackson was New York Jets running back Chris Ivory, who ran for 833 yards. I think Jackson was more deserving.

Defensively, it was a tough break for Marcell Dareus, who had a strong season. He set a career high with 7.5 sacks but was edged out by two stronger candidates: Williams and Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who is a candidate for rookie of the year. A case could also be made that cornerback Leodis McKelvin was deserving of all-division honors, but it was tough to top New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib and the Miami Dolphins' Brent Grimes, who both had four interceptions.

Pro Bowl selections: Buffalo Bills

December, 27, 2013
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The NFL announced its rosters for the 2014 Pro Bowl on Friday evening, and three Buffalo Bills players were selected to the squad: defensive end Mario Williams, defensive tackle Kyle Williams and safety Jairus Byrd.

Despite finishing first in fan voting at their respective positions, linebacker Kiko Alonso and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus were not selected.

Fan voting accounts for one-third of the selection process. Votes from players and coaches make up the other two-thirds.

Alonso ranks fourth in the NFL with 145 tackles and has played every defensive snap this season. However, it could be argued that Alonso's tackles are inflated by the Bills' defense staying on the field -- it ranks seventh in the NFL in total defensive snaps -- while Alonso has not recorded an interception or forced fumble since the first month of the season.

Dareus set a career high with 7.5 sacks.

This is the third Pro Bowl appearance for all three Bills players selected.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Double Coverage: Bills at Patriots

December, 27, 2013
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C.J. Spiller and Tom BradyGetty ImagesTom Brady, right, and the Patriots hope to secure a postseason bye with a win vs. C.J. Spiller's Bills.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills will end the regular season the way they started it, by facing each other.

The Patriots needed a late drive to beat the Bills 23-21 in the opener, but the teams went in mostly opposite directions over the next 15 weeks.

Unfortunately for the Bills, the script is a familiar one. They haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 1999, the longest active drought, so now the focus turns to next season.

Meanwhile, the Patriots enter another finale with playoff positioning in mind after having clinched the AFC East title for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons. The Patriots could actually thank the Bills for that, because Buffalo’s 19-0 victory against Miami last Sunday handed the division crown to New England.

Here to preview the matchup are ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Mike Rodak (Bills) and Mike Reiss (Patriots).

Reiss: Mike, this seems pretty obvious, but coach Doug Marrone is finishing his first season, and a win against the Patriots could go a long way toward the foundation he’s attempting to establish. What signs, if any, have you seen from Marrone that the Bills are on the right track?

Rodak: Mike, I think the past two games have said something about this team. After their 27-6 loss to Tampa on Dec. 8, the season was essentially over for Buffalo. They could have packed it in and waited until next season to make improvement. Instead, they have strung together their first back-to-back wins of the season. Does that matter in the long run? Probably not, but Marrone often talks about establishing a sense of accountability and resiliency in his team, and there have been some signs of that over the past two weeks.

Mike, the Patriots have shown plenty of resiliency this season too. Is this the best coaching job you've seen from Bill Belichick?

Reiss: Belichick and his staff have been coaching their tails off, no doubt about that. I have always rated 2008 at the top of the mountain, because when you lose Tom Brady on the 15th offensive play of a season and still manage to go 11-5, that’s pretty remarkable from this viewpoint. I think we’ve seen in recent years what often happens when a superstar quarterback is lost for the season -- the 2011 Colts with Peyton Manning as one example, which cost team president Bill Polian his job. We also see how the Packers are struggling this season without Aaron Rodgers. The Patriots have been hit hard by injuries this season too and also have quite a few young players who have been asked to take on significant roles. So it’s been impressive.

As for young players being asked to carry the load for the Bills, the big question from here is if EJ Manuel is a franchise quarterback to build around. What is your opinion on Manuel in that regard?

Rodak: That is a tough call, and it's going to be the biggest question Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley will need to address this offseason. From a leadership standpoint, Manuel has a presence and a poise that any successful quarterback needs. But it hasn't translated to consistency on the field. Since returning from his second knee injury, Manuel has thrown six interceptions and shown wild swings in accuracy as a passer. The Bills seem content with pressing forward with Manuel and allowing him to develop with live action each Sunday. That is the approach most teams take with young quarterbacks; it doesn't always work out. In most cases, deciding when to make a change is difficult. However Manuel's career unfolds, the Bills would be smart to have a Plan B, even as soon as next season. With J.P. Losman, that Plan B was Kelly Holcomb. With Trent Edwards, it was Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ultimately, neither of those veteran backups put the Bills in the right spot to win, which is why I think the organization must aim higher when hedging their bets with Manuel. Drafting another quarterback in the first round isn't an option that should be immediately dismissed.

This week, Marrone mentioned how the Patriots have several rookies playing roles on both sides of the ball. Watching undrafted defensive tackle Joe Vellano back in spring camps, I never would have thought he would be contributing as much as he has this season. But can the Patriots rely on Vellano and their other younger players in the playoffs? It doesn't seem that long ago when safety Patrick Chung, then in his second season, botched a fake punt that cost the Patriots in a divisional playoff loss to the Jets.

Reiss: Mike, I’d be shocked if the Bills take another quarterback in the first round. If they do in 2014, Buffalo wings on me from Duff’s for the next five years every time the Patriots come to western New York.

As for the Patriots, the rookies playing the largest roles are now [receiver] Aaron Dobson, [defensive tackle] Chris Jones, [cornerback] Logan Ryan and [punter] Ryan Allen. The others are sprinkled in from more of a complementary standpoint or as a short-term fill-in (e.g., Josh Kline at left guard vs. Baltimore). Vellano, for one, has seen his snaps decrease in recent weeks in favor of second-year defensive tackle Sealver Siliga. Anytime a team has rookies and youngsters playing front-line roles, it comes with some added risk. But I’d say this about the Patriots this season: As young as they are in certain spots, no moment seems too big for most of the players on the roster.

Defensively, the Bills look strong up front. What do you see from them on that side of the ball?

Rodak: They certainly are, Mike. At this point, it's safe to call it the best defensive line in the league. The Bills have benefited from career seasons from both Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, who are both serious candidates for the Pro Bowl. Same with Mario Williams, who is enjoying his best season since signing his monster deal with Buffalo. But there have also been some under-the-radar contributors. Whaley's offseason swap of linebacker Kelvin Sheppard for defensive end Jerry Hughes has paid dividends. You can add Hughes to the list of players having career seasons under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. In the secondary, that theme continues with Leodis McKelvin, who had four shaky years before finding his groove this season. The Bills have also gotten big things from their smallest player -- 5-foot-7 slot cornerback Nickell Robey, who went undrafted in the spring but has played like an early-round pick. There have been bad moments for the defense, but in general, they came mostly earlier in the season. Right now, it looks like a unit on the rise.

Mike, one area where the Bills have been vulnerable at points this season has been their run defense. They rank 20th in the NFL, allowing 4.2 yards per rush. Is the Patriots' running game capable of exploiting that weakness? And perhaps more importantly, will the Patriots need their ground attack to advance in the playoffs?

Reiss: They are certainly capable of doing it, and last Sunday’s win against the Ravens is the evidence. The Patriots entered the game with a mindset of being physical, and they won the battle of the line of scrimmage, churning out 142 yards on the ground against a sturdy Ravens front that struggled against some zone runs. The Patriots ran it 34 times and had 28 dropbacks in the game. I don’t think they necessarily have to have that type of split in the playoffs to win, but like most offenses, this attack is at its best when it's most balanced. Ball security was a big issue the first few months of the season, mostly with running backs Stevan Ridley, and to a lesser degree with LeGarrette Blount (fumble in Oct. 6 loss to the Bengals), but that has subsided. One of the big keys with the running game last Sunday is it helped the Patriots in the red zone, where they are still recalibrating after losing tight end Rob Gronkowski to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 8.

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Mario Williams among Bills' ironmen

December, 26, 2013
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For NFL players, staying healthy and avoiding injuries is a difficult task. Anything from poor preparation to bad luck can affect a player's durability, so when he is able to play a full 16-game season, something is going right.

With one game remaining, the following Bills players are set to cross the finish line unscathed. They have started all 15 games to this point:

T Cordy Glenn
T Erik Pears
G Kraig Urbik
C Eric Wood
DE Mario Williams
DT Kyle Williams
LB Kiko Alonso

There are several other players who have played in all 15 games so far, including some appearances as a reserve:

RB Fred Jackson
WR Marcus Easley
WR Chris Hogan
WR T.J. Graham
TE Scott Chandler
TE Lee Smith
T Thomas Welch
DE Jerry Hughes
DT Alan Branch
DT Marcell Dareus
LB Nigel Bradham
LB Arthur Moats
CB Nickell Robey
S Jim Leonhard
S Da'Norris Searcy
S Duke Williams
K Dan Carpenter
LS Garrison Sanborn

Overall, 25 Bills have appeared in every game this season. That ranks third in the division, behind the New York Jets (28) and the Miami Dolphins (27). The New England Patriots have the fewest "ironmen" in the AFC East -- 20 are set to finish a full season Sunday.

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