Buffalo Bills: Manny Lawson

The Buffalo Bills continued to tweak their roster Tuesday, releasing linebacker Keith Rivers.

Rivers
It's a move that doesn't come as much of a surprise, as Rivers barely saw the field in the second half of last season and wasn't expected to have a role at linebacker next season.

The transaction, however, is a chance to circle back on how the Bills plan to stock their defense under Rex Ryan's scheme next season. The best indicators are how Ryan used his personnel with the New York Jets last season and how his protege, Mike Pettine, used players when he implemented Ryan's scheme with the Bills in 2013.

Fitting the puzzle pieces into place isn't an exact science, as some players are capable of playing more than one role. There is also the issue of base versus sub defense. What follows is how Ryan figures to align his base defense, but his sub defense is becoming equally important, as teams are using it for 50 percent or more of their snaps in today's NFL.

Given that disclaimer, here is a look at how the Bills figure to construct their defense for next season:

"Mike" and "Will" linebackers
  • 2013 Bills: Kiko Alonso and Arthur Moats/Nigel Bradham
  • 2014 Jets: David Harris and Demario Davis
  • 2015 Bills candidates: Alonso, Bradham, Preston Brown and possibly Brandon Spikes (if re-signed). If retained, Rivers would have been part of this group.
  • Responsibilities: Varied, but usually aligned 4-6 yards off the line of scrimmage. Duties include taking on offensive guards in running game, protecting middle of the field in zone coverage and occasionally blitzing.
"Sam" linebacker
  • 2013 Bills: Manny Lawson
  • 2014 Jets: Calvin Pace
  • 2015 Bills candidates: Lawson, possibly Jerry Hughes (if re-signed) or other free agent/draft pick
  • Responsibilities: Typically aligned as a stand-up linebacker, on or near the line of scrimmage and sometimes over the tight end. Responsibilities include jamming tight ends and slot receivers, containing outside runs, dropping into short zone coverages and pass rushing.
Defensive end/rush end
  • 2013 Bills: Mario Williams
  • 2014 Jets: Quinton Coples
  • 2015 Bills candidates: Williams
  • Responsibilities: Most often aligned in a three-point stance as a defensive end. Responsibilities usually are limited to pass rushing and containing outside runs but can also stand up and drop into coverage on some zone-blitz-style schemes.
Defensive linemen
Continuing a position-by-position look at the Buffalo Bills' roster with an eye toward free agency and the draft:

Position: Defensive ends

2014 snaps:
Stat of note: The Bills recorded 40 sacks with four or fewer pass rushers, the most since ESPN Stats & Information began tracking that statistic in 2006.

Pending free agents: Hughes (unrestricted), Wynn (unrestricted)

2015 cap hits (position rank):
  • Williams: $19 million (third in NFL)
  • Lawson: $3.1 million (49th in NFL)
  • Randell Johnson: $525,933
  • Bryan Johnson: $435,000
Hughes
Hughes
Money line: The Bills spent the third-most on their defensive ends last season ($23.4 million) and could come close to topping the charts in 2015 if Hughes is re-signed. How far will the Bills go to bring Hughes back? If he wants a contract that puts him within the top 10 of APY (average per year) among defensive ends, it will have to be north of $8.3 million per season. If he wants to be within the top 10 of guaranteed money among defensive ends, he'll have to pocket at least $20 million guaranteed. The Bills will need to think long and hard about where Hughes fits in their system under Rex Ryan. Unless he takes an early-down role as a linebacker, Hughes will likely be relegated to a part-time role as a sub rusher, like he was in 2013. If the Bills can't agree to a new contract this offseason, the option for the franchise tag remains on the table. The NFL has yet to release its figures for 2015, but last year the franchise tag number for a defensive end was a one-year, $13.1 million guaranteed deal.

Market watch: Pending free agents include Justin Houston, Hughes, Greg Hardy, Jason Pierre-Paul, Brian Orakpo, Brandon Graham, Pernell McPhee, Jason Worilds, Derrick Morgan, Brooks Reed, Dwight Freeney, Osi Umenyiora, Adrian Clayborn, Kroy Biermann, Akeem Ayers, Darryl Tapp and Anthony Spencer.

Draft need: Moderate -- This could be higher or lower based on what happens with Hughes. If he leaves in free agency, the need will be high for the Bills. They didn't get a lot of pass-rush production last season out of Lawson (who projects as a linebacker in Ryan's defense) or Wynn (who is a free agent but projects for more of an interior defensive line role) and without Hughes, they'll need someone besides Williams to get to the quarterback. Bryan Johnson is a raw, developmental prospect while Randell Johnson played special teams last season and could get a look at 'Sam' linebacker (essentially a fifth defensive lineman in Ryan's defense), along with Lawson.

Scout's take: "There's a lot of guys out there [at pass rusher]. The draft and free agency are really deep with those guys. Guys like Jason Worilds, Pernell McPhee, Derrick Morgan or Brandon Graham from Philadelphia. Those last two are more 4-3 end types -- Morgan and Graham -- but as flexible as Ryan is with his fronts, you could see him really liking one of those guys." -- ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson

Quote of note: "I know [senior vice president of football administration Jim Overdorf] has been in contact with [Hughes'] representatives and started the process. We're excited and we want him back. He's a great addition to our defense and hopefully we can get this thing done sooner than later." -- Bills general manager Doug Whaley, to WGR 550 last month.
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The Buffalo Bills could become the first of six teams with head-coaching vacancies this offseason to make a hire, as the team is putting the finishing touches on a deal with Rex Ryan, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

It's important to note the deal isn't done yet, and the Bills have yet to confirm the hiring or announce any news conference introducing Ryan.

But barring any last-minute changes, Ryan should soon be the Bills' head coach, continuing what has been an eventful era in team history.

With a chance to digest more of the developments, here are some further thoughts on Ryan and the Bills:

Schwartz's situation: ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan tweeted Sunday that Ryan has asked Jim Schwartz, who is still under contract, to remain as defensive coordinator. From my view, it would be an odd marriage. Ryan's scheme, which the Bills essentially ran in 2013 under Mike Pettine, varies in several ways from Schwartz's philosophy. Ryan's Jets blitzed on 37.1 percent of dropbacks from 2009-14 (sixth in the NFL over that span), while Schwartz's Detroit Lions blitzed on 23 percent of dropbacks from 2009-13 (31st in the NFL) and his Bills blitzed on 21 percent of dropbacks this season (30th in the NFL). Something would have to give; either Ryan would hand over the keys to Schwartz and embrace a less-aggressive defensive strategy or Schwartz would adapt to Ryan's pressure-based approach.

If the Bills don't retain Schwartz, former Jets defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman could follow Ryan to Buffalo, NFL Network reported Sunday.

Role reversal on defense: If the Bills end up adopting Ryan's defensive scheme, it will essentially require a reversal of the personnel changes the Bills made last offseason, going from Pettine to Schwartz. Here are a few key elements worth noting:
  • The Ryan defense (used by Pettine with the Bills in 2013), while not a traditional 3-4 look, typically uses three big bodies up front. Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Alan Branch filled those roles in 2013, but Branch was phased out when the Bills flipped to Schwartz last season. Schwartz's defense only required two big bodies -- Williams and Dareus. Ryan's hire would either mean a full-time role for Stefan Charles (a backup defensive tackle last season) or a hefty free-agent pickup like Branch in 2013.
  • In Schwartz's defense, the two edge players have well-defined roles: take a wide stance (i.e., the "wide-9") and rush the quarterback. Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes excelled in those spots this season. Under Pettine, their roles were less defined. Williams was the fourth defensive lineman but would sometimes stand up as a linebacker, while Hughes was a part-time player, replacing Branch on passing downs. Under Ryan, Hughes would likely go back to being a part-time player, diminishing his value to the team as he's set to hit free agency in March.
  • The third linebacker in Ryan's scheme acts more as a fifth defensive lineman. For the Bills in 2013, that player was Manny Lawson, who stood up on most plays but stayed close to the line of scrimmage. His duties were split between dropping into coverage, setting the edge against the run and rushing the passer. The Bills could use Lawson again in that role or look elsewhere. Hughes would be an option here, but keep in mind he struggled in a similar role with the Colts.
  • Ryan's defense uses two "true" linebackers on most plays, unlike Schwartz's scheme, which has three clearly defined linebackers in the base package. Under Pettine, the Bills used Kiko Alonso as their "Mike" and a mix of Arthur Moats and Nigel Bradham as their "Will." It wasn't a good fit for Bradham, who found more success under Schwartz this season. The Bills could try Bradham in the Lawson role described above, although it would mean taking on bigger blockers and rushing the passer, neither of which are Bradham's strong suit. Otherwise, the best fit for Ryan's two spots could be Preston Brown (as the "Mike") and Alonso (as the "Will").

Ups and downs for Buffalo Bills

November, 25, 2014
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DETROIT -- A look at which players are "up" and which players are at the opposite end of the spectrum after the Buffalo Bills' 38-3 win over the New York Jets:

Up

WR Robert Woods -- Doug Marrone said the Jets were "rolling" coverage to Sammy Watkins' side of the field, helping make this a big night for Woods. He finished with a career-high nine catches for 118 yards, including an acrobatic touchdown catch and another highlight-reel grab where he pinned the ball against his helmet.

DE Mario Williams & defensive line -- Jets right tackle Breno Giacomini couldn't handle Williams, who finished with two sacks and three total quarterback hits. The defensive line -- as it's done consistently for the past two seasons -- put pressure throughout the game on Michael Vick and Geno Smith, sacking them a combined seven times. Like Williams, Jerry Hughes added two sacks.

RB Anthony Dixon -- For the second time this season, Dixon blocked a punt, leading to teammate Manny Lawson recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. While Dixon was stopped short of a first down on a fourth-and-1 run -- Marrone was ribbing him for it at the end of his postgame news conference -- he ran for a 30-yard touchdown to add to the Bills' lead late in the game.

DE Manny Lawson -- Couple of stand out special teams plays from the veteran, who's had a quiet season on defense. He chased down Jeremy Kerley from behind on a 41-yard punt return in the first quarter, possibly preventing a touchdown. He later recovered Dixon's blocked punt for the touchdown.

Offensive line -- Kyle Orton was only sacked once in the game, a strong showing by a Bills offensive that came under fire earlier this season. With Orton throwing 32 times in the game, they protected him well against a tough Jets front.

Down

None -- Tough to quibble about anything after the week the Bills had and their strong showing Monday night.

Breaking down Bills' defensive snaps

August, 24, 2014
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The Buffalo Bills' starters saw their most significant action of the preseason in Saturday's 27-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Here is a breakdown of the defensive snaps, grouped by the order in which players entered the game on defense:

Defensive end
Mario Williams -- 34 of 68 (starter)
Jerry Hughes -- 33 of 68 (starter)
Manny Lawson -- 31 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Jarius Wynn -- 16 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Jacquies Smith -- 17 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Ikponmwosa Igbinosun -- 3 of 68 (entered in fourth quarter)
Bryan Johnson -- 3 of 68 (entered in fourth quarter)

Quick-hit thoughts: It was interesting to see Lawson play deep into the fourth quarter, although I don't think it means his roster spot is in jeopardy. This is one of the deeper groups on the roster, especially with Lawson, and could even go five deep. I wouldn't count out Smith's chances for a roster spot just yet.

Defensive tackle
Marcell Dareus -- 16 of 68 (starter)
Corbin Bryant -- 51 of 68 (starter)
Stefan Charles -- 41 of 68 (entered in second quarter)
Landon Cohen -- 27 of 68 (entered in second quarter)
Damien Jacobs -- 3 of 68 (entered in fourth quarter)
Kyle Williams -- 0 of 68 (injured/did not play)
Alan Branch -- 0 of 68 (did not play)

Quick-hit thoughts: Without Williams, the Bills gave a heavy load of snaps to Bryant. He fared very well. Charles and Cohen quickly subbed in for Dareus, who had relatively light lifting Saturday. This group appears set.

Linebacker
Brandon Spikes -- 37 of 68 (starter)
Nigel Bradham -- 34 of 68 (starter)
Keith Rivers -- 30 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Preston Brown -- 37 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Randell Johnson -- 20 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Ty Powell -- 19 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Jimmy Gaines -- 6 of 68 (entered in fourth quarter)
Xavius Boyd -- 0 of 68 (special teams only)

Quick-hit thoughts: The Bills opened in a nickel look, so Rivers stayed on the bench. We saw Brown on the weak side for some snaps, a spot where he's likely to start in Week 1. Johnson and Powell round out the depth chart. Not much intrigue at this position.

Cornerback
Stephon Gilmore -- 43 of 68 (starter)
Leodis McKelvin -- 22 of 68 (starter)
Nickell Robey -- 17 of 68 (starter)
Ron Brooks -- 24 of 68 (entered in second quarter)
Ross Cockrell -- 21 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Kamaal McIlwain -- 20 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Sam MillerBobby Felder -- 0 of 68 (injured/did not play)
Mario Butler -- 0 of 68 (injured/did not play)

Quick-hit thoughts: I was surprised to see McKelvin play after he missed time later in the week with a groin injury. The Bills limited his workload and replaced him with Brooks in the second quarter. For the first time this preseason, Cockrell saw time at cornerback (as opposed to nickel back), but that might have been the result of injuries to Felder and Butler.

Safety
Aaron Williams -- 31 of 68 (starter)
Da'Norris Searcy -- 19 of 68 (starter)
Corey Graham -- 21 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Duke Williams -- 20 of 68 (entered in first quarter)
Jajuan Harley -- 5 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Deon Broomfield -- 18 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Kenny Ladler -- 17 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Derek Brim -- 8 of 68 (entered in third quarter)
Jonathan Meeks -- 0 of 68 (injured/did not play)

Quick-hit thoughts: Plenty of rotation at these spots in both halves. Searcy and Aaron Williams were the first pairing but then sat in favor of Duke Williams and Corey Graham for a drive in the first quarter. The starting duo returned in the second quarter. We've seen this throughout the preseason -- the Bills testing different combinations on their back-end and evaluating them for regular-season usage. The same held true in the second half, when the four less experienced players (Harley, Broomfield, Ladler, and Brim) mixed and matched.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- One of the highlights of Buffalo Bills training camp practices in full pads are one-on-one pass-rush drills.

The concept is simple: A coach stands where the quarterback would, and, on a whistle, one offensive lineman tries to keep a defensive lineman at bay.

It's a chance for coaches to assess technique on both sides of the ball. It's also a drill where one rep can vary significantly from the last. But when viewed as a whole, trends develop.

We kept track of "wins" and "losses" -- these are judgment calls, sometimes -- in Sunday's drill. Here are the highlights of the results, noting that each player didn't receive the same amount of reps:

Winners:
Losers:
  • DT Stefan Charles -- He received the most reps of any player -- five, total -- but didn't stand out. I wouldn't read too much into it, but it wasn't his best day.
  • LG Chris Williams -- He had a tough task against Kyle Williams, but we also recorded a loss for Chris Williams against Corbin Bryant.
  • DT Landon Cohen -- Journeyman vet had trouble penetrating against Legursky and MacPherson.
  • DE Manny Lawson -- He has looked better as a pass rusher in live drills, but in one-on-one work Lawson was kept at bay by Kouandjio and Erik Pears.

Counting the Bills: Linebackers

July, 16, 2014
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Continuing a series analyzing the economics of the Buffalo Bills' roster, position by position:

Position: Linebacker

Total cap value: $9,540,029
Compared to NFL average: 44.1 percent less
NFL positional rank: 30th

Portion of Bills' total cap number: 8 percent

2014 cap numbers:
Brandon Spikes: $3.25 million (14th on Bills, 46th among NFL linebackers)
Keith Rivers: $1.85 million (Bills: 21st; NFL: 74th)
Kiko Alonso: $977,364 (Bills: 31st; NFL: 122nd)
Nigel Bradham: $686,065 (Bills: 39th; NFL: 146th)
Preston Brown: $582,000 (Bills: 46th; NFL: 191st)
Ty Powell: $495,000 (Bills: tied for 60th; NFL: tied for 252nd)
Randell Johnson: $435,933 (Bills: 69th; NFL: tied for 291st)
Darrin Kitchens: $422,000 (Bills: 73rd; NFL: tied for 309th)
Jimmy Gaines: $421,667 (Bills: tied for 74th; NFL: tied for 312th)
Nathan Williams: $420,000 (Bills: tied for 78th; NFL: tied for 328th)

Average per year:
Spikes: $3 million (tied for 17th on Bills, tied for 53rd among NFL linebackers)
Rivers: $2.025 million (Bills: 23rd; NFL: 72nd)
Alonso: $1.075 million (Bills: 28th; NFL: 112th)
Brown: $751,438 (Bills: 34th; NFL: 147th)
Bradham: $641,065 (Bills: 43rd; NFL: 182nd)
Johnson: $570,933 (Bills: 50th; NFL: 214th)
Kitchens: $512,000 (Bills: 63rd; NFL: 272nd)
Gaines: $511,667 (Bills: tied for 64th; NFL: tied for 275th)
Powell: $495,000 (Bills: tied for 77th; NFL: tied for 337th)
Williams: $465,000 (Bills: tied for 84th; NFL: tied for 356th)

Most overpaid: None. The Bills added Spikes and Rivers on relatively short-term, low-risk deals this offseason. Overall, the Bills aren't spending much on linebackers. The position could be a problem spot following the Alonso's injury but that's not the result of financial decisions. The Bills have plenty of youth at the position and will look for Bradham or Brown to step up in Alonso's place.

Most underpaid: Alonso. No-brainer here. Like with Robert Woods and Cordy Glenn, the Bills and Alonso can't strike an extension until after the third year of Alonso's rookie deal. However, the circumstances could be different in Alonso's case. Since he was hurt while working out away from the team's facility, the Bills can place him on the non-football injury list. Alonso wouldn't get an accrued season and would have only three years of service when his contract expires after the 2016 season. In that scenario, he would become a restricted free agent and the Bills would have more control over his future. Still, the more likely outcome is that Alonso returns to health next season and the Bills extend him before he hits the open market.

Counting the Bills: Defensive ends

July, 14, 2014
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Continuing a series analyzing the economics of the Buffalo Bills' roster, position by position:

Position: Defensive end

Total cap value: $27,790,666
Compared to NFL average: 100.2 percent more
NFL positional rank: 2nd

Portion of Bills' total cap number: 23.2 percent

2014 cap numbers:
Mario Williams: $18.8 million (1st on Bills, 1st among NFL defensive ends)
Jerry Hughes: $3.995 million (Bills: 8th; NFL: 39th)
Manny Lawson: $3.1 million (Bills: 15th; NFL: 49th)
Jarius Wynn: $635,000 (Bills: 44th; NFL: tied for 102nd)
Bryan Johnson: $420,666 (Bills: 76th; NFL: tied for 185th)
Jacquies Smith: $420,000 (Bills: tied for 78th; NFL: tied for 188th)
Ikponmwosa Igbinosun: $420,000 (Bills: tied for 78th; tied for 188th)

Average per year:
Williams: $16 million (1st on Bills, 1st among NFL defensive ends)
Hughes: $2.53 million (Bills: 19th; NFL: 51st)
Lawson: $3 million (Bills: tied for 17th; NFL: tied for 45th)
Wynn: $795,000 (Bills: 33rd; NFL: NFL: tied for 89th)
Johnson: $510,667 (Bills: 66th; NFL: tied for 170th)
Smith: $465,000 (Bills: tied for 84th; NFL: tied for 207th)
Igbinosun: $465,000 (Bills: tied for 84th; NFL: tied for 207th)

Most overpaid: Williams. This is a debate that has flown under the radar as Williams has progressed through his deal. He'll turn in dominating performances, like his 4.5 sack game against Carolina last season, and make big plays, as he did at the end of the Bills' road win in Miami last October. Yet Williams' salary cap hit is 835 percent higher than the average cap hit of an NFL defensive end and the fourth-highest cap hit this season in the NFL (behind Ndamukong Suh, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger). Is Williams worth it? After starting at a "modest" $9.8 million in 2012 and $12.4 million last season, he's now getting into the meat of his contract. Williams' cap number grows to $19 million in 2015 and $19.9 million in 2016. That's top quarterback territory, and I'm not sure Williams delivers that sort of impact to the Bills.

In a recent piece Insider for ESPN Insider, Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke placed Williams among the top 10 most overpaid players in the NFL.

Most underpaid: None. I would give Hughes some consideration for this title, but he still needs to prove that his 10 sacks last season were more than the product of Mike Pettine's blitz-heavy scheme. With Hughes entering the final year of his contract, the Bills could have chosen to extend him this offseason. They didn't, which was the right call. I would call him slightly underpaid at the moment but Hughes must turn in another good season before he earns more than that in his next deal.
The blows for Buffalo Bills fans came in quick succession Tuesday night.

First was a shocking 33-word statement from general manager Doug Whaley that sent a clear message: brace for the worst with linebacker Kiko Alonso, who quickly had become a fan favorite and rising defensive star last season.

[+] EnlargeKiko Alonso
AP Photo/Bill WippertKiko Alonso's torn ACL puts the Buffalo Bills in quite a pickle at linebacker.
"We have learned tonight that Kiko Alonso injured his knee while working out in Oregon," Whaley said. "We do not have the details at this point, but early indications are that it may be significant."

Less than an hour later came confirmation, from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, of Bills' fans fears: Alonso had torn his ACL and is expected to miss the upcoming season.

At a time when those around the NFL are relaxing on beaches and boats, the stunning developments with Alonso have taken the wind out of the Bills' sails.

This is a crushing blow just more than two weeks before training camp begins.

Alonso was part of a defensive resurgence last season under former coordinator Mike Pettine, playing every defensive snap. The team moved him to weak-side linebacker this offseason, and its hope was that Alonso would take another step forward, helping to improve the Bills' run defense as a run-and-hit outside 'backer.

At this point, you can rip up those plans and toss them in the trash, at least for this season. The Bills are back to the drawing board at linebacker.

Luckily for them, the team made two low-cost, high-upside signings this offseason, bringing in Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes. That shored up what was, aside from Alonso, a weaker point in their defense last season.

Before Alonso's injury, the Bills planned to start Rivers on the strong side and Spikes in the middle. With a hole potentially opening up on the weak side, they have several options.

First, they could move Rivers to the weak side. That would open a hole on the strong side, but Rivers has adequate range to play any of the three linebacker spots. He has an injury history that should make the Bills leery of relying too much on him, but at this point they might not have a choice.

Moving Rivers across the formation would require someone else moving into his old spot. One choice would be Preston Brown, a third-round pick who impressed at middle linebacker this spring. Having a rookie learning one position in organized team activities and another in training camp isn't ideal, but Brown has impressed coaches so far. The Bills could hold their breath and hope that Brown makes like Alonso and steps in without a hitch on the strong side.

Rivers
If the Bills wanted to go with more experience in their second level, Manny Lawson is their best bet. Lawson, who turns 30 later this month, started 15 games last season at strong-side linebacker. That's a different position in Pettine's defense than it is for Schwartz, and Lawson would need to play off the line more than he did last season. Moving Lawson back to linebacker would also weaken the Bills' depth at defensive end, but it's an option they need to consider at this point.

Another possibility is to replace Alonso with Nigel Bradham, keeping Rivers on the strong side. Bradham, a former fourth-round pick, started 11 games in 2012 as part of a Bills defense that ranked 31st against the run. His playing time was cut considerably under Pettine last season, but he offers more athleticism than the alternatives at the position.

There are few, if any, remaining options on the free-agent market who could step in and start for Alonso. Any new player coming in would have to play catch-up to learn the defense. The Bills could add a veteran for depth during training camp, but they would likely keep the expectations low with any new addition.

Instead, the strongest bet is that Alonso's replacement is either Bradham, Brown or Lawson.

None is Alonso. After snagging four interceptions in his first four games, Alonso's on-field play and his nonchalant personality earned him "legend" status among Bills fans, who flocked to buy his jersey.

In a cruel offseason twist that came down like a bolt of lightning on a summer night, Alonso won't be wearing his jersey on the field this season.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus returned to Bills practice Tuesday as they opened a three-day mandatory minicamp.

Dareus
Dareus missed the final two weeks of organized team activities after he was taken into custody following an alleged street race. Coach Doug Marrone did not specify where Dareus was during that time, only saying that the Pro Bowler was dealing with "personal issues."

The Bills will not make Dareus available to reporters during minicamp, saying they want him to "focus on football."

Dareus is scheduled to appear in a Hamburg, New York court on July 1.

Meanwhile, the Bills had two players missing from their first minicamp practice Tuesday. Tight end Scott Chandler was excused for a family matter, and offensive tackle Cordy Glenn sat out with an illness.

Defensive end Manny Lawson and defensive tackle Alan Branch both reported to practice after sitting out all of OTAs, which were voluntary.

"The season is long. When you have some years under your belt, you don't want it to be repetitive. You don't want to seem like you're going through the motions, the same thing over and over again," Lawson said. "It was good to step away, spend time with the family, go visit your family. Relax -- still work out in my time off -- but step away from the game and come back to it and it's all new and fun again."

Rookie offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, a seventh-round draft pick, did not practice Tuesday for what the team called travel-related issues.

Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin left practice with trainers and did not return. He did not suffer an obvious injury during practice.

Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (hip surgery) and Leodis McKelvin (hip surgery) both participated to full-team drills for the first time this spring.

The Bills had three players trying out during Tuesday's practice: wide receiver Tori Gurley, cornerback Kamaal McIlwain, and cornerbck Sam Miller.
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."
In his pre-draft gathering with reporters Friday, general manager Doug Whaley didn't shy away from identifying one area where the Buffalo Bills need some help.

"I think with the 4-3, we could use some more defensive end depth," Whaley said. "But we signed some guys who are unproven, so we're excited but we just got to wait and see there."

With the arrival of Jim Schwartz, the Bills are expected to have Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes at the top of their defensive end depth chart. Yet, unless they address the position in the draft, Williams and Hughes could play upwards of 90 percent of snaps, which isn't a formula for success for most pass-rushers. They'll need rest at some point.

Hughes is 254 pounds -- a far cry from Williams, at 292 pounds -- and he'll need to add some bulk if the Bills want him to play an early-down role at defensive end. The same is true for the lanky, 240-pound Manny Lawson, who is without a natural home in Schwartz's scheme after starting at strong side linebacker in Mike Pettine's system. Whaley's comments Friday suggest that Lawson won't play much of a role at defensive end.

That leaves the 285-pound Jarius Wynn, who the Bills signed earlier this month, as the probable third option unless replaced through the draft. Most of Wynn's NFL experience has come as a 3-4 defensive end, so it's a bit of a projection if the Bills line him up at defensive end in their 4-3 scheme. With Wynn's size, he may even be better suited as an interior rusher than an edge player like Williams or Hughes.

Who's left after Wynn? A pair of players who have never played an NFL snap: Jacquies Smith and Ikponmwosa Igbinosun. At 260 pounds, Smith is smaller and more compact, while Igbinosun is sturdier, at 286 pounds. Smith was a productive pass-rusher at Missouri but has yet to emerge on the NFL level.

How would Whaley ideally like his defensive line? He made a comment Friday about the Seattle Seahawks that could answer that question.

"This is a copycat league. The team that won the Super Bowl is the Seattle Seahawks and they have a ‘NASCAR’ package," he said. "That’s a package where they have a lot of speed on the defensive line coming at you in passing downs."

It's not necessarily a new concept. The New York Giants used a speed-based line to win the Super Bowl in 2007, subbing Justin Tuck in for a defensive tackle to supplement the pass rush from Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

Right now, the Bills don't have the personnel to do that. Williams and Hughes are a starting point, but they'll need more.

Bills mailbag: More draft talk

April, 27, 2014
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Sunday would normally be the day after the NFL draft, a day when teams furiously scour the undrafted free agent market to fill out the last portion of their roster.

This year, we'll have to wait an extra two weeks until the draft, putting the offseason's busiest Sunday on hold. Luckily, that gives us more time to answer some Bills draft questions from Twitter. Let's fire away:

Bills draft preview: Defensive end

April, 15, 2014
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As we step away on vacation, we'll provide a position-by-position preview of next month's draft from a Buffalo Bills perspective:

Position: Defensive end

Current personnel: Mario Williams (signed through 2017), Jerry Hughes (2014), Manny Lawson (2016), Jarius Wynn (2014), Jacquies Smith (2015), Ikponmwosa Igbinosun (2015)

Draft need: Moderate

State of the position: This position has changed under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Hughes and Lawson figure to split playing time across from Williams in Schwartz's base 4-3 alignment, with Hughes expected to see significant playing time in sub packages. Lawson is a bit of a question mark, a tweener who doesn't have a well-defined role in the defense. He's too tall and lanky to be a stout run defender on early downs, while he lacks the pass-rushing skills of Hughes or Williams to be a force on passing downs. Lawson could see time as a linebacker but lacks the athleticism to play there full-time. General manager Doug Whaley has already indicated that Keith Rivers and Kiko Alonso are penciled in as outside linebackers.

Given Lawson's uncertainty and Hughes entering the final year of his contract -- and possibly set to cash in with another strong season -- it would make sense for the Bills to target defensive end in the draft. There's an outside chance that they could roll the dice and try to move up for Jadaveon Clowney or Khalil Mack, but the much more likely scenario is that they keep an eye out for a defensive end in the mid rounds. The ideal player would be around 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds with some potential as a pass rusher.

Sweet spot: Mid rounds.

Possible targets: Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Chris Smith (Arkansas), James Gayle (Virginia Tech)

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