Biggest Summer Questions for AFC East Defenses

Buffalo Bills star free safety Jairus Byrd remains unsigned with the end of June approaching. (Photo: USA Today Sports Images)

New York Jets

Can they replace Darrelle Revis?

The biggest question on the defensive side of the ball for the Jets is whether or not they can replace Darrelle Revis, arguably the NFL’s top cornerback. Revis was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason.

The team brings Antonio Cromartie back and is putting additional responsibility on him and Kyle Wilson, who could be thrust into the starting lineup as the No. 2 cornerback. The Jets also added Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in the first round, but no additional cornerbacks of significance in the draft or free agency.

There is a lot of pressure on Milliner, who could end up starting on the outside or in the slot, to solidify the No. 2 or nickel cornerback spot early, because the Jets lack depth behind their top three cornerbacks. That lack of depth is a real concern in a division where the offenses like to spread defenses out.

If he can recover from his offseason shoulder surgery (one of five procedures he’s had so far), Milliner has the talent to be an impact defender. But since it is unlikely that one player will be able to replicate what Revis gave the Jets, it will need to be a team effort. If the top three cornerbacks are unable to fill the added responsibilities of their new roles, it could be a long year for the back half of the defense.

Can the Jets defense get the fear factor back?

Rex Ryan defenses have always struck fear in the heart of opposing offenses. However, the Jets appeared defanged last year. They ranked just tied for 25th last season with only 30 team sacks, and they never really seemed to be able to put consistent pressure on the quarterback.

Quinton Coples led the team with 5.5 sacks and Muhammad Wilkerson showed real improvement in his game to notch five, but the usually aggressive Jets blitz scheme didn’t seem to free up many sacks for their outside pass rushers. The team signed outside linebacker Antwan Barnes in the offseason in the hopes of remedying that, but with the team unlikely to score many points, head coach Rex Ryan needs to figure out a way to bring back his team’s fearsome defensive identity.

Another concern besides the pass-rush is the Jets inability to stop the run last season. They ranked 26th in the NFL, allowing 133.6 yards per game and 4.3 yards per rush.

The Jets drafted defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson to help assuage the problem, but one player might not be enough, especially since Richardson was a 4-3 defensive tackle in college and will be asked to transition into a 3-4 scheme in the NFL. It’s a typically hard transition to make quickly, but the Jets defense might not survive without an early impact from him.

Buffalo Bills

Will the Bills get Jairus Byrd signed?

This is the scariest question facing all Buffalo Bills fans. Byrd has been the defense’s top playmaker since being drafted out of Oregon in 2009. The two-time Pro Bowler was given the team’s franchise tag this offseason, but remains unsigned as he tries to lock down a long-term extension.

The organization certainly wants to bring back the ball hawking safety, but until the ink is dry, nobody will feel confident. Similar to the Randy Starks situation, a contract dispute looming over the team would be a distraction that the new coaching staff is not going to want in trying to set a winning culture in Buffalo.

Aaron Williams has made a strong transition to safety, but he likely won’t come close to replacing Byrd’s game-changing ability. If the Bills don’t want to underachieve again, they need to get Byrd signed.

Can the Bills get any production out of their linebackers?

As has been discussed at length over the past few years, the Bills’ linebacking corps has been among the weakest in the league. After trading Kelvin Sheppard and releasing Nick Barnett, the Bills are looking to field a brand new group of starting linebackers that will be led by returning second-year linebacker Nigel Bradham, rookie Kiko Alonso, and free-agent additions Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson.

Athleticism, youth and potential is certainly present in the new group of linebackers, but it’s a tough task to place on their shoulders. The bar is not very high, due to past production or lack thereof, but one of these young players needs to step up and be a leader in the middle of the defense. If they are unable to do that, the Bills will continue to suffer versus the run and could be in for another long season.

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Tags: AFC East, Chandler Jones, Dannell Ellerbe, Darrelle Revis, Dee Milliner, Jairus Byrd, Kiko Alonso, Nigel Bradham, Philip Wheeler, Questions, Randy Starks, Sheldon Richardson, Tommy Kelly, Training Camp

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