Reference for how the defensive depth chart is built:
The Bills have shown a wide variety of defensive looks already this preseason, so it is inaccurate to simply label them as a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.
That said, their most common looks have featured three defensive linemen with two to four linebackers on the field, depending on the number of defensive backs on the field for the play.
In two- or three-linebacker looks, the Bills’ strongside linebacker typically lines up on the edge of the line similar to where a defensive end would like up in a traditional four-man front. The Bills then have one or two inside linebackers on the field depending on whether it is a nickel or dime formation, although they will occasionally use a look with two edge-rushing linebacker and a middle linebacker.
The other look is structured like a base 3-4, with three down linemen, two edge-rushing outside linebackers and two inside linebackers.
Because the strongside linebacker often lines up where a defensive end would, the three down linemen consequently line up as they would in a four-man front. While some of these players will play multiple spots on the line or at linebacker, the DE position signifies the end who lines up on the edge, while the DT position can be anything from a 1-technique to a 5-technique next to the nose tackle.
DE: Mario Williams NT: Marcell Dareus DT: Kyle Williams
4. Alex Carrington (DE/DT) 5. Alan Branch (NT/DT) 6. Jay Ross (NT/DT)
Dareus and the two Williams form a formidable trio of starters on the Bills’ defensive line. Carrington is an ideal fit for a rotational role as the fourth defensive lineman, as he can play both outside and inside and is a quality pass-rusher.
The top four defensive linemen are firmly set, but the competition gets interesting after that. Branch has not stood out this preseason, but the veteran free-agent signing should be in line for the team’s fifth defensive line spot. For what is likely to be the final defensive line spot on the team, Ross has performed well enough this preseason to obtain an edge over Corbin Bryant and Torell Troup, though Bryant could be a tough cut.
1. Manny Lawson 2. Jerry Hughes 3. Jamie Blatnick 4. Marcus Dowtin
No group has performed better this preseason than the strongside linebackers, who have done a great job generating pressure off the edge in both games thus far. Lawson is likely to be the starter at this position, but Hughes is having an outstanding preseason and should see a significant chunk of repetitions immediately.
Blatnick and Dowtin both bring positional versatility as depth players, and both have shown pass-rush ability while also dropping into coverage adequately this preseason. Both should earn roster spots and potentially even playing time. Undrafted rookie Keith Pough is a promising talent, but the Bills will have a tough time keeping him given the performance of the top four.
MLB. Kiko Alonso WLB. Nigel Bradham 3. Arthur Moats 4. Bryan Scott 5. Chris White
Alonso and Bradham should be locked in as the team’s two starting inside linebackers, with Alonso playing the “Mike” role and Bradham as the “Will.” Moats should be the first inside linebacker off the bench, which could be very important if Bradham faces a suspension for a recent marijuana arrest.
Scott and White may be fighting for one roster spot, and a very likely scenario could result in the team keeping both with their initial cuts, but then signing another player off waivers and releasing either Scott or White. Scott has the edge as a linebacker for his versatility and coverage ability, but White’s special teams play is strong enough to warrant a spot at the back end of the roster.
1. Stephon Gilmore 2. Leodis McKelvin 3. Ron Brooks 4. Crezdon Butler 5. Nickell Robey 6. Justin Rogers
Gilmore is an outstanding talent and the Bills’ clear-cut No. 1 cornerback. McKelvin has not played yet this preseason due to injury, but no one has stepped as a serious contender for his starting role.
Brooks has had a shaky preseason, but he remains the favorite to be the team’s top nickel cornerback. Butler provides legitimate competition at cornerback, as he has been the most impressive cornerback outside of Gilmore this preseason, both outside and inside.
Robey has received significant first-team work this preseason. The undrafted rookie has shown enough to earn a roster spot, but his flaws have been exposed and he will likely spend the year primarily on special teams barring injuries.
Rogers is sliding down the depth chart following a disappointing 2012, but his versatility and special teams ability should earn him a roster spot.
FS. Jairus Byrd SS. Aaron Williams 3. Duke Williams 4. Da’Norris Searcy 5. Jonathan Meeks
Although there are rumors of Byrd potentially asking for a trade or being out of football shape, he should almost certainly be the team’s Week 1 starter at free safety as long as he is still on the roster. Aaron Williams has had an impressive preseason in his conversion to safety, and has rightfully earned a starting spot alongside Byrd.
Searcy was originally expected to be the team’s starting strong safety, but a poor preseason could shuffle him down the depth chart or potentially even off the roster. Duke Williams is a talented rookie capable of playing either safety spot. Searcy and Meeks are both expected to make the team, but with Byrd back on the roster, there is a definite possibility of either Searcy or Meeks being a surprise cut.
K: Dustin Hopkins P: Shawn Powell LS: Garrison Sanborn
Having already released kicker Rian Lindell and punter Brian Stahovich, the Bills’ specialist depth chart is all set. The three Florida State alums have each won their respective jobs on the Bills’ special teams.
Goodwin will almost certainly be the team’s lead kickoff returner this season, while punt returner duties will likely fall upon McKelvin or Woods.