NFL DRAFT: Bills go on defensive for Rex Ryan's unit
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) The Buffalo Bills' high-priced defense performed so poorly last season, it was only a matter of time before critics affixed a nickname on the person they blamed most.
It's the head coach, of course, who went from being referred to as Rex Ryan to `Wrecks D,' after just one season.
It's an unflattering tag pegged on a big-talking coach with an extensive resume as a defensive specialist, but who failed to deliver on his vow to build the Bills into bullies.
That was particularly evident for a sack-happy defense that went from one of the NFL's most disruptive on the field to one of the most combustible off it after defensive end Mario Williams led a chorus of players openly questioning Ryan's approach.
The defense dropped from fourth to 19th in yards allowed, and sacks fell from an NFL-leading 54 to 21 - the Bills' fewest in a 16-game season.
Williams was cut in March, while Ryan says he's done answering questions about last season, and has begun the process of rebuilding his defense and reputation.
The transformation began with Ryan shuffling his staff by hiring twin brother Rob (assistant head coach/defense), five-time All-Pro selection Ed Reed (safeties) and John Blake (line).
It continues in the draft, when the Bills are expected to address front-seven needs, where Buffalo is particularly thin at linebacker. Buffalo has eight selections, and opens with the 19th pick in a draft class touted as having considerable depth at linebacker and defensive tackle.
The prospect crop includes an Alabama trio of defensive linemen Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson and linebacker Reggie Ragland.
General manager Doug Whaley won't fully commit to selecting a defensive player first, but notes it is a priority.
''Now, by sheer numbers, absolutely, connect the dots and say defense would be a higher priority than a lot of other positions,'' Whaley said.
He also noted the sheer number of defensive prospects provide the option of trading back to add a draft pick and still getting a player he covets.
Whaley called it ''a very, very good possibility,'' the Bills will draft a quarterback, though he stressed Tyrod Taylor will be the team's starter entering this season. Taylor's future in Buffalo is uncertain beyond that because he has one year left on his contract.
A number of things to look out for as the Bills restock in a bid to end the NFL's longest active playoff drought, now at 16 seasons:
FREE-AGENT FRONT: Whaley defended the lack of splashes in free agency by noting he was more focused on retaining talent. Buffalo committed a $13.5 million franchise tag to starting left tackle Cordy Glenn and re-signed starting left guard Richie Incognito. The Bills also retained the rights to starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore by picking up the option on the fifth year of his contract, worth $11 million.
With little room under the salary cap, Whaley said there's still enough space to add players once teams make their post-draft cuts.
PEGULA POWER: Terry Pegula, who with his wife, Kim, purchased the Bills during the 2014 season, is heavily involved in the draft, and has the final say on selections, Whaley said. That's no different from how the franchise worked under late Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson.
Whaley welcomes the input and says Pegula has never vetoed a move.
The Pegulas also invested heavily to modernize the draft room this past year.
HENDERSON WATCH: Whaley said the Bills still have no definitive update on the status of right tackle Seantrel Henderson, who was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. If Henderson can't play, Whaley noted the Bills have depth with Jordan Mills and Cyrus Kouandjio, who filled in over the final five games of last season.
SIZING UP JONES: The interest in drafting a quarterback led to Whaley providing his take on Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, who at 6-foot-5 has size and arm strength, but has limited starting experience.
''His resume is short,'' Whaley said. ''All these picks are a leap of faith, and that's a greater leap of faith than a lot of other guys.''
IN THE FAMILY: Director of college scouting Kelvin Fisher enjoyed a proud moment when the Bills brought in his son, Kelvin Jr., for a pre-draft visit. Fisher is A defensive back who had an interception in 10 games as a senior at Texas-El Paso.
''Good player,'' Fisher said of his son.
''Questionable home life,'' Whaley interjected with a laugh before saying: ''Nah. It's a special process and a testament to Kelvin Jr., but also his parents.''
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