Bills training camp primer: Ryan banking on rookies to shore up defense
It’s the second year of Rex Ryan’s tenure in Buffalo, and it has already been reported that if he doesn’t deliver a playoff trip in 2016, he and general manager Doug Whaley will be fired. As is always the case with Rex’s teams, it starts with the defense. The Bills unit that was ranked fourth in 2014 fell to 19th under Ryan. Rex has emphatically said he’s going to fix that this year, but again, as is the case with Rex, it’s all about whether or not he’ll back up his talk.
The Rookie: Two of the keys to fixing that defense came with the Bills’ top two draft picks this year. First-rounder Shaq Lawson is recovering from shoulder surgery and will miss camp and some time this season, but linebacker Reggie Ragland, who Buffalo got for a steal at No. 41, will be starting right off the bat. Ryan loves his defense to be as physical as possible, and that’s exactly what Ragland, who led Alabama with 97 tackles in 2015, brings to the table. It may be premature to say a month and a half before his rookie season begins, but Ragland is the type of player that can truly elevate a defense, which is exactly what his new team is in desperate need of.
Position Battle Spoilers: Tyrod Taylor has a chance to have a real breakout year in 2016, but he needs weapons. He’s got Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods as his top two receivers, and after that, it gets murky. There are a ton of names in the mix here, including Marquise Goodwin, who just failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team. But the third WR spot will come down to two names in particular: Leonard Hankerson and Greg Salas. Both players have modest stats over their careers, and Salas has been with six teams in his five-year career, but he was with the Bills last year, and with the Jets for two years under both Ryan and his current Bills receivers coach Sanjay Lal. That familiarity will give him the edge as the No. 3 guy.
The Stat: 21.0, the number of sacks the Bills had in the 2015 season. That was 31st in the league, better only than Atlanta.
Preseason Watchability Guide: The first three games against the Colts, Giants and Redskins give Ryan’s defense a chance to get reps against some dangerous passing games. Will the unit be able to get consistent pressure on Luck, Manning and Cousins in the short time it’s on the field against them?