Publish date:

Bills Defense Taking Solid Shape as Training Camp Wears on

The rookies are progressing while veteran Star Lotulelei has been so sharp that he didn't need work in the preseason opener.

As training camps go, this probably couldn't be a better one for the Buffalo Bills' defense.

Rookie draft picks Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham have been everything they expected as perimeter pass rushers. Fellow rookie Damar Hamlin looks like he may have a future as a starting safety after Jordan Poyer and/or Micah Hyde move on. Veteran defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, in his sharp return from a year off after opting out of last season was called a "bright light" by defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

And those storylines are just the beginning for a unit that slipped in every which way last season but still found a way to help lead the team to the AFC Championship Game by dominating the Baltimore Ravens en route to a 17-3 playoff victory.

In his first meeting with the media since the Bills' victory in their preseason opener at Detroit Friday night, Frazier gushed about nearly every player.

"It was good to see our young guys get out and play as hard as they did," he said Monday. "They gave tremendous effort, and that was a really good thing to see, to be able to evaluate and get a feel for where they are and what we need to do from a depth standpoint. So it was really encouraging to watch the way they flew around and the see some guys make some plays."

What the coach wants to see from his players now is the ability to stack good practices and games on top of one another.

Rousseau, who had a sack on the first series and three pressures overall, certainly falls into that category.

"We still have quite a bit of football ahead of us," Frazier said, "and we're watching his maturation and just seeing how he processes. And even after having a really good start in his first preseason game, first NFL game, you want to see how he progresses in practice following that and what happens in the next ballgame. So it's all part of the evaluation."

Read More

Lotulelei was held out of the game, Frazier said, because he has done so well in practice that he essentially didn't need the work, especially when they had so many other younger players to evaluate.

Harrison Phillips, who was never 100 percent last season following surgery on both knees the year before, is among them.

Hamlin has had some typical rookie ups and downs, but ... "there are a lot more positives than there are negatives," Frazier said, "and he's still learning, still getting a feel for the pro game. ... Still some things that we want to get cleaned up, but that's just a part of the process as he continues to develop and grow. But up to this point, we're pleased with the progress he's made. We've got to keep putting him in different situations and see how he responds."

Frazier was similarly encouraged by the progress of linebackers Andre Smith and Joe Giles-Harris, defensive ends Efe Obada and Darryl Johnson and safety Josh Thomas.

"I had been teasing [Thomas] throughout the offseason, without pads on," Frazier said. "I kept telling him, I said, `Josh, you're flying around here in practice, but when we get pads on, you're going to disappear in your first live action.' And man, did he prove me wrong!

"... So when we were walking off the field yesterday and even in our meetings, I just congratulated him. He did a heck of a job in the ballgame. Tackled well, flew around, was in the right spot, did a great job of communicating. He's come a long way from a year ago, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he's been able to practice and go through some things."

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to Nicky300@aol.com.