The Buffalo Bills’ defensive line looks well-positioned to weather the season-ending injury to defensive end Alex Carrington, as long as the unit doesn’t lose anybody else.
The Bills have a proven NFL player backing up Carrington in seventh-year pro Alan Branch. He and third-year man Corbin Bryant are expected to see significant increases in playing time now that Carrington is out for the season with a torn quadriceps muscle.
“We’re fine up front,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said in assessing his team’s defensive injuries.
Marrone’s comment wasn’t a knock on Carrington, whom the Bills viewed as ideally built to play end in coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. It was more a nod to Branch, one of the three most veteran backups on the Bills’ roster (with Fred Jackson and Jim Leonhard).
The 30-year-old Branch is a former 33rd overall draft pick, and he started the past two seasons for Seattle. Due to his 6-foot-6, 325-pound bulk, however, Branch also is the most ideal backup for Marcell Dareus at nose tackle. Thus, it’s expected Branch will continue to play several spots along the line, which means more snaps for Bryant, too.
“He’s productive,” Marrone said of Branch. “He’s very difficult to move. He’s a big-bodied guy. He might get upset with me saying that, but he’s big-bodied in a good way. And he can cause problems. Hard to move, frees up linebackers, has a pretty good pass rush for a big guy. We’ve been very happy with that acquisition.”
Branch is bigger than the 6-5, 301-pound Carrington. The latter is a tad quicker. The Bills signed Branch as a free agent to a one-year contract in early April.
“I definitely think it’s going to be a challenge to replace A.C., but at the same time I’m used to playing as a starter and having a lot of snaps,” Branch said. “I don’t think it’ll be too much on me personally. Plus I feel a lot of the defensive guys have trust I can go in and do just as good of a job as A.C. and have the defense not miss a step.”
Bryant, 6-4 and 300, entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of Northwestern in 2011. He spent most of his first two seasons on practice squads but progressed enough to make the Bills’ 53-man roster to open the season.
“We got a lot of guys on the defensive front that can fill in,” Branch said. “C.B. almost plays the same type of ball as A.C., so I think everybody on the defensive line has to step up.”
Carrington averaged 55 snaps the first three games. Branch has averaged 37. Bryant played 20 on Sunday and 17 against Carolina.
“I feel I’m well prepared,” Bryant said. “Having a guy like Alex in front of me, a guy for me to study, I was able to pick up on a lot of his techniques and things he did well. I’m going to go out and try to mirror that and maybe even be better at it.”
Both Branch and Bryant know the Carrington position is not a glamour job on the Bills’ defense. That end spot lines up either in a 4-technique spot (head-up across from a tackle) or a 5-technique spot (opposite the outside shoulder of the tackle).
“I’ve never been a glamour player,” Branch said. “I’ve always been the guy keeping everybody off the linebackers and not really getting the glory. … I like having the personal wins against each player every snap. I like imposing my will. I think that’s the part about football I love the most, especially on the D-line. It’s you against another offensive player, and who’s got better technique, who’s stronger, who’s more smash-mouth.”
Bryant was raw coming out of college but has improved his pad level and is assignment-sound. He has a master’s degree in sports management from Northwestern.
“I’m thinking about maybe going into some type of administration, maybe football ops, maybe scouting, maybe be a GM some day,” he said.
By playing well this season, Bryant has a chance to push that dream much farther into the future.