The Buffalo Bills have started transforming their defense.
The latest example is the addition of Max Valles, who was plucked off Oakland’s practice squad earlier this week.
Valles, a 6-foot-4, 250-pounder, projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The Bills are expected to be on the hunt for similar players who fit coach Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme in the offseason.
“It’s really exciting to be active and show what I can do,” said Valles, who has spent this season on the Raiders’ practice squad after joining the team as a sixth-round draft pick out of Virginia.
The Bills’ interest in Valles dates back to the draft.
“We liked him when he came out of Virginia,” Ryan said Thursday. He’s “a guy that we were actually considering drafting, and then he was taken before we got to. … Based on the evaluation we had in college, we really liked him.”
Valles had a breakout season with the Cavaliers in 2014, finishing with nine sacks and nine passes defensed. He left school after just two college seasons, and at 21 is the youngest player on the Bills’ roster along with rookie cornerback Ronald Darby.
The scouting report on Valles coming out of college mentioned that he’s raw, but has the athletic ability to develop into a solid edge rusher in the NFL. That’s an area the Bills’ roster could use depth, so the addition of Valles is a low-risk, high-reward acquisition.
“We think he does have some pass-rush skills,” Ryan said.
With only three weeks left this season, it’s possible Valles may not see the field defensively. But the Bills will get that time to evaluate him in practice, as well as in organized team activities in the spring.
“Every day in Oakland, I got to go against a Pro Bowl left tackle in Donald Penn,” Valles said. “I feel like I’ve been preparing for this. I’m ready to get my feet wet. It’s going to be hard to learn a whole defense in three weeks, but I just want to contribute however I can, and get some juice flowing for next season.”
Valles said rushing the passer is “his speciality, but I’m a pretty athletic guy. I feel comfortable covering someone and playing the run, as well.”
The Bills met with Valles during the NFL Scouting Combine in February for a formal interview.
“It was actually one of my better ones,” Valles said. “I really liked coach Ryan. I watched him growing up, being from New Jersey and him coaching the Jets. It’s pretty exciting to get a chance to play for him.”
The Bills’ injury-ravaged defense can add illness to the list of afflictions.
Defensive end Mario Williams missed his second straight practice Thursday because of an illness, leaving his status for Sunday’s game against Washington up in the air. Williams came in late Wednesday night to meet with defensive line coach Karl Dunbar and go over the game plan, and was at the team facility Thursday meeting with the training staff.
“I know he wants to play,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “He felt a little better late last night.”
Ryan said Williams could play even if he misses the entire practice week, provided he knows his responsibilities.
“Certainly, with his kind of abilities, you want him out there, period,” the coach said.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham was limited for a second straight practice, but Ryan sounded pessimistic that he’ll be able to return after missing the past two games because of an ankle injury.
“I was more confident earlier in the week than I am now,” Ryan said of the possibility of having Bradham available.
In addition to Williams, tight end Charles Clay (back), right tackle Seantrel Henderson (illness) and safety Bacarri Rambo (knee) did not practice Thursday.
Rambo was limited in Wednesday’s practice, but had a setback during the session.
“We’re hoping that he progresses where he can play, but yeah, it was a setback,” Ryan said of Rambo.
Safety Aaron Williams (neck), cornerback Ron Brooks (concussion/neck), fullback Jerome Felton (back), running back Karlos Williams (shoulder), linebacker Preston Brown (hamstring) and wide receiver Robert Woods (hip) joined Bradham as limited practice participants.
Brown, Woods and Felton are all expected to be ready to face the Redskins, while Karlos Williams is likely to be a game-time decision.
“That’s going to be one of those iffy things,” Ryan said. “He looks good. I think his legs are ready. How he feels with his shoulder, that’s the main issue. I think we’ll wait the next couple days before we make that determination.”
Henderson’s status remains murky. The Buffalo News reported Wednesday that he’s dealing with Crohn’s disease. Ryan confirmed Henderson was hospitalized Saturday before the Bills faced the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He’s here today,” Ryan said. “I’m not real sure, you know, what his status is. We thought he would play last week, and then the night before the game, he comes down with an illness, so we’re really not sure.”
Aaron Williams, meanwhile, remains on the short-term injured reserve list and will not be activated this week.
“He’s practicing on the scout team, but we’re not ready to put him out there,” Ryan said. “He’s really non-contact. He can practice, he can run, he looks really good that way, but our trainers aren’t comfortable with him hitting.”