This is the sixth of a series that examines where the Buffalo Bills stand at each position heading into training camp, which begins July 27. Today’s installment looks at defensive line.
This is larger than only one man, but the man in question is both large and has the potential for the largest impact -- good or bad -- on the Buffalo Bills' defensive line.
Which way is it going to go for Marcell Dareus?
The lack of discipline that helped lead to the 6-foot-3, 331-pound tackle's multiple suspensions for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy and a decline in his performance will be severely challenged on two fronts.
First, there's the cultural makeover brought on by the arrival of head coach Sean McDermott, who is holding players more accountable and demanding a higher degree of focus and team-centric thinking over individual interests.
Then, there's Mike Waufle, the new defensive line coach who was a Marine and won't hesitate to get in the face of anyone in his group he feels isn't fully committed to doing things his way or tries to challenge his authority.
After Dareus, who missed more than half of last season between a suspension and injury, there's reason for encouragement for the line to play a key role in improving a defense that ranked 19th in the NFL the past two years.
The majority of the unit's core is intact. With the help of a base 4-3 scheme that should better suit the skills of the players than the 3-4 of the past two seasons, that should lead to better production.
Here's the breakdown at defensive line:
Returning: Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Jerel Worthy, Adolphus Washington, Max Valles and Deandre Coleman.
Newcomers: Ryan Davis, Ian Seau, Nigel Williams, Jake Metz and Marquavius Lewis.
Better, worse or the same?: Better.
Williams is back for a 12th season at tackle. In addition to the impact he can still make on the field -- and that should be enhanced by being in a scheme that should take better advantage of his skills -- he's also one of the foremost leaders of the group and of the entire defense.
That's especially good news for Dareus, who has long relied on Williams' guidance and views him as a big brother.
Hughes, who had a down season in 2016, is expected to flourish in the straight-forward approach of the new defense that will ask him to attack the quarterback more aggressively with his hand down. In Rex Ryan's complicated and often confusing 3-4, Hughes usually worked as an outside linebacker rushing off the edge and sometimes being asked to drop into coverage and play containment.
Hughes was highly impressive during non-contact offseason drills, consistently getting around the corner for what would have been sacks in games.
Lawson, last year’s first-round pick, figures to be a far better fit as an end in the defense of McDermott and new coordinator Leslie Frazier. He never felt truly comfortable last season as an outside linebacker, a position he had never played at any level, yet still managed three sacks in his first four NFL games after returning from offseason shoulder surgery.
Worthy is a tremendously hard worker who should fully buy into Waufle's coaching and the defensive system as a whole. Washington, who mostly struggled as a rookie last year, could also find himself in a better position to succeed.
The overall depth looks solid.