The Buffalo Bills' run defense is looking up.
Two key additions in free agency and the shift to the 3-4 defense give the team legitimate hope that it will be at least decent at defending the run in 2010.
The Bills ranked third worst in the NFL last year in rushing yards allowed, and they have ranked in the bottom 11 in the league in run defense five straight years.
However, the Bills have transformed themselves from an undersized defensive front to a bigger, stouter unit. Free-agent defensive end Dwan Edwards, a 6-foot-3, 290-pounder signed away from Baltimore, becomes a prospective starter and joins 310-pound Marcus Stroud and 286-pound Spencer Johnson in a new defensive end rotation.
The linebacking corps is vastly bigger, with former defensive ends Chris Kelsay and Aaron Maybin switching outside-backer spots. The signing of run-downs inside backer Andra Davis, a 250-pound 3-4 veteran, gives the Bills depth and flexibility. Now the Bills have prototypes on the inside with Davis joining 238-pound Paul Posluszny and 253-pound Kawika Mitchell, and Mitchell can flex outside, too.
Is this the makings of a dominant run defense? Let's not get carried away yet. There are likely to be some growing pains as the players learn a new scheme. But it's bound to be better.
With a month to go before the NFL draft, here's a review of the rest of the glaring needs on the Bills' roster:
Offensive line: Left tackle remains a huge worry and the likeliest direction the team will go with for the ninth overall pick in the draft. Drew Brees and Brett Favre would have had a hard time succeeding behind last year's tackle roster. The Bills addressed the right tackle need by signing Cornell Green from the Oakland Raiders. They still could use some veteran insurance on the interior line. They looked into this by hosting free agent Wade Smith, but he opted for a better opportunity to start by signing with Houston.
"I feel like one of the keys for us on the offensive line is to get healthy," coach Chan Gailey said last week. "If everyone can get healthy, we've got some quality young players. Cornell gave us some experience. He's a quality run blocker. He played very well this past year. But he gives us some good experience and stability on that front line. Everybody knows we needed to address that because of the retirement situation with Brad [Butler]."
Quarterback: Gailey said last week it will be an open competition among the three incumbents -- Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm -- "unless something different happens between now and post-draft." That leaves him plenty of wiggle room. The likelihood is the top two QBs in the draft, Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen, will be gone before the ninth pick. Bills General Manager Buddy Nix has a good track record of building through the draft. It would be a surprise if he gave up the kind of picks that would be required to acquire an older quarterback such as Donovan McNabb. The Bills are scouting all their options in the draft. Texas' Colt McCoy and Florida's Tim Tebow are possible second-round prospects. Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and others could be intriguing, even though it's not a deep draft for quarterbacks. It will be interesting to see if the Bills pick a QB on the second or third day of the draft.
Receiver: The incumbents are Lee Evans, James Hardy, Roscoe Parrish and Steve Johnson. Those are the only receivers on the roster. The free-agent crop was thin this year, and the Bills have not hosted any free-agent wideouts yet. There is good depth in the draft. The Bills figure to be drafting some receivers.
Nose tackle: Nix and Gailey express confidence in Kyle Williams' ability to play well in the 3-4 scheme. It would be nice to have a space-eating DT behind him. Mark that down as another draft need. The Bills have some young, big guys who will try to make an impression in training camp, including Rashaad Duncan, Marlon Favorite and Lonnie Harvey.
Pass rushers: Aaron Schobel might retire, and Kelsay is entering the last year of his contract. Here's another position that could be the Bills' second-round pick. If the left tackle who they really like isn't available at No. 9, it wouldn't be a total shock as the first-round pick.
The Bills are a team with plenty of needs. No matter how the draft breaks down, they will be able to find somebody to fill a hole.