INDIANAPOLIS — Members of the Buffalo Bills’ defense had every right to be enraged.
Their superb effort last October against the Houston Texans was wasted when quarterback Nathan Peterman threw a back-breaking pick-six in the fourth quarter. It was the type of loss that can send a season spiraling down the drain, with resentment setting in.
Only Kyle Williams wouldn’t allow it. The veteran defensive tackle spoke up inside the losing locker room at NRG Stadium, saying that all players shared in the blame, not just one man.
“The defense played one hell of a game that day,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said Thursday. “That's when you can have finger pointing and 'We should have won this game. We had seven sacks.' Kyle just (said), ‘we didn't do enough. We didn't make enough plays. It's on us. It's not on the coaches. Let's come back tomorrow, let's get back to work and let's fix this.’ ”
“Anybody can lead when you're winning. But to lose a game like we lost in Houston, I remember staring at Kyle, and I'll be damned, I didn't have anything to say. He had the presence to lead.”
That leadership is gone now, disappearing when Williams retired following the 2018 season. The reality of needing to replace it is setting in for Beane and coach Sean McDermott.
“It's definitely a challenge. What he did for Sean and I, to help carry the torch in the locker room — you need guys like that who can carry your message,” Beane said. “We can't be in the locker room, on the bus, in every meeting room, and so I can't say I can go out and find a guy that can do what Kyle did for us. Sean and I have challenged some guys that will be coming back, to group effort, pick that up. I don't know that there's a guy who can do what Kyle did.”
“When you sit back and you really look, 'Hey, where's our team? What could affect us going forward?' Just being in the league as long as I have, you can't underestimate the impact that could have,” McDermott added, “because there is a void, on the grass, but also more so from a leadership standpoint. For me, it would be irresponsible to underestimate that. We have to keep that in mind as we move forward.”
That process is underway here at the NFL scouting combine, where the Bills and the rest of the league’s 31 teams are busy meeting with more than 300 draft hopefuls.
Defensive tackle might be a long shot for the team in the first round, but if the Bills truly do stick by their “best player available” approach, the possibility can’t be entirely ruled out.
“You've got to be able to get to the quarterback — or at least affect the quarterback,” McDermott said.
Of course, the Bills could also stay in house for Williams’ replacement, with the most likely candidate being Harrison Phillips, the team’s third-round draft pick a year ago.
“Harrison will compete. He did a good job in year one,” Beane said. “He’ll compete to definitely start. I can’t say he’ll win it, but Harrison did a great job of bringing depth to us last year. He wasn’t asked to start. Obviously with Kyle gone, not only did we lose a good player, but we lost a leader. So we’ll definitely look to add players along the front. We believe in the pass rush, and if there’s a guy in free agency or the draft we think can help, we’ll definitely try and pounce on him.
Another possibility is Jordan Phillips, but that would require the team to re-sign the pending unrestricted free agent. Beane said Thursday that’s something the team is interested in doing.
“We had a good conversation with Jordan at the end of the year,” Beane said. “We’ve talked with his representatives a couple times. They’re here. We have not met with them yet, but definitely would be interested in bringing Jordan back and liked the energy he brought our team midseason when we acquired him.”