Bills retooled defense making big impression already in camp

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills Safety Micah Hyde recalled being immediately impressed with general manager Brandon Beane for going big — in numbers and size — to address the team’s defensive line needs during the NFL draft.

Using Buffalo’s top two picks to select 6-foot-6, 266-pound Greg Rousseau and 6-3, 281-pound Carlos Basham not only added bulk up front, Hyde said the benefits should filter back to the secondary. Aside from the pass-rushing ability both showed in college, their mere size has the potential of more passes being batted down at the line of scrimmage.

“That’s just the type of guys that we want on our defense,” Hyde said Thursday. “Throughout the whole draft process, I should’ve sent some flowers to Beane’s house because he was really helping us out on the back end.”

Perhaps another bouquet is in order after Basham caught Hyde’s attention on the second day of training camp, when he batted Josh Allen’s pass and then caught it for an interception.

“When I was a rookie, I remember some veterans telling me, `I’m not going to learn your name until you’re out there making plays,’” said Hyde, entering his ninth NFL season, and fifth in Buffalo. “Well, I know Boogie’s name now.”

The Bills’ emphasis on improving their defensive front is showing early signs of promise. Aside from the two rookies, Buffalo also signed 6--6 defensive end Efa Obada, a graduate of the NFL’s International Pathway Program, who had a career-best 5 1/2 sacks during his third season with Carolina last year.

The most important addition could well be the return of run-stuffing defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, after opting out due to COVID-19 concerns last season.

Suddenly, a relatively under-sized defensive front which last season got pushed around by Tennessee and twice by Kansas City, including a loss in the AFC championship game, has the makings of establishing a more intimidating presence.

“I think it does make a difference to an opponent when they look across and see some big burly guys versus some little, small guys,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “I like this way better than the other way. I’ll take my chances with some size.”

Buffalo’s stout defensive reputation took a step back last season with the Bills finishing 14th in yards allowed after ranking among the NFL’s top three in each the previous two years.

Buffalo’s run defense dropped seven spots to finish 17th, while allowing a combined 384 yards rushing in consecutive losses to Tennessee and Kansas City in mid-October. Generating a pass rush was an issue, too, with the Bills tied for 15th with 38 sacks and 23rd in quarterback pressures (combining hurries, knockdowns and sacks).

Rousseau is considered a project after being selected 30th out of Miami, and after he sat out last season for COVID-19 concerns. What impressed the Bills was his potential after leading the ACC with 15 1/2 sacks to earn conference rookie of the year honors in 2019.

Basham was selected 61st out of Wake Forest following a senior season in which he led the Demon Deacons with five sacks in just seven games, also missing time recovering from COVID-19. He finished his college career with 20 1/2 sacks, fourth most in school history.

Both also showed versatility in being able to play inside positions, something the Bills favor in creating mismatches against opposing linemen.

They’ll be brought along gradually to join a line featuring Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison back at defensive end, and Lotulelei and Ed Oliver the projected starters in the middle. The Bills, who rely on rotating defensive linemen to stay fresh, also have a wealth of depth at the position with Obada, Harrison Phillips, Vernon Butler, A.J. Epenesa, Darryl Johnson and Justin Zimmer competing for roster spots.

Though encouraged, Frazier isn’t prepared to assess his defense’s potential or look ahead to the unit having a chance to prove itself with road games against Kansas City and Tennessee looming in mid-October.

“What we’ll be like in October, it’s hard for me to predict at this point,” Frazier said. “Its’ really about getting ready for the opener and then just progressing throughout the season.”

NOTES: With TE Jacob Hollister day to day with a back injury, the Bills signed TE Bug Howard on Friday. He’s an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina who split time with Denver and Jacksonville last season, but has yet to play an NFL game. ... CB Tre’Davious White, known for his fictional hockey goalie academy, was reminded how the NHL Buffalo Sabres are in need of goaltending after losing starter Linus Ullmark to free agency this week. “I’ve been getting a lot of stuff about it. I talked to Mr. Terry today and told him he could sign me to a two-way contract,” White said, referring to Bills owner Terry Pegula, who also owns the Sabres.

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