On July 26, the Buffalo Bills will officially embark on the new season with the start of training camp at St. John Fisher College. Following the completion of spring workouts, we now have a handle on what the Bills will look like heading into training camp, yet it’s only the jumping off point for what’s to come in 2018.
In the build-up to the start of training camp, WKBW will be taking a position-by-position look at the most pressing matters heading into the season. Next, we'll take a look at a position the Bills hope they changed for the better with their offseason moves, defensive tackle:
Depth Chart based on the spring
1st Team: Star Lotulelei, Kyle Williams
2nd Team: Harrison Phillips, Adolphus Washington
3rd Team: Rickey Hatley/Tenny Palepoi, Marquavius Lewis
Biggest Question heading into training camp
Can the new additions solve the woes against the run?
- Last year, when a three-game losing streak hit the Bills and dropped them back down to an even 5-5 record, one of the biggest reasons that they weren't even close in those games was due to how porous their run defense was. It all started right through the middle, and the play of the defensive tackles and middle linebacker deserved a big part of the blame. Kyle Williams could only do so much as he drew all the attention of the interior, and the combination of both a below average starter at one-technique defensive tackle and the middle linebacker not being able to get off blocks well enough led to some huge gains for their opponents. The Bills spotted this problem and acted in a big way in the offseason by adding Star Lotulelei in free agency and by using a third-round draft pick on Harrison Phillips to be Lotulelei's primary backup. The hope from the Bills is that Lotulelei, who is familiar with Sean McDermott's defensive scheme from all their years in Carolina, will be able to hold up at the point of attack and take some pressure off of his teammates and enabling them to make a play. You won't often notice Lotulelei based on his job description, and if you do, it's probably for a wrong reason. The less he's seen, the better for the defense's sake. As for Williams, Lotulelei's presence could help him infinitely. They'll also need to think about limiting his reps a bit more this season now that there's some more depth on the roster.
Potential Rookie Impact
- Even as the only rookie of the group, Harrison Phillips can still work himself into quite the substantial role with the Buffalo Bills in his first year. At the very least, he will be the primary backup to Lotulelei and on the field somewhere between 20 and 30-percent of the time. However, if Phillips can show well enough in some spots at three-technique defensive tackle through training camp and the preseason, he could work himself into some more playing time ahead of the likes of Adolphus Washington. That's not how things have been done in the past with Sean McDermott, as he usually doesn't stray from his first-four and second-four substitution methods usually. It all depends on Phillips and what he shows. Even still, he'll have a role no matter what.
Surprise Cut Candidate
- Releasing Adolphus Washington would be a bit of a shock based on what his draft status from 2016 was as a third-round pick, but the Bills haven't been able to find a home for him. They tried him out a three-technique defensive tackle, and he didn't do that well enough in 2017. He then flipped over to one-technique and even started there following the Marcell Dareus trade, but again was mostly ineffective. Now as the backup three-technique to Kyle Williams, this puts him in an insecure standing for the final roster. He has to earn his spot this year. Odds are, based on what's behind him at three-technique, he'll likely stick. However, if Marquavius Lewis shows well enough, or if the Bills add to the group with another player, Washington could be in jeopardy. He might also be a candidate to be traded before the season begins, too.
- It's going to be hard for an additional one-technique defensive tackle to stick on the roster, but the Bills have shown that they like Rickey Hatley and what he was able to do as a member of the active roster at the end of last season. Hatley has the required size and even received some time with the second-team defense through the spring workouts. If there isn't a spot on the active roster immediately before the regular season begins, Hatley seems like a rock-solid practice squad candidate
Firmly on the Bubble
Adolphus Washington, Rickey Hatley, Tenny Palepoi, Marquavius Lewis
- Hatley has potential, Washington could be in trouble if he doesn't stand out for the right reasons, or if Marquavius Lewis plays well enough in his second year as a pro. Tenny Palepoi at this point seems like just veteran depth for training camp.