At the end of the month the Buffalo Bills will reconvene for training camp, in what will be a crucial time for a team that has playoff aspirations in 2016. There are a plethora of questions facing the team as we get closer to the start of camp at St. John Fisher College.
Over the next three weeks leading up to camp, 7 ABC will examine the 20 most pressing questions the Bills have for the upcoming season.
When the Bills used their first-round selection, they hoped they would be getting an immediate impact player. An injury has deterred that, which leads to the next pressing issue:
2) Who steps up in place of rookie Shaq Lawson?
Before the draft, the Bills didn't have much depth to speak of with their rush linebackers. Jerry Hughes was thought to be the team's best pass rusher and only locked in starter, which created a huge need on the other side of the field.
With the 19th overall pick, the Bills decided to use it on Clemson edge rusher Shaq Lawson, and truly believed he'd be able to step in immediately to start in Rex Ryan's defense. They didn't even bother operating under the false pretense that Lawson would have to "earn" the starting role, as many coaches like to do with their rookies.
No, instead, the Bills built him up as an immediate upgrade to the position and they would march towards the season with him in the starting lineup. That was, until, Lawson flared up a previous shoulder injury during the team's rookie minicamp.
Still with plenty of months to go before the start of the regular season, the Bills decided that surgery was the right course of action, knowing that they'd likely be without him for the start of the regular season. It was a calculated risk, and they still don't know how long they'll be without him.
That puts the Bills right back in the same predicament they found themselves in ahead of the draft. They don't have a starting-caliber edge rusher on the roster, instead only boasting a pair of one-dimensional role players.
Without Shaq Lawson, the Bills are left to decide between Manny Lawson and IK Enemkpali to fill the starting job. The older -- and healthier -- Lawson is an intelligent player, but one with declining ability. He's never really been a great option to rush the passer upon entering the league, and has settled into a run-stuffing, edge-defending role wherever he's been.
If it's pass-rushing they're looking for, Enemkpali might be a better option. However, he's better suited as just a normal defensive end. With some athletic limitations, he could struggle in coverage.
So, how do the Bills play this situation early on in 2016?
I'd keep my eyes on Enemkpali for this one. I'm always wary of offseason workout hype, because I've seen plenty of spring warriors flop once they get to training camp even since I started covering the team full-time in 2010. That said, Enemkpali impressed the heck out of Rex Ryan and even got some first-team reps over Lawson.
Now, what the Bills could do, is morph the two players into one, use Lawson on the most obvious of rushing downs, Enemkpali on the obvious passing downs, and figure the rest out with hunches. Or, they could option that edge rusher off the field more than anyone else when opponents go to three-wide sets. Heck, they could even use Reggie Ragland as an outside backer (like he did at times at Alabama) and bring in Zach Brown to play weakside inside linebacker on certain downs.
However, if the Bills had to decide on only one, Enemkpali is the name to watch. Whatever the case may be, they'll be holding on to hope that it's sooner rather than later for their first-round pick Shaq Lawson.
Bills Training Camp 20 #TC20
2) Who steps up in place of Shaq Lawson?