The battle appears to be a three horse race between Marcus Jones, Ryan Denney and Chris Kelsay with each player offering up a different skill package.
Marcus Jones should be considered the front runner to earn this position because of the three he offers up the best overall skill package for the position. Jones' an eight year vet joined the Bills mid season last year after playing his entire career in Tamp Bay. At 6'6" and 278# brings some serious size to the table as well as speed. Drafted in the first round in 1996, Jones took some time to develop and served primarily as a backup for Tampa from 1996-1998. Though in 1999 he broke out with 7.0 sacks which earned him the right to start the following year when he had a career high 13.0 sacks. Though his numbers faded in 2001 when he earned only 3.0 sacks. He missed the entire 2002 season with a knee injury and he and the Bills hope he can bounce back and become the player he was just two seasons ago to help right defensive end Aaron Schobel in the pass rush department.
Second year man Ryan Denney offers up similar size as Jones' at 6'7" 276# but has yet to prove anything in the NFL. If anything can be said of Denney's rookie campaign it was a disappointment considering the Bills traded up in the draft to take him sixty first overall. Denney got very little playing time as he just seemed to struggle to adjust from college ball to NFL ball. Though he did get some playing time at the end of the year and showed some good skills. Compared to Phil Hansen coming out of the draft Denney can be best described as a strong tackling up the field type defensive end. In that he isn't the best pass rusher in the world but can get the job done at times but best suited at making tackles. One other "negative" is that he is a bit older then you would expect from a second year pro because of his two years serving the church before attending BYU.
The last player involved in this battle is rookie Chris Kelsay. Like Denney, Kelsay was a second round draft selection of the Bills, selected 48th overall in this past April's draft.
At 6'4" 275# Kelsay isn't as big as his competitors but don't tell him that. Kelsay and his "never say die" attitude more then make up for his smaller frame. Not only that but of the three, Kelsay might be considered the best pure pass rusher. Of course being only a rookie he's also the least "NFL developed" of the three and considered weak against the run. Kelsay's best fit for the Bills this season might be as a 3rd down specialist as he develops his skills to play in the NFL.
We think Jones with his experience and better pass rush skills will ultimately win this battle. Though don't be surprised if Denney spells him early and often in order to ensure Jones' knee is fully repaired. Not only that but the Bills are a team that like to see their D-lineman come in waves i.e. they like to constantly rotate their D-lineman to ensure each stays healthy and have a fresh player on the field if possible. Denney might even be able to take over the starting position by years end if he shows the drive and skills that made him a second round draft pick in the NFL in the first place.
Join us next week as we cover another competition in Bills training camp. If you happened to miss our first Battlin Bills article Click Here to Read it