Every April, Bills fans are teased into “This is the Year” delusion.
Tom Donahoe and even Marv Levy were masters of theatrics. Every April, the fan base came to life with a handful of skill-position players. Willis McGahee, J.P. Losman, Lee Evans, Marshawn Lynch, James Hardy, Roscoe Parrish among many others have all lifted fans to Cloud Nine every April.
Meanwhile, the trenches suffered. Buffalo haven’t drafted an offensive lineman in the first, second or third round in – get this – six years. Ignored completely, both lines disintegrated into sieves.
Any hype generated with flashy draft picks painfully erodes to playoff-less frustration. There’s been no border control.
So this time around, the Bills went big. Aaron Maybin, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. Three linemen that will chances to start immediately. The trio can’t rectify years of mismanagement alone, but it’s a start.
Russ Brandon stops short of labeling this weekend a philosophical change. But with three high-motor linemen with his first four picks, Brandon did something his predecessors always ignored.
“At the conclusion of the season, we talked about getting tougher up front,” Brandon said in reference to Wood. “He’s a highly intelligent player. When you add Geoff Hangartner at center and put Eric in at guard and Brad Butler at guard, we’ve gotten much tougher up front and tough, versatile and smart.”
And this was before the Bills added Andy Levitre.
Buffalo’s personnel department is hardly a team of Kipers or McShays. After botching picks annually, the Bills have dug themselves a decade-long hole of futility. But at least now the investments are being made where they should. Far too many G.M.’s, including Donahoe, get wrapped up into thinking that you’re always one playmaker away.
Instead of risking high picks and rich contracts to players that throw, catch and run, Buffalo got smart. Both lines needed complete concentration. This weekend was a step in the right direction, a step toward doing things the New England way. Glue players.
The team’s first pick, Penn State’s Maybin, will be called upon to wreak havoc immediately. And he can’t flame out like Chris Ellis. Buffalo tried shopping Chris Kelsay, but its flea market bargaining at best. Look for Kelsay to man the running downs and Maybin to rush the passer in obvious passing situations.
Aaron Maybin has 12 sacks last year for Penn State.
“He gives us an opportunity to have a pass rusher off the edge,” Brandon said. “He’s explosive athlete and a physical specimen…We have to make the quarterback uncomfortable and he gives us an opportunity to do that with the rotation that we run.”
Tom Modrak, Buffalo’s VP of College Scouting, noted that Maybin can rush the passer on both sides of the ball. That explosive first step is equally explosive from the blind side and front side. In separating the Jamal Reynolds’ from the Jevon Kearses, subtle skills are key.
Of course, more than any technical quirks, Maybin’s obvious strength is his unusual frame. He’s built like an action figure.
“He has extraordinarily long arms, longish arms,” head coach Dick Jauron said. “He has a nice reach. So he has that quick first step. If he gets near the quarterback, we think he has the ability to edge. Once he gets close, he can edge and turn that thing towards the quarterback.”
The Bills didn’t have a choice but to load up on the lines this year. After finishing 28th in sacks last season and getting chewed up and spat out up the gut whenever they ran vs. 3-4 defenses, Buffalo had to add toughness. After making a cannonball dive in free agency by signing Terrell Owens, the team needed to do the dirty work.
Ever since bombing on Mike Williams fourth overall in 2002, the Bills have virtually ignored offensive linemen in the draft – one overweight curse haunting the franchise.
Are Maybin, Wood and Levitre enough? Tough to tell. Maybin is being billed as a situational pass rusher, but you don’t draft players No. 11 overall as part-timers.
Maybin, after putting on 25 pounds during the off-season, needs to grow into a 9-to-5 defensive end. Someone that will not only put heat on Tom Brady, but can also force runs inside. Buffalo gave up 121 yards per game on the ground last year – mostly on the edge.
Beefing up on the lines was important for this team that’s been so infatuated with dazzling backs, receivers, corners and safeties. After last year’s draft class mostly flopped, Buffalo needs these three linemen to deliver. This time, nobody can blame Buffalo’s G.M. for doing the right thing.