Buffalo Bills training camp preview: Defensive end

2020 Buffalo Bills preview of the defensive end position

The Buffalo Bills are a few short weeks away from arriving for training camp in Western New York. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the preseason festivities will be diminished; the team will not hold their sessions at St. John Fisher College, their training camp location since 2000.

Nevertheless, the aim of the training camp remains the same. The organization must prepare players for the preseason, which depth players will compete in their final battle for a roster spot.

Training camp could hold greater importance this year, as the trimmed down preseason slate leaves fewer opportunities for players to impress the coaching staff.

The Bills Wire will complete a position-by-position analysis of each group on the Bills roster. This edition will focus on the defensive end position:

Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Players (age)

  • Mario Addison (32: 10th season)
  • Bryan Cox, Jr. (26: 4th season)
  • AJ Epenesa (21: Rookie)
  • Jerry Hughes (31: 11th season)
  • Darryl Johnson (23: 2nd season)
  • Mike Love (26: 2nd season)
  • Trent Murphy (29: 7th season)
  • Jonathan Woodard (26: 3rd season)

2019 recap

On the edge for the Bills in 2019, there was a status quo approach. Buffalo didn’t change much up in this rotation until the most recent offseason. Last year, Shaq Lawson produced a career-best 6.5 in addition to playing well against the run. Jerry Hughes didn’t always get to the quarterback, but his pressure forced many poor decisions from opposing signal callers. We later found out that Hughes was dealing with multiple injuries during the 2019 regular season, which likely held him back. Trent Murphy added five sacks and played well late in the season, but for a majority of the year, Murphy was very underwhelming, as he has been during his entire time with the Bills.

For a majority of the past year, the rotation at defensive end saw those three as the main trio at the position. Darryl Johnson played a very minimal role, and in a twist, there’s Lorenzo Alexander to consider as well. The former linebacker/ do-it-all player for the Bills often saw snaps all across the defensive line in 2019.

But the pressure put forth by Buffalo’s defensive line helped create chaos, which made the job a bit easier for the remainder of the defensive unit. The Bills were 12th with 44 total sacks last year. The unit allowed the third-fewest yards per game, giving up an average of 298.3 years per game. In addition, the team allowed the second-fewest drives to end with points, as highlighted by Pro Football Reference.

Now here’s a rundown of storylines to follow in this position group:

What’s the replacement plan for Shaq Lawson?

The Bills lost both of their top sack artists from the two defensive line positions last season, Jordan Phillips (9.5 sacks) and a former first-round pick in Lawson (6.5). Of the two, Lawson didn’t go very far, inking a three-year, $30 million deal with the Dolphins so the Bills will still see him twice a year. The former top selection will have something to prove to his former team, while the Bills will have to show the club found a replacement or two for him.

Last season, Lawson played 47-percent of defensive snaps as part of the Bills’ defensive line rotation under head coach Sean McDermott. The Bills will need to recoup some of that production. In terms of doing so with Lawson, the top candidates are veteran Mario Addison and rookie AJ Epenesa.

In Addison, the Bills add a player who’s had at least nine sacks in each of the past four seasons. Epenesa, while a second rounder, had a first-round grade from many pre-draft analysts. Also to consider is Quinton Jefferson, but his role is up in the air currently. Jefferson may very well play at both the edge and interior of Buffalo’s D-line.