The report noted that Byrd will be reporting to Buffalo within the next couple of days and will have two weeks to prepare for the regular-season opener against the New England Patriots.
Byrd ending his holdout couldn't have come at a better time for the Bills. In a week where Bills fans had to suffer through the bad news that franchise quarterback of the future, and probable starter this season, E.J. Manuel required minor knee surgery, the report about Byrd provides much-needed relief. Byrd has been a key contributor for the Bills after being drafted in the second round in 2009, tallying 18 interceptions since that time.
More important, Byrd rejoining the fold appears to be the last piece in establishing new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's ideal system in Buffalo. In fact, Byrd would seem to be the linchpin in the scheme, which features putting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Byrd's play-making ability in the secondary should complement the scheme perfectly, as he will be allowed to make plays when quarterbacks are hurried into making poor decisions.
As now established with Byrd back in the fold, the Bills' official depth chart looks like it has the potential to feature one of the top defenses in the league in 2013. Even though many of the players are holdovers from the previous coaching regime, the depth chart looks like Pettine put together a fantasy squad of the players best suited to play in his system.
The starting defensive ends, Mario Williams and Alex Carrington, should be able to provide heat on opposing quarterbacks from the outside, while defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus do the same up the middle. Assuming everyone stays healthy, a case could be made that the Bills will have the best front four in the NFL. Mario Williams and Kyle Williams are already established as two of the best linemen in the league, having appeared in two Pro Bowls apiece. In addition, Dareus was the third overall pick of the 2011 draft and should keep improving, and Carrington has extreme breakout potential if he can take advantage of the fact that so much attention will be paid on the other three linemen.
The hope for Pettine is that the stoutness of the defensive line opens up added opportunities for blitzing linebackers. The one place where the 2013 Bills starting defense will look almost entirely different than last year, the unit projects to include free-agent signee Manny Lawson, second-round draft pick Kiko Alonso, and Nigel Bradham.
In addition to Bradham avoiding any potential suspension for his recent arrest, the key will be the development of Alonso. In the preseason, Alonso has impressed with his command of the defense and overall athleticism. If the linebackers can establish themselves in the Bills' blitz game and still hold their own in coverage, it is likely that the Bills' defense will be an opposing quarterback's nightmare.
As with any team that utilizes a high-pressure defensive scheme, the Bills will have to rely on the secondary to play aggressive man-to-man defense and make opposing quarterbacks pay for poor decisions when under that pressure. With Byrd back at free safety, some of the pressure is taken off of Aaron Williams, as he looks to convert back to safety after spending his first two NFL seasons as a cornerback. Williams projects as the starting strong safety next to Byrd.
At cornerback, the Bills have 2012 first-round pick Stephon Gilmore and the athletic Leodis McKelvin. Gilmore will be looking to take another step forward on his path to stardom, while McKelvin will try to prove that he is a starting-caliber cornerback. How McKelvin holds up will be another key to the Bills fulfilling their promise on the defensive end.
All in all, the Bills have one of the best "on paper" defenses headed into the 2013 season. If the unit lives up to the hype, it is conceivable that it can lead the team to the playoffs even with the questions at the quarterback position.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Upstate New York resident and follower of the Buffalo Bills. He has been attending games since childhood and more recently writing about the team as a Yahoo! Contributor.
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