(Photo Courtesy of QMI Agency)
Everyone knows that hope of postseason play for the 2014 Buffalo Bills rides largely on the shoulders of quarterback E.J. Manuel. There are other big name players on the roster that will also contribute to the team’s success, but in this five part series, Dan Hannon looks to uncover “under the radar” players that will play significant roles in ending the team’s 14 year playoff drought.
DT Stefan Charles
With the seemingly never ending sale process of the Buffalo Bills continuing to draw on, the thought of Toronto often brings up a feeling of angst to Bills fans. While a certain “rock star” may be trying to shoot Buffalo in the heart, at the same time he is giving Toronto a bad name in many fans eyes. One thing the Bills can thank the city up north for however, is defensive tackle Stefan Charles.
Born in Oshawa, Ontario, just 45 minutes outside of Toronto, Charles was plucked off the Tennessee Titans practice squad last season when Alex Carrington was lost for the year with a quadriceps injury. He enters this training camp still fighting for a roster spot, which makes him different than most of the players in this series of under the radar Bills.
Charles is battling for a spot behind one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the NFL. Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus both made the Pro Bowl in 2013, combining for 18 sacks last year. While there is no doubt how talented the two are, the defense in general had problems stopping the run last year. The Bills ranked 28th league wide in total rushing yards against, giving up an average of just over 128 yards a game. This is an area where Charles looks to contribute. He has a large frame, 6’-5” and 323 lbs, but has shown great ability to play low. Several times this pre-season he has shown the ability to maintain a low base and stand up offensive lineman.
With that being said, Charles is certainly making a strong impression on new defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, in terms of his pass rushing ability. “He’s very strong, he’s hard to block and that can contribute to the pass rush also. You don’t have to be nifty and quick to be a good pass rusher.” says Schwartz, “You can be a guy who collapses the pocket. We’ve seen those guys do that before and everybody has a different skill set. The whole idea of coaching is putting those skills sets to the best use.”
It will all depend on how many defensive tackles GM Doug Whaley and Head Coach Doug Marrone want to keep, but the competition has heated up with the elevated play of the defensive line. It looks like it will be four players vying for three spots. Besides Charles, the Bills currently have Corbin Bryant, who started two games for the Bills last year; Landon Cohen, who was a visible force in the games against the Giants and Panthers; and Alan Branch, who signed a contract extension in the offseason. While Branch provides the veteran starting experience that the others do not, he missed all of the voluntary off-season workouts and failed a conditioning test at the start of camp (something that was vastly overshadowed by Dareus failing the same test). Branch has also only seen time on the third team through the two games this pre-season. I am not saying it is likely, but do not be surprised if Branch is a surprise cut when the final rosters are announced.
Another thing to consider is the fact that the Bills have two of their four defensive line starters set to become free agents over the next two off-seasons. Defensive end, Jerry Hughes, is coming off a career year recording 10 sacks, and is entering a contract year. Dareus will become a free agent at the end of 2015. The Marcel Dareus situation is very intriguing when it comes to Charles because due to both drag racing and marijuana incidents this past offseason, he still may face a suspension from NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell. If Charles continues to improve and show ability in his increased reps, he may find himself in the starting lineup sooner rather than later. While it is extremely pre-mature to think Charles could contribute to the level of Dareus, the Bills may be looking for a replacement for the Alabama product due to his immaturity issues. Almost all would agree that the best case scenario would be for Dareus to clean up his act off the field while continuing to dominate on it, and for the Bills to lock him up long term. However, since that is no guarantee, Charles’ play this year could mean a lot for the Bills future.
The 2014 season brings upon a great opportunity for Charles, and his hard work is proving evident to those around him, including Kyle Williams who spoke to buffalobills.com. “He’s doing good,” said Williams. “A big physical guy. Can move around well. I think he’s working on polishing up some technique issues but he’s definitely a talented guy that’s going to help us out.”
For those wondering, Charles has gone on record saying he cannot think of a reason anyone would want to move the Bills from Buffalo. He even criticized the recently postponed Toronto Series, saying it felt like a road game last year versus Atlanta. Both on the field and off the field Charles is saying all the right things and doing all the right things to showcase his worth in helping to bring the Bills back to postseason play. Championship teams almost always have solid depth behind their stars, and the Bills are hoping that’s exactly what they have in Stefan Charles.