Boogie Basham, Greg Rousseau’s ‘Godzilla’-like traits have Bills swooning

08/04/2021
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For a team that went to the AFC Championship in 2020, there are enough questions surrounding the Buffalo Bills to fill a new stadium. But the biggest problem that plagued the team in that gut-wrenching loss to the Kansas City Chiefs stemmed from their lack of a pass rush. After retooling the defensive line for the second consecutive offseason, Buffalo’s coaches and veteran players are excited for what the future holds. 

In 2020, the Bills fielded the most expensive defensive line in the NFL after signing Mario Addison, Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson, while using their second-round pick on Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa. These efforts yielded little in the way of results, though. Addison ultimately didn’t bring the same production he did when he was with the Carolina Panthers and Jefferson’s role as an inside-out rusher was ultimately scrapped after starting nose tackle Star Lotulelei opted out. Lotulelei’s absence naturally impacted Ed Oliver and Vernon Butler, who couldn’t quite make up for the loss of the big, space-eating one technique defensive tackle.

Following that loss to the Chiefs in which their lone sack came from their best and most experienced edge rusher, Jerry Hughes, Buffalo made bolstering their pass rush a priority yet again. The Bills moved on from Jefferson, re-signed Vernon Butler and restructured Addison’s contract in order to keep him as a rotational end, rather than as a starter. While they did sign Efe Obada, the team looked to the draft, rather than free agency or the trade market to address the position as a whole. With their first two picks in the 2021 NFL draft, they selected Greg Rousseau and Carlos ‘Boogie’ Basham – two players with vastly different styles that have already drawn the praise of fans, coaches, media and veterans alike. 

Bills DT Ed Oliver excited to rebuild pass rush with newfound ‘cohesiveness’

On Friday, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier raved about the two rookies and their high capacity for learning and absorbing the playbook through just a handful of practices. 

“We’ve really been impressed with their attitude and work ethic,” said Frazier. “They’re really smart guys. We were concerned early on about how much we could throw at them when it comes to the volume of the defense, but they’ve both handled it extremely well. It’s not too big for them.”

Following Tuesday’s practice, Addison – who’s embraced the role of a veteran leader that Rousseau, Basham and Epenesa can look to for guidance – spoke in awe about his new teammates while breaking down their traits. 

“Boogie, he’s got a bigger frame. Really powerful, but he runs like a DE. So speed to power, using his hands, he’s going to dominate whoever’s in front of him every time,” Addison told reporters. “And Greg – long guy. Amazon, Godzilla. Gotta look up to him all the time, when I’m talking to him I gotta look up at him and I’m like, Dang, bro, you a big guy! So, looking at him, seeing how he’s setting the edge and rushing and using all of his length. It’s tremendous. He’s coming off the ball just punching, like, before the (offensive lineman) is getting out of his stance. (I tell him) You’ve got long arms, you’ve got to use those to your advantage. But those guys are very coachable. They’re going to be a bitch in this league.”

The last point is what stands out the most, as it echoes just what Frazier said. The Bills have a history of making sure they aren’t overwhelming their rookies throughout the McDermott-Beane era. They’re willing to let players sit and wait, especially defensively, with the exceptions of Tremaine Edmunds and Tre’Davious White. But players like Matt Milano, Ed Oliver, and most recently, Epenesa, were slowly worked into the lineup as rotational players. And a quality rotation is what the team strives to have on the defensive line, as they don’t want their players – particularly the vets – playing a large portion of snaps. 

This also sparks another point about what McDermott and Beane look for in rookies in particular. Through their tenure, they rarely take the players that are considered “pro-ready”. They took Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds in the first round, both of whom were young, minimally coached, but had special physical traits. Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau are other good examples of this. Oliver was a run-and-hunt 0-tech in college, playing at Houston. Rousseau only had a single season of experience playing collegiate football before opting out in 2020 due to COVID. But the Bills are willing to take chances on guys like that because they believe they can coach them up and put them in positions to succeed.

Normally, that means bringing those sorts of players along slowly, however with Addison and Frazier both talking about how well Basham and Rousseau have picked the defense, and how they seem to be willing to put them right into the fire so far in training camp, we may see more of this particular pair of pass rushers earlier than anticipated. It would certainly be unusual for them to be major contributors in year one, but if Frazier, and especially McDermott seem to think they can make a major impact, the NFL should take that seriously.

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