With Buffalo Bills players set to report to training camp on Friday, we continue our rapid-fire fact or fiction with the Bills' defense:
1. The Bills will finish with at least 45 sacks this season.
Our take: Fiction
Justify it: The Bills set a franchise record last season with 57 sacks, second most in the NFL. That included career highs from Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes, as well as contributions from cornerback Nickell Robey (three sacks) and safety Da'Norris Searcy (3.5 sacks). Mike Pettine's scheme is notorious for blitzing defensive backs, something that won't be seen as much in Jim Schwartz's defense. That will shift more of the pass-rush focus to the defensive line, especially the ends. Mario Williams and Hughes could very well have double-digit sacks but I don't think the Bills have the depth at that position to push them over 45 sacks for the season. Only seven teams topped that number last season, up from four teams the year before.
2. Alan Branch will start at least one game at defensive tackle.
Our take: Fact
Justify it: At last check, an NFL spokesman had no comment on a potential suspension for Dareus. That makes sense, as he has pending legal cases in both Alabama and New York that still need to be sorted out. I wouldn't call it a sure bet that Dareus is suspended and if he is, it may only be for one or two games. That would be the best opportunity for Branch, the Bills' top reserve at defensive tackle, to get the nod as a starter. Dareus and Kyle Williams have stayed remarkably healthy in their careers in Buffalo, so an injury to either would be unexpected. Still, Dareus missed time in the final two games last season for disciplinary issues and if anything of that nature crops up again, I don't think Doug Marrone would hesitate to bench Dareus again. One way or the other, it seems more likely than not that Branch will need to start at least once this season.
Our take: Fact
Justify it: These are the two players at the top of the list to replace Kiko Alonso. While the Bills are high on Brown, their third-round pick this year, it may be unrealistic for him to step in right away as a full-time linebacker. The knock on Brown's game is his athleticism; he ran a 4.86-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and may not be an ideal fit in nickel packages against speedier offenses. Brown could be a good option as a downhill thumper, much like Brandon Spikes, on early downs. On third down, though, it may be smarter for the Bills to use Bradham to match up better against tight ends and shifty running backs. Brown could get more starts than Bradham but overall playing time could still be split fairly evenly between the two.
4. Stephon Gilmore will earn a Pro Bowl nod this season.
Our take: Fiction
Justify it: OK, this is a lofty goal, but for a former 10th-overall pick entering his third season, the Pro Bowl should be in the discussion. Gilmore's stock was on the rise at this time last year before he fractured his wrist in the preseason and didn't return until midseason. He's healthy now and is looking to take a step forward. Can he move into the same neighborhood as Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson? Probably not this season, but if he can put up similar performances to Brent Grimes, Alterraun Verner or Joe Haden -- some of the other Pro Bowl cornerbacks last season -- then Gilmore stands a chance of traveling to Arizona this winter. However, our take is that Gilmore falls short. Good cornerbacks are aided by strong safety play and the Bills have question marks in the back- end this season.
5. Da'Norris Searcy will start more games at safety than Duke Williams.
Our take: Fact
Justify it: Like with Brown, much of this depends on how the Bills treat Searcy on early downs as compared to later downs. Searcy isn't considered a rangy, "deep" safety and isn't an ideal fit to replace Jairus Byrd. But I haven't gotten the sense that the Bills are comfortable turning to Duke Williams, their fourth-round pick last season, in a prominent role. That means Searcy is in line to start at safety opposite Aaron Williams, with Duke Williams as the top reserve. That setup could change on later downs. Searcy brings value as a close-to-the-line player in sub packages, in a hybrid linebacker-safety role. If Searcy moves up toward the line of scrimmage on third down, then Duke Williams could slide in as a deep safety. The Bills did something similar last season when Byrd was sidelined with a foot injury, using Searcy and Aaron Williams as deep safeties on early downs but replacing Searcy with Jim Leonhard in sub packages.