Kyle Williams might have underestimated his value to the Buffalo Bills when suggesting anyone — including him — can be replaced after fellow defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was traded to Jacksonville.
With all due respect to Williams, no one from coach Sean McDermott on down to backup lineman Jerel Worthy shares the 12-year veteran’s opinion.
Dareus might have been a highly prized first-round draft pick, two-time Pro Bowl selection and the Bills’ top-paid player. Williams, however, is discovering he is held in much higher regard as both an on- and off-field leader.
“That’s a whole ‘nother conversation,” McDermott said, his voice cracking with emotion in putting Williams well ahead of Dareus. “(Williams) has put a lot of time into this organization, a lot of blood sweat and tears. And I know what that means to me.”
Worthy required no prompting in making a point to mention Williams when asked how the Bills move on without Dareus.
“As far as talent-wise, you can’t really replace (Dareus),” Worthy said. “But as far as trying to pick up where we left off, it’s been a collective group effort all year. We just rely on our leader. Our leader is Kyle.”
The Bills (5-2), who play at the New York Jets (3-5) on Thursday night, have quickly turned the page since Dareus was traded Friday in exchange for a conditional sixth-round pick.
The defense didn’t miss a beat without him by forcing a season-high four turnovers and limiting Oakland to 54 yards rushing in 34-14 win on Sunday. Williams led the line in playing 47 of 65 defensive snaps, with Adolphus Washington credited with three tackles and a pass-defensed while starting in place of Dareus.
“It’s the next man up mentality,” linebacker Preston Brown said, before mentioning Williams in the next breath. “Having a guy like Kyle in that room, it doesn’t matter who’s going to play. They’re going to make sure they step up.”
The Bills have become accustomed to overcoming the abrupt loss of key players in getting off to their best start to a season since 1993. The resolve they’ve shown dates to August, when receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby were traded in separate deals, and receiver Anquan Boldin retired a week later.
Buffalo beat Oakland despite having three defensive starters sidelined by injuries. Rookie linebacker Matt Milano, starting in place of linebacker Ramon Humber, returned a fumble for a touchdown and forced a fumble to set up a field goal.
The team’s unflinching approach in dealing with adversity was the point Williams was making Sunday, by saying: “We can do it without any of us. That’s the great thing about us. We’re a team.”
Pressed further, Williams said that included him.
“Why not?” he said. “If I go down, somebody steps up.”
On Tuesday, Williams said he’ll miss Dareus, whom he spent mentoring over the past seven years, but the team must move on.
“We have such great group of guys in here that we can survive,” he said.
Dareus became the odd-man out because of a combination of off-field transgressions — he was suspended twice for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy — and a six-year, $96 million contract that failed to reflect his dwindling role under a new coaching staff.
McDermott prefers rotating his defensive linemen on and off the field to keep them fresh. The rotation combined with a series of nagging injuries led to Dareus playing less 40 percent of the defensive snaps over six games.
He further fell out of favor in August, when the Bills ordered Dareus to travel home on his own for breaking a team rule a few hours before a preseason game at Baltimore.
Unlike Dareus, Williams’ motives have never been questioned — unless it’s someone disputing his value to the Bills, of course.
Washington described Williams’ presence as being so influential that he doesn’t want to disappoint his teammate.
“You have to go out there and match his intensity, match his production, match everything. Kyle is our sparkplug,” Washington said. “I don’t want to say it’s a fear, but it’s a burden of not letting Kyle down.”