Bills camp: Sack master leads by example

Bryan Sullivan

Aaron Schobel resided in a spot he was accustomed to at the end of last season — he was the Buffalo Bills’ leader in sacks.

For Schobel, though, 2007 was not one of the more memorable seasons of his NFL career.

The defensive end led the team in sacks for the seventh straight season, but his total of 6 1/2 was the lowest since his rookie season of 2001. The Bills’ defense also struggled to a 31st ranking in the league, as many key players were lost for most or all of the season due to injury.

The 6-foot-4, 243-pound Texas Christian University standout begins his eighth season with the goal of making sure this season’s defense is better.

Schobel’s sack numbers should increase after the team traded for Marcus Stroud from the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the unit should improve as a whole as many of the younger players gained experience last year.

“We went out this offseason and addressed some things we needed,” said Schobel, who is second on the Bills’ all-time sack list with 67. “We had a lot of guys get hurt last year, and the young guys really stepped up. We have a lot more depth this year.”

Schobel and the rest of the defense will look to put a tough 2007 season behind them. Buffalo also was 25th in the league against the run and 29th in sacks with just 26.

The unit dealt with lousy luck as Ryan Denney and Chris Kelsay were among the players to miss time due to injury. Buffalo addressed its depth on the defensive line in the offseason by signing Spencer Johnson from Minnesota and picking Chris Ellis in April’s draft.

“Schobel is a great player, so hopefully we can benefit from playing with each other,” Johnson said. “I am excited to be here. A lot of these guys have taken me under their wing and helped me out.

If the newcomers and veterans can mesh, the Bills could be in the playoffs for the first time since Schobel started playing in Western New York in 2001. Buffalo last reached the playoffs in the 1999 season.

Schobel has had plenty of experience in helping turn around downtrodden teams. TCU reached three straight bowl games after going 1-10 his freshman season.

“I feel like this is one of the strongest teams that I have been a part of,” Schobel said about this year’s Bills. “You look at our roster, and we don’t really have a position that is a weakness. We have talented guys all over this roster.”

Schobel, who was picked in the second round and 46th overall in the 2001 draft, has had 11 or more sacks three times in his career. 2006 was his most productive year with 14, and he was named a starter in the Pro Bowl after that campaign.

“I am always looking to get double digit sacks, but I want to see this team win,” Schobel said. “You can have great stats, but if you don’t win then nobody really remembers you.”

He also has been a true rock, having played in 112 straight games.

And while Schobel may have outstanding career numbers, that doesn’t mean he has an overblown ego.

He tries to lead by example, and he feels sacking the quarterback or stopping a running back for a loss can motivate teammates just as much as an impassioned speech.

His coaches are hoping that aggressive play continues to rub off.

“One thing good guys do is run to the football,” said Bills defensive line coach Bill Kollar. “It doesn’t matter how good you are or how big you are, we want you running to the football. It is one of those things that makes a player better.”

Bryan Sullivan is covering Bills training camp for Messenger Post Newspapers. He can be reached at (585) 394-0770 ext. 273 or bsullivan@messengerpostmedia.com.