BBD Staff Writer: Ryan Talbot
The Buffalo Bills overhauled numerous positions this offseason. The wide receiver changes seem to be getting the most attention, but the linebacker corps looks vastly different from the 2012 squad. Seven of the 11 players listed as linebackers on Buffalo’s roster are entering their first season with the Bills.
When the Bills’ 53-man roster was announced last season, seven linebackers made the cut. Linebackers on the Bills may be in for some good news however if Mike Pettine, the team’s defensive coordinator, has a say. In 2011 and 2012, the Jets carried nine linebackers on their opening 53-man rosters. It seems as though depth at the linebacker position was valued by Pettine and Rex Ryan in New York.
Let’s take a look at the 11 linebackers currently on the Bills’ roster, with each listed according to their position on the Bills’ official team roster.
Moats is listed as an outside linebacker, but he can play both inside and outside. As chronicled in my three-year draft grade for Moats, the team has moved Moats back and forth between the two positions.
Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com recently listed Moats as a candidate to start at inside linebacker. With all due respect to Brown and Moats, I don’t see a scenario where Moats starts for Buffalo. Moats has value as a situational pass-rusher in Buffalo’s defense, but there’s a reason Moats lost his starting job to Nigel Bradham in Week 6 last season.
To say I’m rooting for Pough to make Buffalo’s 53-man roster is an understatement. Damond Talbot, my cousin and a small school football scout, wrote an article on Pough last October and told me to keep an eye on the former Howard Bison. From that point on, watching Pough became a priority, and he was impressive at Howard. Pough dominated his competition with his speed and was the definition of a big fish in a small pond. He was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. For his collegiate career, Pough finished with 71 tackles for loss, an FCS record.
The biggest thing Pough needs to do to succeed in the NFL is bulk up a bit. Pough could be a valuable pass-rusher for the Bills in 2013 and beyond.
Pough told Buffalo Bills Draft earlier this month that one of his goals is to earn a starting spot on the Bills’ defense this season.
White making the 2012 Bills squad was a bit of a surprise, and it is doubtful he makes the team in 2013. White played in 15 games last season and finished the season with 11 total tackles. With all of Buffalo’s new additions to the roster, there is no spot for White.
The Bills’ second-round pick has a tremendous opportunity to start immediately for the team at inside linebacker. According to BuffaloBills.com, Alonso started with the first-team defense in minicamp and OTAs. Pettine came away from those practices very impressed with the former Oregon Duck.
“He’s NFL ready,” Pettine told BuffaloBills.com. ”He understands the concepts that we’re playing, they played a lot of them in college. And from a physical standpoint, it’s hard in shorts to get a great feel for it, but he’s off to a good start. It’s a lot to absorb, but we’re pleased with the start he’s had and we have high expectations for him.”
Alonso is an excellent fit in Pettine’s defense and has an outstanding chance of being a three-down linebacker for the Bills immediately.
Mark Kelso, a former Bills safety and current radio color analyst for the team, referred to Bradham as a special player when I interviewed Kelso for Queen City Sports. Bradham started 11 games in 2012 and played in all 16 games on the season. Much like the rest of the Bills roster in 2012, Bradham was not asked to blitz much in his rookie season. This year, however, Bradham feels that Pettine will use him more as a blitzer, and he told BuffaloBills.com that he looks forward to that opportunity.
“Pretty much everything [is different],” Bradham excitedly explained. “I feel like the blitzing, being in coverage, and the coaches [are] more enthusiastic. Pretty much everything as far as the scheme is something different and something I’ve never really been a part of as far as the blitzing, and I’ve been in mostly all coverage schemes, but this one has a lot more blitzing in it so it’ll be a lot more fun.”
Bradham is another player who will see a significant amount of playing time in 2013.
Lawson was a free-agent addition to the Bills from the Bengals. Lawson was brought over to play strongside linebacker for the Bills in 2013. One of his responsibilities will be to cover the tight end. Lawson has the speed and agility to be successful in this role. His stat line likely won’t blow anyone away, but he’ll play an important role in run support and coverage.
Hughes, Buffalo’s compensation for trading Kelvin Sheppard, had his best NFL season of his three-year Indianapolis Colts career in 2012. Hughes notched four sacks and 41 sacks in 16 games.
In Buffalo, Hughes will compete with Lawson for the strongside linebacker role. He’ll also be used as a rush end in certain packages. In Pettine’s defense, Hughes could be a pleasant surprise. Don’t be surprised if he takes the starting job at strongside linebacker from Lawson at some point in 2013.
Scott has played as a nickel linebacker for the Bills. It’s likely that Scott will continue to play as a nickel defender, but Pettine is giving Scott a chance to win a starting inside linebacker job this season. Scott knows he could be placed in different spots on the defense.
“With our defense I’m playing linebacker, but we run so many different schemes, there’s no telling where I’m going to be,” Scott told BuffaloBills.com.
It would be a bit of a shock if Scott won an inside linebacker job, but he should get some looks in nickel packages.
Dowtin ran with the second-team defense often during OTAs, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. He performed well according to Brown, and his experience in Pettine’s defense from his time with the New York Jets was noticeable.
“He was primarily an inside linebacker in New York,” Pettine told BuffaloBills.com. “We’ve been training him as an outside linebacker here, but he’s another player that has some position flexibility. He’s athletic enough, he can play inside, he can play outside. He can do some safety type jobs, he can do some defensive end type jobs. Again, that’s the type of player that we’ll always have a role for in our system, with that amount of versatility.”
Dowtin has a very realistic shot of making the Bills in 2013. If an injury or two occurs, he could be called into action.
Kourtnei Brown and Brian Smith
Brown and Smith are not likely to make the Bills main roster in 2013. Brown has the better chance of the two players, but both are considered long-shots.
Additional Positional Previews: