The Buffalo Bills had issues with their linebacking corps last season, but finally added some depth in the draft. Coupled with the experience the youngsters on the roster have been getting, it could be time for this group to step up. The strong-side linebacker is extremely important to the group as they are covering a tight end and are responsible for assisting in run defense.
With that being said, let's take a look at the strong-side linebackers on the Buffalo Bills' depth chart.
Kirk Morrison was relegated to the inside linebacker position in the 3-4 unit the Bills ran in 2011. He appeared in 14 games without a start, recording just seven tackles and a sack. During his time with the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, Morrison averaged 120 tackles per year. His production is what led him to re-sign with the team on a two-year, $2.5 million deal this offseason.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is excited about Morrison returning to the 4-3, explaining to BuffaloBills.com's lead journalist Chris Brown:
“As last season progressed we learned a lot about Kirk as a person and a player and he learned a lot about us as an organization and a team. We feel like he’s a good fit for our defense. Personally, I am excited because this is a great opportunity for him with us going to the 4-3. He’s played in the 4-3 most of his career. He’ll be able to adjust both mentally and physically to the new system and make an immediate impact. We’re excited for him to be a part of it.”
On top of that, Morrison wants to prove to himself more than anybody that he can be a productive player in this league again, telling The Buffalo News:
"To Bills fans, and even to myself. There's a little chip on my shoulder a little bit. I feel like a rookie all over again. Nobody really saw too much of me. This year I just have so much to prove. I don't want to be the guy to let this defense down," Morrison said. "We have big beef up front. They're gonna make it a lot easier for us. It's up to me to go out and do my part. So if it's extra film, or extra meetings with coaches, whatever it may be, I gotta make sure I'm doing it at all times."
Bryan Scott is now listed as the second-team strong-side linebacker on the official Buffalo Bills depth chart. Scott is a vital part of the Bills' defense, as his versatility allows him to play strong safety and nickel strong-side linebacker. Last season he recorded 66 tackles, two interceptions and a sack. His "hybrid" ability is what keeps him on the roster and on the field.
Joe Buscaglia followed the Buffalo Bills' offseason training activities and had this to say about Scott's reps:
Besides his obvious role as nickel linebacker, on five-wide sets Scott was the 'Mike,' as the only technical linebacker on the field.
The Bills re-signed Scott this offseason to a one-year deal, hoping to groom second-year safety Da'Norris Searcy to eventually take the 31-year-old's place on the roster.
The Bills used a sixth-round draft choice on South Dakota State's defensive end, Danny Batten, in hopes of developing him into a pass-rusher in the 3-4 defense. He is now listed as the third-string strong-side linebacker on the depth chart.
Batten is a natural pass-rusher, and in his extremely limited playing time last year he made 25 tackles and 0.5 sacks. His best fit is at outside linebacker, where he can cover tight ends and stop the run, while adding a blitz here and there.
While there isn't a competition for any of the linebacker jobs on the Bills' defense, Nigel Bradham earned some first-team reps during OTAs in place of starting outside linebacker Kirk Morrison.
Bradham is a hard-hitting 'backer that is familiar with all three positions, playing outside for his first three years at Florida State before switching to middle linebacker for his senior season. For now, he will serve as a backup and special-teams player, but he has high upside.
Bradham prides himself on his special-teams play, according to an interview with BuffaloBills.com.
"I always took it as being the first play of defense, usually from punt or kickoff. Pretty much I just felt like that was important, that was my first play on the field. I took it as that’s the first play that I am going to play and I got to go out there and set a demeanor, set the tone,” said Bradham.
Chan Gailey has reiterated that Bradham has a lot to learn, but he is progressing. Look for him to be a force on special teams, and with his recent improvement, he could establish himself as a No. 4 linebacker on the roster should a starter go down with an injury.
Joe Buscaglia had high praise for the Florida State standout, explaining:
Since I just went into full detail about them, there was one linebacker that caught my eye. Nigel Bradham has been very impressive in what he's been able to do with such a limited time in the playbook. He makes good reads to his assignments and gets there to break up some plays. We all know about his hitting prowess, but it's his speed and instincts that have stood out the most to me.
To me, Bradham is one of the most intriguing linebacker prospects on the team. However, his true test will come in pads during the preseason.