Buffalo Bills Preseason Position Battles Part Five: Outside Linebacker
With the Buffalo Bills season opener a month away, both outside linebacker positions are open for the taking. The Bills are in the middle of transitioning from the 4-3 defensive front to the 3-4 defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator, George Edwards.
The Bills focused much of the 2010 NFL Draft around solidifying the front seven for this change, by selecting versatile players such as Danny Batten, Alex Carrington, and Arthur Moats, but both strong and weak side linebacker positions are up for grabs.
This slideshow will break down the position responsibilities, as well as each outside linebacker currently on the Bills' roster, and overview who has the best chance to earn a starting job.
Position Responsibilities: Weak Side Linebacker
A weakside linebacker lines up on the "weak" side of the offensive line, meaning the side with less wide receivers and tight ends. The weak side linebacker's primary responsibility is to rush the passer, and reak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
The weak side linebacker is usually lighter and faster than the other linebackers, and primarily is required to cover the flats, while dealing with fewer blockers.
A typical weak side linebacker has shutdown ability against all but the best tight ends and receiving running backs, but can start in coverage, while having the ability read run, rip through a lead blocker and force a fumble while converting a tackle for a loss.
Positional Responsibilities: Strong Side Linebacker
The strong side linebacker is a difficult position to fill, as the player must be big and strong enough to stop the run, but agile enough to cover tight ends and slot receivers in passing situations.
Strong side linebackers must be have elite tackling skills as well. In Buffalo's new two-gap 3-4 defense, it will be difficult to find this linebacker, due to Dick Jauron's and Perry Fewell's zone 4-3 scheme that utilized smaller, lighter, and faster players.
No. 58 Aaron Maybin
Aaron Maybin was selected as a defensive end out of Penn State and was the Buffalo Bills first round draft pick in 2009, but failed to make an impact in his rookie season, due to his small stature.
This season, Maybin is moving into a more natural role of outside linebacker, but he will primarily be used as a pass rushing specialist, due to his lack of strength at the point of attack. Maybin is still a project at this point, but should be able to rack up the sacks due to his speed off the edge.
We saw Maybin get tossed around by rookie left tackle, Trent Williams, in the preseason opener, but Chan Gailey had Maybin on the field for most of the game.
No. 90 Chris Kelsay
Chris Kelsay is the odd man out when it comes to the Bills' depth at outside linebacker, but his veteran experience will most likely earn him the starting role at strong side linebacker.
Kelsay has been a defensive end for his entire career, and he lacks agility and quickness to consistently drop into coverage, but he will be a force against the run and will be a physical tackler.
Coach Edwards will have to adjust the defense a bit when Kelsay is on the field, as he is best fit as a pass rusher from the 4-3.
No. 93 Chris Ellis
Chris Ellis has only appeared in 10 games making eight tackles in his two year career, and was drafted as a defensive end out of Virginia Tech, but now he is making the transition to outside linebacker.
At 25, he is still young enough that he has time to learn the position, but his size and skill set vary so much that he could play at either strong or weak side linebacker.
At 261 pounds, he could be a force against the run at strong side linebacker, but we haven't seen him drop back into coverage yet.
At Virginia Tech, he was never a pass rushing specialist, but reports from the Buffalo Bills training camps have stated that Ellis is making big progress, and could be battling with Aaron Maybin for the weak side linebacker position.
No. 59 Antonio Coleman
It was surprising that the SEC's sack leader went undrafted, but there are questions of where to play Antonio Coleman on the field.
Coleman is a high-motor guy that could be a disruptive pass rusher, but the Bills have played him at inside linebacker throughout training camps in addition to weak side. He is a sure tackler, but we still haven't seen him in coverage, much like the other Bills linebackers.
No. 57 Danny Batten
At South Dakota State University, Danny Batten was a successful defensive end, and proved that he could cover tight ends as well as rush the passer.
After recording 23 sacks, Batten was selected to play in the Texas vs. The Nation game, and made a huge impact. Teams saw him as an undersized defensive end or a linebacker. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Batten's versatility will prove to be a strength that will keep him on the roster.
He will most likely play on special teams initially, but could see himself emerge as a starter at either outside linebacker position.
The Bills have some serious question marks at both outside linebacker positions, but there is no question about the potential of the young players they have on the roster.
Aaron Maybin will likely be the starting weak side linebacker due to his high draft slot, and the need for him to have a breakout year.
Chris Kelsay will likely earn the starting strong side linebacker role due to his experience, but I only see him as a two-down player, with Chris Ellis filling in occasionally.
Danny Batten and Antonio Coleman will be used as pass rushing specialists initially, until either one of them can prove their worth in coverage.
All of the Bills' outside linebackers have high upside, but as of now there hasn't been a clear-cut starter that broke away from the pack in terms of production.
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