DiGiorgio a key contributor entering third season (Photo Source)
Entering his third season as an NFL linebacker, John DiGiorgio of the Buffalo Bills has quickly made a name for himself. The former undrafted free agent out of Saginaw Valley State, in just his second year in the league, started 14 games in 2007 and was quietly one of Buffalo's most consistent defenders, compiling 112 total tackles, two sacks, an interception and two fumble recoveries in place of injured starter Paul Posluszny.
Even though it seems highly likely that DiGiorgio is headed back to a reserve role this season, his experience from last season automatically makes him one of Buffalo's most important young depth players. He's also expected to be a key contributor on a revamped Bills special teams unit as well. With a blue-collar work ethic, a scrappy on-field demeanor, and the ability to produce when called upon, DiGiorgio has the potential to become a fan favorite in Buffalo if he continues to improve.
With Bills training camp less than a week away (players report this coming Thursday), we're very happy (and fortunate) to report that John took some time out of his pre-season schedule to let us know what he's been up to this off-season and to discuss some of the changes the Bills have made defensively entering the 2008 season.
Buffalo Rumblings: You gained a lot of experience last season, starting 14 games. What have you focused on this off-season in an effort to get even better?
John DiGiorgio: This off-season I tried to focus on using my hands a lot more and to have a stronger punch when I am engaged with a blocker. That is something that I thought I would focus on and try to improve in the off-season.
Rumblings: Obviously, the Bills made some major personnel changes defensively this off-season. We know the type of impact the new players might have on the field; how are the new guys fitting in as teammates?
DiGiorgio: The new guys are fitting in very well. I think everyone is really excited about the off-season additions that we made. I think the additions will help us tremendously and will help us get to where we want to go as a team.
Rumblings: You started at outside linebacker for an away game in Pittsburgh last season. Did you feel comfortable in that role, and (hypothetically) do you believe you could play the weak side on a more permanent basis in Buffalo 's defensive system?
DiGiorgio: I did feel pretty comfortable in that role. I think over time I would feel even more confident in that role if I had practice reps at that position. Most of the reps that I take are at the middle linebacker position. That week leading up to that game against the Steelers was the only time that I played outside linebacker. In the game I made a few mistakes but I also made a few good plays. Yes, I do believe that I would be able to play a permanent role at the outside position.
Rumblings: Arguably your best performance last season was in the Monday Night Football loss to Dallas (9 tackles, INT). Describe what it was like playing in front of that crowd, on a national stage, and performing well personally.
DiGiorgio: It was like a dream for me. I always imagined myself playing on Monday Night Football, and to go out there in front of a national audience and such a great crowd was awesome. That game is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I was pleased by our defensive performance and by my individual performance. I thought we played very hard and we played together as a unit.
Rumblings: The Bills lost four games by eight points or less last season. What will it take for the 2008 version of the Bills to turn those close losses into victories?
DiGiorgio: It’s going to take 60 minutes of football. Forcing turnovers on defense, scoring and taking advantage of opportunities on offense, and winning the kicking game on special teams.
Rumblings: You will very likely be one of several players asked to fill the rather large shoes of veteran special teams leaders that are no longer with the team. Do you enjoy playing special teams, and do you think names like Wire, Aiken, Haggan, Stamer and Neufeld will be missed?
DiGiorgio: I do enjoy special teams very much. I don’t know what it is but there is something about running down the field at 100 mph and trying to hit someone as hard as possible that I really enjoy. I do think that those names will be missed. Those guys have played a huge role in getting the Buffalo Bills' special teams unit to the top of the leader board over the years. Some of those guys have also been very helpful in the development of many young players, including myself. I do feel that even though those guys are no longer with the Bills, our special teams unit will continue to work hard to be successful and strive to be the top unit in the league.
Rumblings: You are the latest in a long line of undrafted free agents to have an impact in Buffalo - a list that includes starters Jason Peters and Jabari Greer. What is it about Buffalo that makes the Bills a great opportunity for undrafted players to develop into contributors?
DiGiorgio: I think taking advantage of opportunities when a player gets the chance is very important. Jason, Jabari, and myself have performed well in high-pressure situations and stepped up big when called upon. I also believe that the city of Buffalo is a hard-working, blue-collar atmosphere so the Bills organization does a good job bringing in players that fit that mold. Players that are willing to go the extra mile and work very hard day in and day out.
Many, many thanks to John and his agent, Chris Murray, for taking the time to set up this interview. Best of luck to you this year, John - we're looking forward to cheering you on from the stands.