When the Buffalo Bills lost free agent linebacker Paul Posluszny to the Jacksonville Jaguars and their wads of cash in late July, something of a panic set in amongst the fan base. A position already perceived as weak was suddenly looking much weaker. While fans scrambled to find and advocate for replacements, the Bills reacted rationally, making one position switch and one signing to re-bolster its suddenly varied depth.
Nick Barnett is the star of the group, as he's the only player that the team will be reliant upon on an every-down basis. Provided he's healthy - and again, that's a big if after missing 19 of 48 games in the last three seasons - he'll be on the field in every defensive front, and he'll be utilized in coverage and as a blitzer.
From there, that's where things get interesting. While the group isn't overwhelming from a talent perspective, there is depth in numbers, and a wide variety of assets that the team can use. As many as six of these players could conceivably make the team's final 53-man roster.
The interesting part of the group is that beyond Barnett, there isn't a need for an every-down defender, as Buffalo's scheme flip-flopping between 3-4 and 4-3 looks - as well as standard nickel and dime packages that take linebackers off of the field - really only calls for one full-time 'backer. Therefore, beyond Barnett, the Bills have a variety of players that can specialize in specific skill sets for the time being.
Andra Davis and Reggie Torbor have been getting reps alongside Barnett with the first-team defense this pre-season. Davis, who played very well in the pre-season opener against Chicago, has been on the field for run downs, while the team has subbed Torbor into the nickel package as a coverage player, as he's slightly better than Davis in that department. Between those two veterans, the Bills will get heady (if unspectacular) play alongside Barnett - again, provided they can stay healthy.
When Posluszny departed, the team made a surprise move sliding Arthur Moats to the inside linebacker position. With three veterans in front of him for the time being, it's the team's hope that Moats can be groomed to be the next every-down linebacker beyond Barnett - a coverage and blitzing threat that can be on the field at all times in the team's hybrid defense. Moats is a natural pass rusher that shouldn't have trouble adjusting to that role inside (and who may be able to contribute in that capacity right away), but is a ways off in terms of getting the coverage aspect of the game down. He's certainly in possession of enough athletic upside to eventually pull it off.
We're four players deep into this discussion and have not yet mentioned Kelvin Sheppard and Chris White, two rookies that have unfortunately been dealing with injuries this pre-season. It's not yet clear what upside these two players possess, but at the very least, they'll add to the team's depth and special teams units as rookies. The team is high on Sheppard, their third-round pick out of LSU, but the underrated White has some upside, as well.
In the end, this group may not overwhelm at first blush, but when your team legitimately goes six deep with players that can be useful elements of a football team, you're not doing too poorly. With three veterans and three youngsters at the position, it's entirely conceivable that the Bills can get by - or perhaps even excel - at this position this year, while developing understudies for when the veterans depart. (Davis and Torbor, for example, are free agents after the 2011 season concludes.) At the very least, it's a good spot to be in just weeks after losing the fan favorite Posluszny.