TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 30: Kirk Morrison #58 of the Buffalo Bills rushes in to sack John Beck #12 of the Washington Redskins at Rogers Centre on October 30, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario. Buffalo won 23-0. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
More often than not, when I'm talking with friends about the Buffalo Bills or reading about them elsewhere, the idea that the team has a depth problem at middle linebacker is brought up. (This is the plight of the Bills fan: conjure up weaknesses to keep us grounded while excitement builds despite a massive playoff drought.)
This is easy to misconstrue, because if you look at any Bills depth chart, you're likely to see projected starting middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard - he of a whopping nine professional starts - backed up by journeyman Scott McKillop. If that were the full extent of the story at the position, then yes, it'd be a problem.
Mercifully, Sheppard and McKillop are not remotely the end of the story for the Bills at middle linebacker. The Bills employ four more linebackers that have tons of experience playing inside.
Among that group of four are Sheppard's two fellow starters, Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison. Barnett's first six seasons in the NFL, spent with the Green Bay Packers, came at middle linebacker while the Packers ran a 4-3 defense. Morrison, meanwhile, started for five consecutive years at middle linebacker (four of those with the Oakland Raiders). Between Barnett and Morrison, the Bills have 167 games' worth of starting 4-3 middle linebacker experience flanking Sheppard.
Two more players in the team's depth pool came out of the college ranks as experienced middle linebackers. Chris White was a two-year starter at middle linebacker in junior college, and then started two more seasons - one inside - once he transferred to Mississippi State. Tank Carder, this year's fifth-round pick out of TCU, was a middle linebacker in college, and was a highly-regarded draft prospect because of the belief that he can play every linebacker spot.
In all, the Bills have six players that could comfortably play middle linebacker in a moment's notice. Sheppard is the starter, and in the event that he couldn't play, the team could easily slide one of its other two starters, Morrison or Barnett, into that slot. Add White, Carder and McKillop, and the Bills have plenty of options inside. Finally, the kicker: Nigel Bradham, Arthur Moats and Danny Batten have all gotten reps at the Mike this summer, as well.
Moving to the 4-3 defense, the Bills - with so much flexibility at linebacker in terms of who can line up where - are in a position where they can simply keep the best six or seven players at the position, regardless of whether they profile inside or out.