In the weeks leading up to the start of Buffalo Bills training camp, Buffalo Rumblings will be taking a look at the ten most intriguing positional battles set to take place at St. John Fisher this summer. Previous entries in this series can be found in our training camp section.
Over the last two years, Buddy Nix and the Bills' scouting department have revamped the team's linebacker position - which, as it turns out, they were unknowingly doing for an eventual transition back to a 4-3 defense. Just take a look at Buffalo's opening-day roster from 2010: Paul Posluszny, Andra Davis, Reggie Torbor, Akin Ayodele and Keith Ellison are no longer with the organization.
In the last two off-seasons alone, those five players were replaced by the likes of Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison via free agency, and draft picks were spent on Kelvin Sheppard, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder and Chris White.
We know that Barnett, Sheppard and Morrison will go into the 2012 season as the team's starters in the base defense, and that safety-by-trade Bryan Scott will see a lot of playing time as a linebacker in nickel and dime packages. What we don't know is what happens from there, as the depth situation is a bit of a free-for-all at the moment.
Bradham, Carder and White join 2010 draft picks Arthur Moats and Danny Batten in the fray - and Scott McKillop, a well-known commodity to defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt (the latter coached the former at Pitt), can't be counted out either.
The Bills have themselves a group of six players (five of them Nix draft picks) that may only have three roster spots to split between them. (Six linebackers is a stretch, particularly if Scott is needed in the secondary, and eight seems too rich for a base 4-3, even when factoring in special teams - unless, of course, they'd rather just count Scott as a safety.) That means that the team could be on the verge of cutting as many as four draft picks.
As we discussed last week, Moats has had a good off-season to this point and, as the most experienced and the most versatile of the players, might be the best bet to be the first player off the bench in the event of an injury. Bradham, who has starting-level upside as a fourth-round pick, also seems like a lock to make the team. Carder, as a fifth-round rookie, may be near that territory as well, but he'll get a strong challenge from White (who was very good on special teams before his 2011 season ended), and perhaps others.
With highly unproven talent behind the team's top trio of safeties this year, it's possible that the Bills will keep just those three, call Scott their fourth safety, and open up another roster spot for one of the team's young linebacker prospects. Make no mistake, however: Scott is a linebacker in this system, and the team has four linebackers that will be playing all of the snaps if everything goes according to plan. That leaves three - perhaps four, depending on Scott's positional nomenclature, but likely three - spots for prospects with special teams ability and upside. This is one depth battle that should be highly intriguing to keep track of this summer.