At Oregon, Kiko Alonso was supposed to be the heir apparent to Casey Matthews at the inside linebacker position. He put up his own roadblocks that impeded his takeover of the Oregon defense. At first, it was his arrest for a DUI. Next, he suffered a season ending knee injury. Then in 2011, Alonso was charged with burglary, criminal mischief, and criminal trespass. While Alonso has not made it easy on himself, he has steadily improved as both a person and a player. Since those charges, Alonso has managed to stay out of trouble for quite a long time and he has reaped the benefits on the playing field.
Read and React
Against the run, Alonso shows the ability to read the play and react very quickly. He is explosive in getting to the line of scrimmage and often stops plays in the backfield. At times it appeared that Alonso had gone on a designed blitz, however, he was simply quick to read where the play was going and he stopped it.
Alonso begins from his inside linebacker position in the first picture. USC is in an offset I with double tight ends which is a typical run formation. It puts more men at the line of scrimmage and the fullback provides a lead blocker for the running back to run behind. Alonso quickly sees the hole opening up and is nearly to the line of scrimmage before the running back even has the ball in his hands.
Alonso does get to the running back, but only barely trips him up. Often, Alonso goes for the knockout blow or does not wrap up properly which can lead to issues with bringing down ball carriers, but most ball carriers do not escape Alonso. Watching this play in real time had me thinking that Alonso had blitzed because he was so quick to the hole, but after playing it back a few times, I realized that he had just read the play that quickly.
Again, this is an offset I by USC, but instead of two wide receivers, USC comes out with another person on the line and the running back is a whole yard deeper and the fullback is a yard closer to the line of scrimmage. In this situation, USC is again likely to run especially considering teams like to run on first down. Alonso does not creep up like he would when he blitzes, but he stays back at about 4.5 yards away from the line of scrimmage. Just like in the previous play, Alonso is at the line of scrimmage before the running back has the ball in his hands.
This play was run more to the outside that the last play so Alonso chases down the running back and makes a nice tackle. It is difficult because these are not in real time, but Alonso was incredibly quick to recognize these plays and shoot through a gap to make the stop.
These next few clips will show Alonso's ability to read and react to plays in which he does not shoot the gap to make the play. In this case, Alonso will use his positioning to stop the play from going out wide.
Alonso begins shuffling outside as each of the linemen take on their blocks. The running back and Alonso are headed for a direct collision as the running back is slated to go outside while Alonso also is going to make it around the blocks.
Unlike the last two plays, Alonso must go over the top of the line's blocks to find the running back who cut back into the middle a bit. Alonso makes a solid tackle and brings the ball carrier to a halt.
Alonso is once again lined up next to another backer. Oregon State is in a single back set with one tight end and a receiver to the offensive left side and two receivers out to the offensive right side. The play that the Beavers will run is a fake handoff to the running back where the wide receiver will receive a direct snap from the center and take it around the offense's right edge.
Alonso clearly sticks with his lineman read and flows toward the actual ball carrier. This is a good sign for a few reasons. First of all, Alonso is able to make the play on the ball carrier, but it also suggests that he stays disciplined and does not peek into the backfield to determine where the ball carrier is going.
Finally, Alonso makes it through the line of scrimmage and makes the play along the sideline. Alonso has cemented himself as a sideline to sideline player as he can cover the whole field and make a play at any time. Kelvin Sheppard, the Buffalo Bills former inside linebacker, was not a sideline to sideline player, so Alonso fills a large need for the Buffalo Bills.
In this sequence, Kansas State runs a stretch play out of an offset I, much like USC and Washington did in previous sequences. Alonso makes the right first step and immediately takes a good angle. If he can get as wide as the running back, Alonso can string the run out or have the running back cut back into the chasing defenders.
Alonso gives chase down the line of scrimmage and manages to string the play out and stop the running back from gaining any yards. Alonso makes a solid tackle and wraps up nicely. Clearly, Alonso is a downhill linebacker and reads the run well.
This play is extremely difficult to see, but Alonso is lined up a tad outside of his defensive end and then moves around his linemen and makes it to an offensive lineman. He gets into the proper positioning against the lineman because he keeps his outside arm free which gives himself the opportunity to stop the play going to his outside.
Alonso gives chase to the running back and once again catches him in the backfield. Impressively, Alonso has the ability to shoot through, take on a blocker, and then shed the block to make a solid tackle. While he was not explicitly asked to take on blockers, Alonso does a solid job at taking on blocks with decent form and then shed them.
Two of the biggest tools that Alonso has are his instincts and the ability to read and react. He is on the spot when he reads run plays for the most part. While there are times that Alonso gets caught up on the wrong side of blockers or gets bullied around, he made key plays for the Oregon Ducks. Once Alonso makes a decision, he sticks with it and takes the proper angle to make the play. His tape against stretch plays is quite impressive because he has the ability to catch backs in the backfield and make the play from behind. There were times where Alonso read plays so quickly that he looked like he was on a delayed blitz because he was spot on with his instincts and his reads. As soon as Alonso has made his read, he is decisive and flies to the ball with a killer instinct. Alonso's downside is against the inside run. Many experts see Alonso false stepping and being a bit late on some reads, but from the tape I watched, it appeared that he was able to fight these issues and make quality plays. Overall, Alonso is clearly more comfortable making plays outside the tackle box rather than inside the tackle box.
Although I do not demonstrate it, Alonso drops back into a zone coverage set, however, Keith Price throws a quick screen to the outside. Alonso makes a quick read and comes out of his drop and makes his way upfield as the pass is thrown. At least two players are closer to the play than Alonso. There is a defensive back about twelve yards away and a player attempting to shed a block.
Alonso was the first player to the receiver and makes a nice tackle. Although this is not a play where Alonso makes a play on the ball, it is an example of his ability to make plays along the line of scrimmage and in the flats. The flats are an area of strength in Alonso's game and he is also solid in coverage against backs in the flat.
Alonso begins the play at the line of scrimmage in coverage against USC's I formation. There are two wide receivers and one tight end who is slightly off of the line of scrimmage.
The tight end runs a route along the line of scrimmage and Alonso slides with the tight end throughout the duration of his route. Alonso manages hangs tightly with the tight end and exhibits his strength in coverage while in the flats.
Matt Barkley throws a pass to the tight end in coverage and he pays dearly on a first and ten. Alonso manages to make a solid tackle behind the line for a loss of yardage which could be a drive killer for USC. Again, Alonso makes another solid play in coverage while playing in the flats.
Alonso drops into coverage and he drops laterally with the anticipation of a receiver coming on a crossing route over the middle of the field. There are times where Alonso looks a bit lost in coverage because he swivels his head between the receiver and the quarterback, but in this case Alonso trains his eyes on the quarterback showing good coverage awareness.
At the point where the receiver approaches the area Alonso is occupying, he turns and runs with the receiver, but maintains some awareness of Matt Barkley's activities in the backfield. In addition, Alonso is a little less that a step behind the receiver, but maintains a safe level of distance to the point where he can make a play on the receiver or the ball.
Alonso cuts under the receiver and makes an interception on Matt Barkely's throw. During this play, Alonso shows his potential in coverage as he utilizes good fundamentals and breaks away from some of his habits that he typically displays in coverage. Unlike Kelvin Sheppard, Alonso should be solid in coverage and has the potential to grow in this aspect of his game.
Alonso begins this particular play in man coverage against Washington's outside receiver who seems to run an in route. Part of the reason that Alonso is able to keep up with the wide receiver is that he gave the receiver a good amount of cushion and he was able to read the route off of the line. In this case, Alonso is in man coverage.
Alonso keeps up with the wide receiver and manages to dive and get a hand on the ball and knock it away so that the receiver cannot catch the pass. While much of Alonso's coverage in these sequences has been in the flat, this situation puts him against an outside receiver which is markedly more difficult for a linebacker. He shows his ability to play man coverage and play the ball.
The major problem with Alonso's coverage is displayed here as he makes his drop with his eyes away from the quarterback which takes away from his awareness of where the ball is and where it is going. On this play, however, Alonso is not affected by this deficiency. In fact, it is possible that the quarterback saw his wandering eyes and decided to throw it to the man he was covering.
The quarterback decides to throw it to the receiver that Alonso is covering, but Alonso turns around in time and squares his body up. In an effort to lead the receiver, the quarterback places the ball in Alonso's chest where he has a terrific opportunity for an interception.
Despite good positioning by Alonso and a bad decision by the quarterback, there is no interception since Alonso drops the ball. While his drop is solid, he could have easily been in a bad situation if he had not turned around in time as he lost sight of the quarterback.
Overall, Alonso is a solid cover linebacker and can easily progress to be a very good cover linebacker. His skills in coverage are far superior to former Bills linebacker Kelvin Sheppard which is a positive sign for the Bills' defense. Alonso has a wealth of experience in both zone coverage and man coverage which will certainly help with his initial understanding of Mike Pettine's defense. As demonstrated in the previous sequences, Alonso has shown a terrific ability to drop back in coverage versus a variety of types of players and he has succeeded against each one.
This is an extremely short sequence and I did not demonstrate the middle of the clip. Alonso crept up to the line as the snap approached. He accelerated on the snap of the ball and blew up the play by driving an offensive lineman approximately three yards into the backfield. On a crucial fourth and one, Alonso made the key play for the Oregon defense once again.
Alonso begins his assault on the line of scrimmage by creeping from the endzone to about the one yard line. One of Alonso's best qualities when blitzing is his ability to time his blitz against the snap of the ball.
Clearly, there was a nice hole for Alonso to blitz through and he perfectly times the blitz making it difficult for offensive line adjustments.
Alonso makes a nice play and wraps the running back up in the backfield after a successful blitz. These last two sequences exemplify two different aspects of Alonso's run blitzes. In the first sequence, Alonso manages to blow up the play by powerfully beating the lineman and pushing him back which makes it tough for the running back. While Alonso does not frequently display physical power, he is successful in driving back the lineman. In this case, there is a hole and his timing prevents the line from adjusting to his blitz which results in him coming free and dropping the running back for a loss.
It is difficult to demonstrate timing in a set of images, however, in this play Alonso timed his blitzed very well again making it difficult for Matt Barkley to get the throw off in time. Alonso did not get a sack on this play, but just the fact that he is able to pressure the quarterback is a positive skill. While he does not get sacks often, it is not unusual for Alonso to push the quarterback out of the pocket on a blitz or make a throw difficult.
In this sequence, Alonso never starts his drop because he is sent on a delayed blitz up the middle of the offensive line. Approximately once per game of tape that I watched, Alonso would be sent on a delayed blitz and he was typically successful at making the quarterback rush the throw or get on the move.
Alonso got his only sack of the season on this play where Taylor Price, the Washington quarterback, happened to be stepping up into the pocket at the same time that Alonso happened to be blitzing. Price did not see Alonso coming since he disguised the blitz by delaying it a second or so.
Blitzing against the pass is not Alonso's "cup of tea", but if he gets free and doesn't have to use any moves, he is deadly because of his speed. Alonso lacks the bevy of pass rush moves and fundamentals that one might like in a blitzing linebacker, but creative blitzing can help utilize his skills.
If Alonso can keep him self trouble free, he will see the field with the Bills rather quickly and he will likely get a quality amount of playing time. Between Alonso's experience and his athletic qualities, he has a limitless ceiling, however, the success that he reaches will likely be determined by the effort he puts forth. He has flashed his abilities in moments of brilliance, but he has clearly defined weaknesses. If Alonso can put a few pounds on his frame, he could also shed some of his deficiencies in the power aspect of his game without giving up much in terms of speed. Overall, the Bills are getting a solid coverage linebacker that can also play well against the run and at the absolute worst will play on passing downs in the next few years.