Buffalo Rumblings Mailbag, 7/3: sensed doom at linebacker

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

You can't convince me that Buffalo Rumblings readers didn't subconsciously sense the Kiko Alonso news coming this week, given the questions sent in for our weekly mailbag feature.

I'm somewhat hesitant to ask the Buffalo Rumblings community to send in more questions for our weekly Buffalo Bills mailbag, because as you'll see below, last week's fresh inquiries had a decided linebacker theme to them, and we all know what happened this week.

Seriously: only five questions were sent in this week. One was about tickets, another about any pending discipline for Marcell Dareus (which I know nothing about, unfortunately), and then these three - sent on June 27, June 27, and June 28, respectively. I am officially terrified to proceed with this feature any longer, because the fan base clearly can tap into a shared subconscious ability to identify impending doom.

We do, however, need more questions for next week, so please send them on over to buffalorumblings@gmail.com. Maybe ask some questions about punters, or water distributors, or scoreboard operators.

I have to say that Nigel Bradham has incredible potential and I see him as a top linebacker in a few years. What do you think about having him start this season over Keith Rivers?

Well, Carter, this question would have been much more interesting to mull if the Bills didn't now have to rely on a young player like Bradham potentially playing a crap ton of snaps. Bradham, of course, is one of three players - including the players identified in the next two questions - that will be competing to replace Kiko Alonso in the starting lineup.

Bradham's popularity has soared this offseason thanks to a rather glowing review of his 2013 campaign from Pro Football Focus. Maybe my long-term memory is faded, but I can't recall seeing an article about a player that was on the field less than 25 percent of snaps being more widely circulated in my life. Yes, Bradham has had some strong moments in both of his pro seasons. Yes, he is the most physically gifted linebacker on the roster, and it would be lovely to have that type of talent on the field more regularly. Sure, if he were to see a bigger role, he might be good (though given the sample size he's working with, maybe not as good as many seem to believe him capable of being).

Why hasn't he been able to secure a bigger role, though? The guy was barely involved in the defense last season. He had an opportunity to lock down a starting job during training camp, then spent most of the season sitting behind Arthur Moats. He started two games late in the 2013 season, and then three months later the Bills went out and signed Rivers, effectively replacing Bradham in the starting lineup again. Those actions speak louder than anything else.

I don't mean to sound like a downer about Bradham, because it would be great if he finally seized the opportunity and became a factor on defense. I just have a hard time buying into the hype given how we've seen the Bills handle him. Bradham clearly has another opportunity to make a push for a bigger role this summer thanks to Alonso's injury, but he is clearly behind Rivers at this point, and I don't think (just as others don't) that Bradham is as well-favored by the coaching staff as their third-round rookie is.

What do you see Preston Brown's role being by the end of the season?

Funny you should ask, Ryan, because before this week, I'd have said that he could be starting by year's end, given how favorable his spring impression was, and how tenuous the strong-side job looked. Now, I would be surprised if Brown isn't an opening-day starter.

It's not just that there was a lot of buzz about him even before Alonso was injured; it's that when he started taking reps with the first-team defense during spring practices, he did so on the nickel sub-package. (Rivers was in on that, too.) That's something to monitor once training camp starts; if the coaches continue to trust him in that capacity, then it means they think he's capable of being an every-down player, and right now the Bills are plum short on those.

Add in the fact that Brown broke into the lineup at Louisville as an outside linebacker (he was the middle linebacker for the last two seasons), and has enough quicks to get by there at the NFL level, and it's fairly safe to assume that the Bills believe they have a player that can play all three linebacker spots. Between Brown and Bradham, the Bills have been quick in showing more trust in the former, and that could ultimately mean that he sees a ton of playing time.

We’ve heard a lot about Ty Powell and special teams this offseason, but is there any chance he could push for a starting job on the strong side?

Ben is asking about a player that was an afterthought in most linebacker conversations (and still sort of is), but who now also might have a great deal of job security.

Powell already had a bead on being one of the half-dozen core special teams players that Doug Marrone and Danny Crossman want to identify heading into the season. He became a critical piece of that picture in the short amount of time he was on the active roster last season.

He's probably the fifth linebacker in the rotation - behind Rivers, Brown, Bradham, and starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes - but with the ability to play outside and in (he was the second-team middle linebacker in spring drills), and that added special teams value, he has an excellent chance of making the roster. His chances only slightly increase of competing for a starting job, but the Bills have been open about how high they are on Powell for months, and he'll have a role to play on the team.

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