Note: This is a continuation of Buffalo Rumblings' training camp battles series. Previous installments: RCB, Backup QB.
To an extent, Bills fans have been spoiled the last several years when it comes to middle linebackers. First the team had Sam Cowart, who was a pretty dominant run defender for a pretty dominant defense in the early part of this decade. Then came five years of London Fletcher-Baker manning the middle, with mostly positive results. There has been a high degree of consistency at the middle linebacking position for a long time - but that is about to change. Question marks surround the position now, despite the talent that the young players at the position possess. Who will be the starting middle linebacker? Read on to find out.
The Favorite: Paul Posluszny (51)
Drafted in the second round of this past April's Draft, Posluszny was a very good value pick and created a great stir of excitement amongst Bills fans. But don't rush this kid to immediate greatness in your collective minds - "Poz" played just one season on the inside at Penn State, where by many accounts he was less effective than previous years when he played on the outside. Couple that continuing transition with the fact that he's stuck in the Cover-2 defense (where his underdeveloped coverage skills will be counted on heavily) and you begin to see the question marks forming. Does he have what it takes to start right away? Yes - he's a student of the game and an incredibly hard worker. But he's got some competition to deal with first.
The Upstart: John DiGiorgio (52)
Chalk DiGiorgio's presence in this battle up to spring practices that saw him perform very well with the first-unit defense (albeit in an incredibly controlled environment). A surprise roster addition last year, DiGiorgio stuck with the team all season due to his speed, instincts and special teams prowess. He has often been described as a player who is constantly around the ball - a trait that is pretty essential to success in the Cover-2 defense. The odds are long against DiGiorgio earning a starting job just a year removed from being an undrafted free agent out of Saginaw Valley State. But as last year proved, odds don't really apply to DiGiorgio. He has a great chance to steal the starting job out from under Posluszny's nose.
The Longshot: Angelo Crowell (55)
Bills fans spent the off-season speculating that Crowell would be the team's starting middle linebacker after the departure of Fletcher - and for good reason. Crowell is the team's best linebacker, and middle linebacker is probably the most important LB position in this defensive scheme. It was only after Crowell expressed his wishes to stay outside, coupled with the addition of Posluszny, that ended this speculation. But I ask you - what if both Poz and DiGiorgio flop at the position? Would the coaching staff still be against moving Crowell inside and playing Posluszny outside? There are too many question marks at this point to discount Crowell from playing inside this season, although it has become apparent that the coaching staff would rather not have that happen.
Predicting the Winner
So who will start inside? For now, the answer is Posluszny - although he's still listed as #2 on the depth chart behind DiGiorgio. I am of the belief that either of these two could survive inside this year, Posluszny due to his intelligence and DiGiorgio due to his instincts. But there is a lot invested in Posluszny - it's almost unfair to put this much expectation on his shoulders, but the team needs him to step up. He was a leader at Penn State from the time he first stepped on that campus - and he should have similar success here. Posluszny will be this team's starting middle linebacker from the get-go unless he colossally flops. That's unlikely given his pedigree.
Poll Results: Poz Reigns Supreme
Bills fans have once again weighed in on this debate, and most of you all agree that this is Posluszny's job to lose:
Who starts at middle linebacker on opening day?
John DiGiorgio - 10 votes (26%)
Paul Posluszny - 25 votes (65%)
Angelo Crowell - 3 votes (7%)
Coming Saturday: the battle at Right Guard. Make sure to vote in the new poll to the right and let us know who you think will be the opening-day starter next to Langston Walker!