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State of the Roster: Bills Middle Linebackers

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Poz returns full throttle in '08 (BuffaloBills.com)

Offense has been the main focus of the past couple of days regarding the Bills; we'll be talking much more about the offense next week, but today, we're going to shift our attention back to the defense. In continuing with our positional reviews, we're ultimately working toward building a needs list on both sides of the ball, with community consensus the (unlikely?) goal. That will help us as we break down all of the available players this off-season; it will also help yours truly as I prepare for the second annual SB Nation NFL Mock Draft this off-season.

I digress. Here's a breakdown of Buffalo's inside linebacker situation (and in case you missed it, here's our discussions on the ends and tackles):

Paul Posluszny
None of Buffalo's 17 injuries was more detrimental than the season-ending loss of rookie Paul Posluszny after just the first 10 quarters of his NFL career. Posluszny is now forced to take the John McCargo route to year two of his career: he needs to become a bigger force in Buffalo's defense, all the while doing so without having much playing experience. In his two and a half games, Posluszny racked up 25 tackles; had he continued that pace for a healthy 16 games, he would have finished the season with 160 (34 more than team leader Angelo Crowell). He's got the skills for this defense and the backing of the fan base; he's also got a lot of pressure on his shoulders heading into '08.

Will Improve in '08 if - he can prove he learned a lot while on the sidelines recuperating :: he can remain healthy for the full year :: he improves his aggressiveness, especially in pass coverage

John DiGiorgio
DiGiorgio (or "Digi", as he's fondly referred to) was one of the Bills' pleasant defensive surprises this season. The second-year man out of Saginaw Valley State took over for Posluszny and finished second on the team with 112 stops, accumulating two sacks, an interception and two fumble recoveries along the way. DiGiorgio is far from an ideal physical specimen on the inside, and is often engulfed by blockers against the run. He has shown, however, an ability to penetrate on occasion, and makes up for some of his shortcomings with solid speed, aggressiveness and hustle. He probably shouldn't be a full-time starter on an NFL defense, but he's certainly carved out a niche as Buffalo's top reserve linebacker (he has the athletic ability to play all three positions) and a terrific special teams player as well.

Will Improve in '08 if - he can prove he's versatile enough to play outside :: he doesn't have to start :: healed injuries allow him to return to the kick coverage units

Blake Costanzo
Added to the practice squad - and later the active roster - late in the season due to injuries. Saw some action on special teams, and showed that he's a hard hitter in the process. If he's a Bill next season, it'll be as a deep reserve or practice squad player; it's unlikely he'll crack the active roster next year, however.

Off-Season Outlook
Whether or not the Bills address this position in the off-season depends a lot on what happens at outside linebacker, and even more so with DiGiorgio. The Bills have two key free agents in their reserves outside (Mario Haggan and Josh Stamer), and Keith Ellison's spot may be upgraded as well (yes, we'll discuss that group late this afternoon). If that happens, DiGiorgio may be one player the coaching staff targets to move outside - and as a result, the Bills may look to bring in a veteran, heady backup to support Posluszny and play special teams. If the staff keeps DiGiorgio on the inside, this position is set - potentially for a long time.

Possible Additions: veteran backup for Posluszny
Possible Subtractions: Costanzo