Heading into the 2008 off-season, the Buffalo Bills were facing serious issues in their linebacking corps. The team had two solid starters in Angelo Crowell and the still-young Paul Posluszny, but beyond those two talent, there were some major concerns. Add to that the fact that long-time reserves such as Coy Wire, Josh Stamer and Mario Haggan were on their way out of town, and you begin to see the seriousness of the issue.
Then, on the first day of free agency, the team signed linebacker Kawika Mitchell, a tough competitor coming off of a Super Bowl victory. That one move alone changed the entire landscape of Buffalo's linebacking corps so that the position went from a team weakness to a team strength.
Finally - a Physical Starting Trio
Mitchell's addition adds some much-needed size and physicality to Buffalo's linebacking corps - specifically at the weak side position. The team's lightest projected starting linebacker is now Posluszny, who at 238 pounds isn't underweight, by any means. Last season, Buffalo's top four linebackers (Crowell, Posluszny, Keith Ellison and Wire) weighed an average of 235 pounds; this coming season, the team's top four (Crowell, Posluszny, Mitchell and John DiGiorgio) weigh in at an average of 242 pounds. That will play a significant role in helping shore up the team's porous run defense.
Keep in mind also that added weight means more physicality - we have three starting linebackers who can lay the lumber now. That's something the Bills haven't had on the field since Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and Jeff Posey were in their prime.
Never Underestimate Experienced Depth
Perhaps an even more important aspect to the Mitchell signing is the fact that, since it relegates DiGiorgio and Ellison to reserve status, the Bills have smart, athletic backups with plenty of game experience. Ellison and DiGiorgio both have two years of experience in Buffalo's defensive scheme and have started plenty of games due to injury (DiGiorgio for Posluszny, Ellison for Spikes and as a starter last year). You can never underestimate how valuable it is to have reserve players with the intelligence and athleticism to compete in a fill-in capacity - even if those players are flawed.
The Bills even have a good thing going with the little-known Blake Costanzo, who was only on Buffalo's roster last year after injuries to several players at the position. Costanzo should probably never see the field as a defender, but he was a pleasant surprise as a special teams player and stands a very good chance of making the roster in that capacity again - unless a player like Haggan is re-signed. That's how deep this position is now for Buffalo.
What a Difference One Player Makes
Mock drafts everywhere had the Bills choosing USC standout Keith Rivers with their first pick prior to free agency. Now, it's entirely plausible that the position need not be addressed at all in this year's draft. When you consider the starting trio's potential, coupled with the experience, intelligence and athleticism of the top two reserves, the Bills are in a much better place at linebacker now than they were at the end of the '08 season. This is now a position of strength for the Bills, and what's better, they all have a chance to be difference-makers in their various roles next year. Kudos to the front office at One Bills Drive for recognizing just how big of an impact one big signing could have on this group.