Entering the 2007 season, it's fair to argue that no Buffalo Bills defender had more pressure squarely upon his shoulders than then-rookie middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. One of college football's most feared defenders in his final two seasons at Penn State University, Posluszny was an early second-round pick that was expected to shore up Buffalo's porous run defense based on his reputation alone.
We're aware of the rest. Posluszny racked up 25 tackles in the first ten quarters of the season, then breaks his arm in a collision with his own teammate in Week 3's loss to the New England Patriots. Due to the team's rash of injuries, Posluszny was placed on Injured Reserve, cutting short a promising rookie season.
Now it's 2008. Posluszny is reportedly completely healed from his arm injury, and the Bills are counting on him to man the middle linebacker position once again. With the Bills making serious upgrades to their defensive front seven, Posluszny might be the defense's biggest question mark heading into a crucial 2008 season.
25 Tackles in 10 Quarters
Let's make this perfectly clear: Posluszny did have a promising rookie year cut short. No, Buffalo's defense was not playing particularly well in the three games Posluszny participated in, giving up 79 points in three losses. But Posluszny was a factor - extrapolate his 2.5 tackles per quarter over an entire healthy season, and Posluszny would have been the NFL's second-leading tackler with 160 (behind San Francisco's Patrick Willis).
Let's put that number in perspective: as a rookie, Shane Conlan (another PSU alum) had 114 tackles. Sam Cowart posted 125 as a rookie. Posluszny's early production would have made him one of the best rookie defenders in team history. Sure, it's impossible to rely on extrapolated data such as this, but the point holds - Posluszny's impact would have been felt. The defense missed him last season. He's healthy, and poised to have a similar impact next season.
Fitting Into the Front Seven
As it stands right now, however, Posluszny may be the weak link in a revamped front seven. The Bills have built solid depth on their interior defensive line, surrounding the up-and-coming John McCargo with Marcus Stroud and Spencer Johnson. They still have three defensive ends who just two years ago, when they were injury-free, led the Bills to a 40-sack season. They've got a solid playmaking linebacker in Angelo Crowell on one side of Posluszny, and on the other, they've added a Super Bowl champion in Kawika Mitchell. Those additions are adding to the pressure that Posluszny already had on his shoulders.
"Poz" may be up to the challenge. He's already stout against the run, and has enough bulk to hold up at the point of attack. He certainly won't hurt the team in that regard. He'll have to get more comfortable in coverage, however. He'll need to learn to read and react at a quicker clip, deciding whether to defend the short pass or drop quickly to defend the middle of the field. He's got work to do there, but he's also a quick learner - confidence seems high at this point that he'll start making plays in the passing game quickly.
Ten quarters into his NFL career, Paul Posluszny is back to square one. He's an unproven player with an inordinate amount of pressure on his shoulders. He's expected to anchor a linebacking corps hell-bent on leading the Bills' defense to playoff-caliber play. But if last year's limited play is an indicator, Posluszny is up to the challenge. I can confidently state that Bills fans - who already hold Posluszny in high regard - are eager to see him get back onto the field of play.
Ladies and gentlemen: Poz is back.