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Buffalo Bills Outside Linebackers: State Of The Bills Roster

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This post is part of a series entitled State of the Bills Roster, in which we're breaking down and evaluating the Buffalo Bills on a position-by-position basis. If you're confused about the number and letter classification appearing after each player's name, read this post. You can check out all previous installments of this series here.

We spent a good chunk of our Tuesday morning looking at multiple defensive fronts, with the idea of seeking out ways the team could improve against the run while still featuring stud defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Contingent on how frequently the Bills use 30 fronts and 40 fronts in 2011, Buffalo's outside linebackers won't know for a while how often they'll be standing up, or how often they'll have their hand on the ground.

The Bills have a lot to learn about their outside linebackers heading into, and especially during, the 2011 season - even though there's a good possibility that the team, having more than a few irons in the fire at the position, won't drastically alter the personnel at the position. A look at Buffalo's outside linebackers lies after the jump.

Right now, the Bills have nine outside linebackers in their organization.

Arthur Moats (2-C). An elbow injury delayed his rookie progress somewhat, as he was set to get more playing time earlier in the season. Even with that setback, Moats was able to flash some playmaking ability late in the season; he recorded two sacks and a forced fumble over Buffalo's final four games, and his 2.5 sacks on the season was good for the fourth-highest total on the team. He was still handled with ease quite a bit as a pass rusher, and also struggled to defend the run. The team likes his work ethic and his motor; he'll continue to get reps as the team develops his overall game. Moats also emerged as one of the team's best kick coverage men as a rookie, as well.

Danny Batten (3-D). Spent his rookie year on IR with a shoulder injury he suffered in training camp. Possesses many of the same qualities the team likes in Moats - work ethic, motor, athleticism - but is a taller, lankier player that will have an easier go of it trying to control tackles at the point of attack. Some upside here, and he, too, will be a key special teams player.

Antonio Coleman (3-D). An undrafted free agent last April, Coleman made the team thanks largely to Batten's injury. Saw limited snaps defensively, and did not make much of an impression. Good, not great, special teams player. Again, motor and work ethic are buzz words, but upside is not as high as his drafted rookie teammates.

Shawne Merriman (3-E). Buffalo made a fairly serious - if hedged - commitment to Merriman when they signed the oft-injured veteran to a potentially lucrative two-year deal prior to the close of the 2010 season. Though he has never played a full 16-game season, and though he has only appeared in 18 games over his past three seasons, the Bills are going to count on Merriman to boost the team's average-at-best pass rush heading into the 2011 season. First he needs to stay healthy; if he can do that, he then needs to prove that he hasn't lost any of the burst that made him perhaps the league's most feared defender from 2005 to 2007. For now, we'll simply consider him a shadow of his former self.

Chris Kelsay (3-E). Signed to a lucrative four-year extension in September, Kelsay steadily improved as the season wore on, and as the team slowly eased him out of coverage responsibilities and let him play with his hand in the dirt more often. Kelsay is what he is - a locker room presence that can get you by on the field occasionally. He has no upside - he'll turn 32 next Halloween - and is more of a coach-on-the-field, mentor type than a player the team can count on in an every-down role. Still finished second on the team with 3.5 sacks.

Pierre Woods (4-F). The 28-year-old vet was claimed off waivers late in the season after Coleman landed on IR. A good special teams player, Woods never made an impact as a 3-4 OLB in New England, and despite strong compliments from Chan Gailey, it's hard to envision that impact manifesting itself in Buffalo, either.

Aaron Maybin (4-F). Gailey said that the former first-round pick is "on the outside looking in" heading into next season. The coaching staff wants him to get bigger and stronger, add another move to his pass-rushing arsenal, and get much better against the run. Let's just say that very few people - perhaps even Gailey included - are counting on that happening.

John Russell (4-F). Spent the year on the practice squad, and was injured for part of the season in that capacity. A former collegiate defensive lineman.

Jammie Kirlew (4-F). Spent the latter part of the year on the practice squad. An undrafted free agent out of Indiana, Kirlew was signed to a future contract in early January - so he'll likely get a look from the team in mini-camps, and perhaps training camp.

Contract situations to monitor: Most of this group are under contract for the foreseeable future - including Woods, who was claimed off waivers having just signed a two-year deal of his own with New England in mid-November. Five of the players are under contract through at least the close of the 2012 season, and Woods is under contract through 2011.

Outlook: Right now, Merriman and Kelsay are penciled in as the nominal starters at outside linebacker. Kelsay should be involved when his role calls for him to play out of a three-point stance, as he struggles mightily standing up and dropping into coverage. Merriman has more experience doing it, but he can put his hand on the ground and rush - and rush is precisely what the Bills need him to do, provided he is healthy. Moats will be a pass-rushing specialist, and that's where he belongs until he can improve his technique defending the run. That's what we know; the rest, involving Batten, Coleman, Woods and possibly Maybin, will play out over time.

Possible Acquisition: There's a chance that an elite pass rusher like Da'Quan Bowers or Robert Quinn tempts the team at the top of the first round. There's a better chance that the team continues to stockpile high-motor guys in the mid-rounds. Don't expect a veteran, as the Bills have enough of those in Merriman, Kelsay and Woods.