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.
When the 2010 season came to a close for the Bills, the team saw fit to release just one of its coaches: inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross. A holdover from the Dick Jauron regime, where Cross was a defensive and special teams assistant, Cross got his post under Chan Gailey almost by default - even though he'd never before coached a position at the NFL level, let alone inside linebackers.
Now, the Bills are talking to experienced defensive voice Dave Wannstedt about joining their defensive staff, and inside linebacker remains the only coaching opening the team has. While Gailey and defensive coordinator George Edwards look to tinker with their assistants and possibly with their scheme, the team has a much more pressing matter to attend to: their inside linebackers - the guys who actually play the game - aren't very good.
A review of Buffalo's weakest defensive positional group lies after the jump.
Right now, the Bills have six inside linebackers in their organization.
Paul Posluszny (3-E). Though he missed playing time for a third season in his four-year career, Posluszny arguably had his best season as a pro, leading the Bills with 151 tackles, including 103 solo efforts. He added two sacks for good measure. However, Posluszny was hardly great; he struggled mightily in coverage, particularly when he drew a tight end assignment, and did not establish himself as a great gap defender in Buffalo's tweaked defensive scheme. Poz is what he is - a productive player that's good for a minor injury or two a season, and who lacks the type of athletic burst to be consistently effective in coverage and engaging blockers.
Andra Davis (3-E). Signed to a two-year contract in March as one of the team's higher-profile free agent additions, Davis didn't last long in 2010, as he landed on IR with a shoulder injury in November. He did, however, endear himself to some by playing several weeks with a torn labrum - even if he probably shouldn't have. Davis is a big linebacker that has lost some of his athleticism, but his vast knowledge of the 3-4 will likely keep him in Buffalo through the end of his current contract.
Reggie Torbor (3-E). His versatility was Buffalo's greatest asset in 2010, as Torbor - an inside linebacker under George Edwards for Miami, circa 2009 - lined up at outside linebacker early in the season for the Bills. With the Bills having more options at that position now, expect Torbor to move back to his more natural position. Like the next man on the list, Torbor isn't a true difference-maker, but he's heady - and that versatility really can come in handy.
Akin Ayodele (3-E). Though he didn't join the team until two days prior to the start of the regular season, Ayodele finished the year third on the team with 106 tackles. He didn't do anything spectacular, but provided a steadying influence inside as the Bills tinkered with schemes at the mid-point of the season. Ayodele is probably the best gap defender of this group, but still gets washed out of plays far too frequently.
Keith Ellison (4-F). He stepped into the starting lineup early in the season when Posluszny was nicked up, but ended up on IR himself with a knee injury. Ellison lacks the size to play inside in a 3-4 scheme, and his middling coverage and solid special teams abilities, while useful, likely won't earn him a second look from this coaching staff in 2011.
Mike Balogun (4-F). Added mid-season after a spate of injuries, Balogun - who will be 28 by the time next season rolls around - was inactive for the majority of his partial season in Buffalo.
Contract situations to monitor: Posluszny is a free agent, and it's very apparent that the team wants to bring him back, as he's the only productive player of this bunch with an iota of upside left. The team won't be able to negotiate with Poz, however, until a new CBA is in place. Ayodele and Ellison will also be free agents, while Davis, Torbor and Balogun are all under contract through the close of the 2011 season. That's the good news here: none of these players are locked up long-term. (Yet.)
Outlook: Uh... bleak. Posluszny can be a useful player - at least you know what he can and can't do - but his limited explosion hurts him both in coverage and in aggressively filling his gap responsibilities. Torbor offers the versatility to play outside or inside, which should keep him around for another year. Honestly, the rest of these players are just guys. Buffalo can get much younger, more athletic and, quite simply, better at this position.
Possible Acquisition: As the team continues to scheme its 3-4 defense around the unconventional talents of nose tackle Kyle Williams, the Bills need to find inside linebackers capable of playing gap responsibilities better than their current group. Davis and Ayodele are capable of that, but both are on the downside; the rest are pursuit players. Buffalo really needs a downhill thumper that can fill a hole, stack and shed a block, and make a play before the back is five yards past him. These players are not especially hard to find.