One of the biggest question marks defensively for the Buffalo Bills heading into the 2012 season is the inexperience of their depth at the linebacker position. If one of the projected starting trio of Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard and Kirk Morrison were to miss any time, who would be the first man off the bench?
Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com believes, for now, that the Bills' likely top linebacker reserve will be third-year veteran Arthur Moats. He said as much in yesterday's Fan Friday column.
Unless you're counting Bryan Scott as a full-time linebacker - and there's ample reason to do so - Moats, believe it or not, is Buffalo's most experienced linebacker reserve. Moats has appeared in 29 games over his first two seasons; no other Bills reserve linebacker has more than 16 (a feat shared by Scott McKillop and Danny Batten).
When it was announced in January that the Bills would be transitioning back to a 4-3 defense full-time under new coordinator Dave Wannstedt, many - including yours truly - openly wondered whether or not Moats was even a lock to make the team anymore. Drafted as part of the team's efforts to move to a 3-4 in 2010, Moats spent most of his first two seasons transitioning between outside and inside linebacker, as the Bills struggled to find a full-time position for him.
That positional flexibility, so to speak, may actually have helped Moats' cause in the long run. This spring, Moats has played all three linebacker spots - including middle linebacker - and will likely open training camp running with the second-team defense on the strong side behind starter Morrison. The former stand-out defensive end at James Madison also brings a pass-rushing element to the linebacker position that no other linebacker but Batten can boast - and unlike Batten, who admittedly has only half of the experience, Moats has made plays when he's had the opportunity to play.
Through two seasons, Moats has accumulated 29 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery - with a large amount of that occurring when the Bills were forced to move him back to 3-4 outside linebacker in both seasons.
It is to Moats' credit that, at this point, he has transitioned smoothly to the 4-3 defense as a linebacker after spending the majority of his football career playing defensive end in that alignment. For now, there's no reason to doubt Brown's assessment that Moats would be the first man up in the event that a Bills starter were to get injured - and that's a strong leap forward from wondering whether or not he'd make the team in January.