Here's a quick Buffalo Bills trivia question for you. Which linebacker played more for the Bills in 2012: Bryan Scott or Nigel Bradham?
If you answered Bradham, you're wrong - the then-rookie linebacker didn't make it into the defensive lineup as a regular until Week 5, effectively functioning three-quarters of the season as a starter. Our next trivia question, then, is this: from Week 5 on, did Bradham or Scott log more snaps? Again, if you went with Bradham, you'd be wrong.
Over the last 12 games of the season, Scott logged about 36 snaps per game to Bradham's 30, with Scott playing a nickel and dime linebacker role as a complement to Bradham's work in the base defense. Scott accumulated 45 tackles, two interceptions, six defended passes and a touchdown in those 12 games, while Bradham added 52 tackles of his own.
Since the 2013 NFL Draft concluded, the general assumption about the Bills' linebacker position is that Bradham will line up with rookie Kiko Alonso on the inside of Mike Pettine's new defense. This spring, however, it's been Scott working with the first unit, while Bradham (and Alonso, for that matter) have only moonlighted with the ones.
A quick side note on Alonso: if he ends up being the team's top linebacker, he'll have big shoes to fill from a playing time standpoint. The man he's replacing, Nick Barnett, played just shy of 92 percent of the team's snaps in 2012. Pettine's defense, at least while employed in New York, typically features two linebackers on the field in the vast majority of game situations; during their heyday in 2009 and 2010, those 'backers were Bart Scott and David Harris. Both were fairly omnipresent on the field, but Buffalo's linebackers - from Alonso on down - may have trouble filling those roles right away.
For the purposes of this exercise, however, we'll assume that Alonso will be filling a huge role on defense - even if the team eases him into it initially. The question then becomes which linebacker fills a huge role next to him, and whether or not what we saw in New York will be relevant at a position that has been highly specialized in Buffalo for years.
It seems unlikely that Scott, the 32-year-old former safety, would be counted on as an every-down linebacker in any NFL defense. That leaves the door open for Bradham, entering his second season, to minimize Scott's long-standing role as a sub-package coverage linebacker. If Bradham can't handle the coverage aspects of a very difficult job this summer, it's not inconceivable that we'll see Pettine forced into the same linebacker timeshare that we've seen in recent seasons - and if that ends up being the case, Scott will undoubtedly see more playing time than Bradham. Again.
Our question for you, Bills fans: do you believe Bradham is capable of proving himself a capable three-down player this summer? And, as an add-on inquiry, do you believe any other players - such as perhaps Marcus Dowtin - could enter the fray for the starting role next to Alonso?