After a few months to watch film and analyze his roster, Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott was forthcoming about specific players while talking to the media at the AFC coaches breakfast on Tuesday morning as part of the league meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.
Some of the most noteworthy observations McDermott shared pertained to the linebacker position:
#Bills HC Sean McDermott brought up Luke Kuechly's type of leadership when talking about Reggie Ragland. Raved about him.— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) March 28, 2017
After his illustrious career at Alabama, which culminated in an SEC Player of the Year award in 2015, Ragland wasn’t a highly touted linebacker prospect due to his sideline-to-sideline speed, which many believe makes him a bad fit for McDermott’s 4-3 alignment.
However, McDermott seems to be excited about having Ragland as a leader of his defense in 2017.
The Bills head coach also touched out veteran Preston Brown, another “big” linebacker:
#Bills HC Sean McDermott said Preston Brown also fits into the middle linebacker mold. Says he's a nice fit. "Fun position to watch."— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) March 28, 2017
Athletically and size-wise, Ragland and Brown are very comparable. That’s raised some curiosity as to who will play middle linebacker and who will man the weakside linebacker spot.
As for strongside linebacker, which typically plays close to the line in McDermott’s 4-3 under (or over) alignments, unsurprisingly, Lorenzo Alexander is slotted at that outside position, per ESPN’s Mike Rodak.
Some speculation swirled about a comment McDermott made that may have sounded like he already knew Preston Brown would not be a starter, but Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 clarified:
IMO McDermott did NOT say Ragland will start at MLB. He said "we'll start at middle LB," meaning that's where he will line up to begin OTAs— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) March 28, 2017
..and that's when he also talked about Preston being "in the same mold" and how the position will be fun to watch. It will be a competition— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) March 28, 2017
If anything though, it wouldn’t be crazy to interpret those comments as McDermott believing the team is still in need of a true weakside linebacker.
Thomas Davis, who thrived as the WLB in McDermott’s defense with the Panthers, predominately played safety at Georgia in the early 2000s before making the transition to linebacker in the pros. Though he likely has been playing at a higher weight than his measured weight of 230 pounds at the 2005 combine, Davis’ springy athleticism has significantly helped him as a rangy linebacker in the NFL.
McDermott didn’t give much, but at least it was something. And remember, it’s still extremely early, folks. Veteran minicamp begins on April 20, and OTAs aren’t until May 18.
While we probably won’t know how the linebacker group will shake out until the summer, we do know McDermott had positive reviews for both Brown and Ragland after getting a chance to watch them.