After second-round draft pick Reggie Ragland went down with a torn ACL last August, the Buffalo Bills were fortunate enough to have Zach Brown step up and replace him. Ragland was drafted to serve as an enforcer inside in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defensive alignment, the same base alignment that Ragland played in college under Nick Saban as a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Unfortunately for Ragland, that defense is no longer being run in Buffalo and he’s taking a while to adjust to his new role.
“Acclimating [Ragland] to practice tempo—he missed most of the spring—acclimating him to this system, and putting him position like we try to do with all of our players to have success early and in the long term,” according to head coach Sean McDermott, will be the team’s top priority during training camp.
With Ragland missing all of his rookie season, as well as a big chunk of the Bills’ 2017 offseason program, Ragland’s readiness to compete with incumbent starting middle linebacker Preston Brown was going to be something to watch. In the early-going, there hasn’t been much of a battle between the two players. This explains why Ragland has yet to take a rep with the first-team defense, even though it was speculated by many that he would push Brown for the starting middle linebacker job to open this season.
Ragland’s lack of mobility in terms of the depth chart has been concerning for some fans, and it’s certainly not a good thing when a second-round pick is unable to take a first team rep and he’s being beaten easily for touchdowns against other second-team players. It does seem that the coaching staff is doing this intentionally, however, as McDermott said that there is a plan for Ragland, just like there is a plan for every other player on the roster. McDermott’s plan seems to include bringing Ragland along slowly.
It’s almost one year to the day that Ragland went down in camp with the initial knee injury, so planning to ease him back into football activities is certainly sensible. It’s a little concerning that his new head coach has referred to him as a first-year player, but it’s also almost entirely understandable. This is his first year in this system, it’s the first time he’s played in a true 4-3, and he’s coming off a major knee injury that eliminated nearly his entire first professional season. In a lot of ways, this year will be Ragland’s true “rookie” year.
The positional battle between Brown and Ragland may still come, depending on the head coach’s plan. While McDermott did not elaborate on his “plan” for Ragland, if we’ve learned nothing else about the new head coach, we at least know that he’ll expect us to trust the process.