The Buffalo Bills continue their free-agency spending spree. This time, another player looking to make a position switch lands in Orchard Park. Former St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks safety Maurice Alexander was signed to a one-year deal to play...linebacker. At 220 lbs (per Pro Football Reference) Alexander comes in just a few pounds lighter than Matt Milano. For linebackers, Milano comes in on the lighter end however. Compared to safeties, Alexander is roughly 20 lbs heavier than Micah Hyde and 30 lbs heavier than Jordan Poyer. Coming in firmly between the two positions, it’s likely Alexander will be looking to carve out a role as part of a heavy nickel package.
The difficulty when taking a look at Maurice Alexander using existing NFL footage is a matter of translation. There are a few elements of his play at safety we can use to try to make an educated guess on how well he’ll perform at linebacker. We start with play recognition, and straight-line, downhill tackling. The play recognition and reaction time seems fine on this play. The initial angle is poor and a small correction doesn’t entirely fix it. As a result this tackle is missed, nearly resulting in a touchdown.
This play isn’t a bad parallel to a linebacker role. Maurice Alexander shoots for the ball carrier but is met by tight end Jack Doyle. Alexander is knocked back and then driven sideways by Doyle. As a linebacker, Alexander will have more frequent trips into the trenches. His time at safety didn’t yield many encouraging signs he can take on blocks from tights ends and offensive linemen.
Often the ability to flow sideline to sideline is more important than a backpedal or mirroring complex route trees. Alexander often seemed a half-step behind opponents. Based on his in -between size, Alexander might be asked to sub in more often for coverage (like this) than a traditional linebacker.
Maurice Alexander sees a lane to hit and tries to drive in. Jordan Reed finds success blocking Alexander much like Doyle above. Alexander disengages with a spin and isn’t shy about helping get in on the tackle.
Running in from this distance, Alexander has a chance to choose with lane to attack. He initially appears to select the wrong one but adjusts in time. When the he squares up, Alexander hits more like a linebacker than a safety.
Alexander sees the play develop quickly enough to limit this to a four-yard gain. A slight miscalculation on the angle and imperfect tackling form means Alexander slides off his opponents. All’s well that ends well here as they reach the sideline.
Again we see good awareness of the play. Alexander cuts through traffic well and gets a decent angle for the tackle. This play was selected to reinforce the last one. It’s easy enough to assume he pulled up to avoid a late hit, but both plays show a similar tackle. This was fairly common for Alexander.
All of the clips above came from the 2017 season with the Rams. Maurice Alexander spent 2018 with the Seahawks but didn’t see any time on defense. Seattle gave him plenty of snaps on special teams, but were willing to cut ties after one season. As a safety, missed tackles and poor angles were major concerns that routinely crept up. It’s possible the change to linebacker will allow Alexander to focus on less of the field and make positive strides reacting to plays. On the positive side Alexander didn’t seem shy in terms of making contact and often saw plays develop well.
Maurice Alexander responded to this indicating injuries were a factor in 2017. Feel free to take my summary with a grain of salt. I'll look to update further after looking at some 2016 film.
2017 year I had a torn shoulder, labrum and bicep tendon. Year before I missed two tackles the whole year and ranked top 10 safeties, I can play wherever #BillsMafia. https://t.co/i2BHBT5H8j— Maurice〽 (@MoYo_45) March 31, 2019