Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott came to Orchard Park having used a “big nickel” package often throughout his time as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers. Coincidentally called the “Buffalo Nickel” in his playbook, it employed the use of a coverage linebacker or a safety as a nickel back rather than a third cornerback.
While with the Panthers, McDermott had linebacker Shaq Thompson as his coverage specialist who was also a stout run defender; however, he has yet to find that style of player while in Buffalo. Rafael Bush played plenty of nickel corner last season, but McDermott has yet to find a linebacker capable of duplicating what Thompson was to the Carolina defense.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile a safety-turned-linebacker who has the potential to be a similar player to Thompson.
Name: Maurice Alexander
Height/Weight: 6’2” 220 lbs.
Age: 28 (29 on 2/16/20)
College: Utah State
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 3/22/19
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Alexander signed a one-year deal with the Bills that totals $1 million. That number also represents his cap hit for the season. If he does not make the roster, the Bills will carry a $150,000 dead cap charge.
2018 Recap: Alexander spent the 2018 season with the Seattle Seahawks. He did not make the team out of the preseason, but he re-signed with them in October. Alexander appeared in nine games for the Seahawks, combining for ten total tackles. He played on 133 snaps—all of which came on special teams.
Positional outlook: Alexander joins a linebacker group that has a clearly established trio of starters in Tremaine Edmunds, Lorenzo Alexander, and Matt Milano. Alexander will battle for time with veterans Julian Stanford, Corey Thompson, and Deon Lacey, as well as rookies VoSean Joseph, Juwan Foggie, and Tyrel Dodson.
2019 Offseason: Little has been written about Alexander’s offseason, but he did take some time engaging with us to discuss an All-22 analysis of his 2018 play. He disclosed that he played through injury last season, but said he is ready to go full-throttle this year.
2019 Season outlook: Alexander didn’t have eye-popping numbers last year, but he was only used on special teams, making it difficult to stand out as much as if he had been used on defense. His experience as a safety will help him in coverage packages, even if his numbers aren’t spectacular there throughout his career, either (he has five pass breakups and two interceptions on his career). Alexander’s special-teams ability combined with his skill set makes him an intriguing sub option for the Bills. Competition will be fierce for spots on the final roster, but I’d imagine that Alexander should be on the team come September as one of the backups at linebacker. At worst, he is a solid special-teams player; at best, he is a great addition to the team’s nickel packages. Giving him a chance to play a very particular role is a smart gamble on the part of the Bills.