It wasn’t so long ago we did a dive into the world of position groupings and tendencies for the Buffalo Bills’ defense. To quickly summarize, the Buffalo Bills like nickel defense. A lot. An extra corner takes the field about 50% of the time. A third safety is present about 25% of the time to roughly yield a 75% nickel usage. In addition to this fun fact, we explored how the defensive line shifts based on anticipated play call, including heavy rotation from the linebacker spot courtesy of Lorenzo Alexander.
While many of us would love for the elite defense to return intact it simply can’t happen. Alexander has retired and there are question marks surrounding some of the Bills from 2019. Now that free agency rumors are starting to swirl, let’s see if the Bills are planning on keeping things similar to last year, or making changes.
What we know
Bills make coaching changes
The big news was the promotion of defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to Assistant Head Coach. In addition to this and a couple other move, the Bills also promoted Jim Salgado. Formerly a defensive assistant with the Bills, Salgado was given the new position of “nickel coach.” This does not sound like the move of a team looking to cut back on their usage of a nickel defense.
Cornerback Josh Norman signs with Buffalo
Similar to last year’s addition of Kevin Johnson, Buffalo inked Josh Norman to a one-year deal. The current belief is that Norman will push for the CB2 spot opposite Tre’Davious White which would put him in competition with Levi Wallace. At this point, it would appear that whoever slides down the depth chart of these two will take over for the aforementioned Johnson.
Linebacker Christian Kirksey visits Buffalo
The Bills showed interest in signing Christian Kirksey after his release from the Cleveland Browns. What kind of linebacker is Kirksey? Well that depends on the year. Kirksey was with Cleveland since 2014, a span that saw less-than-ideal stability with three head coaches and four defensive coordinators. This gave Kirksey experience from multiple linebacker spots, including time in a 3-4 scheme. Kirksey’s early career saw plenty of time on special teams as well.
Linebacker A.J. Klein signs with Buffalo
Similar to Kirksey, A.J. Klein skipped around as a linebacker. Starting his career as a strongside ‘backer, Klein was shifted to weakside. Klein even filled in for an injured Luke Kuechly as the middle linebacker in 2016. Did Klein play special teams? You know he did. While you might call it “dabbling” in his last few years with the New Orleans Saints, he never dipped under 51% of the time with the Carolina Panthers and in three of his four years there hovered around the two-thirds mark.
Tyler Matakevich, linebacker signs with Buffalo
The Buffalo Bills also signed (now) former Pittsburgh Steeler Tyler Matakevich linebacker. Playing 60 snaps or less on defense in each of his four years as a Steeler, Matakevich was considered a special teams ace. His snaps in that phase of the game never fell below 60%. He’s here for the sake of thoroughness, but doesn’t move the needle much on the Bills’ primary plans on defense.
Bills rumored to be interested in cornerback Chris Harris
The Buffalo Bills are reportedly interested in cornerback Chris Harris. Harris has played both man and zone concepts for the Denver Broncos as an outside corner. There is current speculation he would compete for the slot in Buffalo. Regardless of role, if the rumor is accurate it reinforces the idea that defensive backs are important for the Buffalo nickel defense.
The Buffalo Bills have seemingly wanted to stay the course so far if free agency is any indication. Bolstering the corner depth and making sure they’re a focus of the coaching staff is pretty clear cut. So is looking for versatile linebackers with experience all over the defense. In the case of linebackers, both targets have special teams experience as well. Heck, according to his listing, A.J. Klein is five pounds smaller than Lorenzo Alexander at the same height. So far on defense, Buffalo is firmly in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mode.