A.J. Klein, former linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, took a detour through New Orleans on his way to join the Buffalo Bills. As a linebacker, there’s little chance of him taking two of the “three” positions up for grabs, which makes Klein our current lead contestant in the “Who will get Lorenzo Alexander’s playing time sweepstakes.”
It’s fairly clear that A.J. Klein will not be usurping time from 100% club members Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds. So that does leave us with the aforementioned snaps vacated by Lorenzo Alexander. On this play we have some similarities to the beloved Alexander. Patience waiting for the lane to open is something you’d have expected from Alexander, and the burst through when it does.
Here’s where we start to deviate though. Alexander spent plenty of time playing as a defensive lineman. Would I expect him to beat guard Mike Iupati? Here and there at least. Despite similar size to Alexander, A.J. Klein isn’t used to going head on against offensive lineman and didn’t seem able to get the same push Alexander often did.
Lorenzo Alexander wasn’t a slouch in coverage and broke up his share of passes last season. If Klein comes off as a bit physically weaker than Alexander, he also appears to be a bit more agile in coverage. Klein is like glue on Nick Vannett here.
This cut corroborates the edge on the agility front in comparison to Lorenzo Alexander. A.J. Klein is listed as five pounds lighter than the 245-lb Alexander but often looked like a much lighter player.
The anticipation and reaction time help explain why Klein was a starting linebacker. Often tasked with reacting to a lot of clutter in front of them, a speedy reaction is a critical thing to have. In the games reviewed, Klein was typically quick on the draw and heading in the right direction.
Lorenzo Alexander was asked to pass rush from the defensive end and defensive tackle, creating a more hybrid role rather than a strict linebacker. A.J. Klein was rarely asked to line up on the defensive line, but did get plenty of reps at the line of scrimmage similar to this one. Most often, Klein appeared responsible for keeping the edge contained rather than rushing the passer. And he did well with this task. However, as a pass rusher Klein didn’t see much success unless there was a gap to shoot through, whereas Alexander thrived playing in multiple spots.
Here we have a pass rush attempt that goes alright. The real beauty though is the recognition of the scramble and the pursuit.
Finally, to illustrate just how much A.J. Klein was trusted in coverage, here he is playing like a defensive back. While not a common sight, coverage snaps were far from rare, whereas Lorenzo Alexander’s time on passing downs was more focused on pass rush.
Cutting to the chase, A.J. Klein should absolutely NOT be expected to sub in for Lorenzo Alexander. A more coverage-oriented skill set with relative weaknesses in strength and pass rush skills puts Klein as a more traditional linebacker. It’s possible the Buffalo Bills are looking to use a little less nickel by placing a linebacker on the field who will see more time on passing downs by dropping back instead of rushing the passer.