The Buffalo Bills were without star linebacker Matt Milano when they played the New York Jets in Week 9. With Milano out, the Bills turned to rookie linebacker Terrel Bernard as their chosen replacement. To say Bernard had heavy shoes to fill is a huge understatement. Let’s take a look at how he did in his first significant action as a pro.
Bernard needs to work on physicality
Here we see Bernard struggle a bit with the physicality of the game. Pre-snap, Bernard is lined up over the left guard. At the snap, Bernard engages tight end Tyler Conklin, who pulls up into the hole as a lead blocker for running back Ty Johnson. Once Bernard makes contact with Conklin, he gets pushed back and then pancaked. From there, Johnson easily runs by Bernard.
Bernard’s move-and-cover skills on-point
The ability to move and cover is essential for a linebacker in the NFL, and Bernard possesses those skills. To start, Bernard is lined up over the receiver. When the ball snaps, Bernard discards the wideout, and then goes out to cover Johnson as he runs out for the pass play (Bernard goes foot for foot with him the entire time). The ball didn’t end up coming Bernard’s way, but being able to mirror the back like he did puts him in a good position to make the play if the throw does come his way.
Bernard’s biggest weakness is vs. power
Again, we see Bernard struggle with the strength and power elements of the game. Center Connor McGovern comes out to the second level to block Bernard. McGovern makes contact with Bernard, and he can’t shed the block—if the safety doesn’t come in to make the play, this becomes a longer gain.
Bernard’s lack of experience on display
Another quality any starting linebacker needs is the ability to read the offensive backfield. Pre-snap, Bernard is lined up on the left side of the defense. At the snap, the running back goes left. Bernard goes straight up toward the right side of the offensive line, while the running back is going left (Bernard is going the opposite way of the play). You can see the difference in experience between linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Bernard. When Edmunds comes downhill, he does it hard while going near the ball carrier.
Pursuit a strength of Bernard’s
Bernard has pretty solid sideline-to-sideline speed. Here, we get to see Bernard when he knows where he’s going (reads the backfield) and there are no linemen or blockers for him to deal with. When the ball is snapped, Bernard runs well to the sideline, helps cut off the runner’s angle, and makes the tackle on the back.
Bernard’s form in need of work
The Jets run a screen here to running back Michael Carter, with McGovern as the lead blocker. Bernard comes in and explodes to make the tackle. He tries to beat McGovern to make the stop, and in doing so takes an awful dive tackle with his head down to the ground (he can’t see anything). He completely whiffs on the attempt, and Carter runs by him.
Bernard’s pure athleticism on display
Here we get to see some of Bernard’s explosiveness and twitchiness. When the ball is snapped, Bernard bursts past the left tackle who climbs up to the second level to block him; the left tackle barely got a hand on him. Bernard then makes the tackle on the running back as the left tackle watches from behind.
Bernard certainly had his ups and downs, as any rookie linebacker making their first start in the NFL would. The Jets are a good team with a strong offensive line and solid running game. Bernard is very athletic—and excels as a quick and explosive linebacker. When you watch him, you see the potential of a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can cover well—particularly running backs out of the backfield.
Did his first true game action leave you with any strong opinions moving forward?