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Buffalo Bills 2022 camp battles: Third linebacker

Who is the backup to the Big Two?

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills released A.J. Klein this offseason to save salary cap space. But in the process of doing that, the team lost their most experienced depth on the entire roster. (In Buffalo’s nickel base scheme, only two linebackers are considered starters.) The former starter for Sean McDermott in Carolina was a great safety net to have, and with him gone, Buffalo’s depth at linebacker will surely be tested.

The top linebackers—Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds—have missed a combined nine regular-season games over the last two years, so their backups have certainly received playing time. In 2020, Klein played nearly 61% of the snaps before dropping back to 26% in 2021.

To replace Klein on the roster, the Bills spent a third-round pick on a young linebacker, but does he have the inside track to the position?

We continue our look at the position battles of training camp with the third linebacker spot.

Tyrel Dodson vs Terrel Bernard

I narrowed it down to these two for a specific reason; when Edmunds and Milano have been out, Dodson was the only guy to get starts and playing time. Andre Smith and Tyler Matakevich only saw the field in mop-up duty, so Dodson is the primary holdover option.

Bernard was drafted in the third round, which means the Bills really liked what he can bring to the table and now. By using a Day 2 pick on a linebacker, they gave him a vote of confidence that isn’t seen for most depth positions. Usually they are drafting key contributors in the third round. Bernard’s style of play and body type more closely align with Matt Milano, and he could just be the backup here for the next four years, but that seems like a big investment for a long-term backup.

Dodson played in 16 games last year and ten in 2020. He started two games in 2020 and has shown flashes of solid play in those games. I think his experience gives him the edge here, but it may only be a matter of time before the third-rounder takes over.

The way head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier prioritize the scheme and making rookies earn their spots, it feels like an inevitability that Dodson is going to get the first call.

Prediction: Dodson starts the year as LB3.