Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley made an appearance on WGR 550's The Howard Simon Show on Friday morning, and shed some light on the team's linebacker situation as Jim Schwartz begins to fill out his 4-3 defense.
Whaley confirmed that the team is planning on moving second-year pro Kiko Alonso to the weak side, something that he strongly hinted at in February at the NFL Combine. Free agent signee Keith Rivers has been penciled in as the starting strong-side linebacker, the team is in the market for a middle linebacker, and 2013 strong-side linebacker Manny Lawson was described as a "hybrid guy" that will split his time between outside linebacker and defensive end.
"That, right now, is the plan," Whaley said of moving Alonso outside. "We’re going to move him outside, have Rivers on the other outside, and then we’re gonna have to field an inside ‘backer. We’ve got some guys on campus that we’re excited about, and then we’re gonna keep our eyes open for anybody else that’s out there."
The move is a good one in theory for Alonso, who played every snap for the Bills as a rookie but wore down a bit as the year went on; he'll have a bit more freedom and won't take on as many blocks in his new role.
Whaley's inclusion of Rivers as a possible starter may surprise some, but the team clearly thinks quite highly of his skill set.
"He’s a four-down linebacker," Whaley said of the former New York Giants starter. "He can play the first and second downs, the typical run downs. He can stay in on third down and cover, because he’s got athletic ability. And then he contributes on teams."
Similarly, reading between the lines might lead one to believe that Lawson's role will diminish significantly under Schwartz (he played 706 snaps last season for Mike Pettine). Whaley's comments on Lawson carried a similar vibe to the comments Pettine made about Mark Anderson last spring. That's not to say Lawson will be released, of course - he still has three years left on his contract - but he does seem like the odd man out at the moment. Whaley spoke highly of his versatility on Friday morning.
"I think he’s gonna be a hybrid player. He’s gonna be able to bring us something as an outside linebacker, but also come off the edge as a defensive end. So his versatility, again, is going to be utilized in this system, that we think is going to be very valuable for us," Whaley said of Lawson.
As for the middle linebacker position, Whaley mentioned Ty Powell as a player that the team likes, but given that they have been hosting free agent linebackers this spring, it's also clear that they're in the market for a starting-caliber player there, as well. Alonso is a three-down player, and the team apparently believes Rivers is too, so the Bills' middle linebacker spot is now looking like a two-down role.