One of the more interesting wrinkles to the Buffalo Bills' new coaching staff under Doug Marrone and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is the presence of two linebackers coaches. Jim O'Neil followed Pettine to Buffalo from New York, and the team also plucked former Rice defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach to coach up the position, as well. Pettine's defense is linebacker-intensive, and with players rotating between multiple positions so frequently, having two teachers on hand should help.
They'll have their work cut out for them, too: not only are they teaching a brand new defense, but their two projected starters on the inside are a rookie and a second-year pro with less than a season's worth of starting experience.
- Age: 22 (23 in August)
- Contract: Signed through the 2016 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.
Alonso, a second-round pick out of Oregon, is the Bills' big-name addition to replace the departed Nick Barnett, released in February. One of the more instinctual linebackers to come into the league within the past few years, Alonso has good athleticism and play-making ability, and he's got enough length and strength to play multiple positions for the Bills. He projects very well into this type of defense, but clearly, he faces very high expectations as a rookie that's supposed to walk into a starting lineup and anchor a defense from day one. How he fares early in his career could make or break the Bills defensively in the early portions of the 2013 season.
- Age: 23 (24 in September)
- Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $480,000 in base salary in 2013.
There's no reason to question Bradham's athletic ability; he's very fast, moves well in space and can really lay the lumber when things line up right. That athletic ability gives Bradham the upside of a NFL-caliber starter. There was some buzz on Bradham toward the end of the 2012 season when his playing time increased, and he put enough good film on tape to reasonably assume that he'll win a starting job this summer. Keep in mind, however, that Bradham still hasn't been a three-down defender at the NFL level, and has a lot to prove in terms of being consistent with his run fits and handling a likely increase in coverage responsibilities should he indeed win a starting job. Expect growing pains.
- Age: 32
- Contract: Signed through the 2013 season. Scheduled to make $940,000 in base salary in 2013.
Scott was the recipient of a one-year contract extension yet again this off-season, but we won't know exactly how much playing time he's in line for within the new defense until the games are played. We can, however, reasonably expect Scott's role to expand beyond the simple nickel and dime linebacker, package-specific role he played for the team's last two defensive coordinators. He'll still play those responsibilities, but we may also see him play a bit more of his natural safety position this season, as well.
- Age: 25
- Contract: Signed through the 2013 season. Scheduled to make $1.323 million in base salary in 2013.
Most assumed that Moats would move back to outside linebacker under Pettine - he was a defensive end in college, after all - but instead he's stayed inside as a second-team inside 'backer this spring. That added versatility as a pass rusher will help Moats in his bid to make the team (as will his special teams ability), but unless a guy like Bradham crashes and burns this summer, it's hard to envision Moats competing for a starting gig.
- Age: 24
- Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $555,000 in base salary in 2013.
No Bills player is on the field for special teams snaps more than White, who covers kicks and punts and blocks on punt and kick returns - and does all of these things very well. It will be interesting to see how the Bills use him defensively this pre-season; he may not have the same level of versatility as some of the other names at this position, and his special teams ability alone isn't enough to guarantee him a roster spot.
- Age: 24
- Contract: Signed through the 2013 season. Scheduled to make $480,000 in base salary in 2013.
The Bills added Lloyd to the practice squad last season when injuries struck, and by the end of the season he was on the active roster logging some special teams snaps (five of them, to be exact). The Connecticut product played against Marrone's Syracuse teams collegiately, so there will be some familiarity here. He'll need a very strong summer to crack the final roster.
- Age: 24
- Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.
A former undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, Smith was signed to a reserve/future contract in January and faces long odds of making the 53-man roster this summer. He spent part of last season on the Bills' practice squad.
It's tough to figure how many of these players the Bills will want to keep on the roster this year, given that positions bleed into one another; you'll see safeties and perhaps even outside linebackers taking snaps away from names on this list in 2013. The best way to rationalize it, to our eye, is to try to identify the best football players, and there may not be more than two mortal locks (Alonso and Bradham) for the roster on this list. Scott, Moats and White also add tangible value to the roster, but for some or all of those players (but especially White), they may need to prove themselves versatile enough to hang in Pettine's defense as a deep reserve.
As for the level of performance we can expect from this group: that all depends on how quickly Alonso and Bradham can assimilate to the defense and play the game fast. Even if they're slow out of the gate, if there is significant progress by year's end, that will be a win for an organization that has been very bad at this position for a number of years now.