Bills' Bradham gets first crack at weakside; devastated for Alonso
by Joe Buscaglia,posted Jul 21 2014 10:09AM
When all the players on the Buffalo Bills were busy enjoying their time away and preparing for whatever Fourth of July celebrations they had planned, they were simultaneously greeted by news that would have a distinct effect on their season. Top linebacker and defensive rookie of the year runner up Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL training in Oregon, likely ending his season.
Alonso played a key role for the Bills in 2013 in taking every single defensive snap and also serving as the signal caller for the defense. The team thought they could make him into an even more productive player just by switching him to weakside linebacker ahead of all the offseason workouts.
He seemed destined for another big step, but now they won’t get any satisfaction in the move likely until the 2015 season. In his stead, the man getting the first crack at the starting lineup at weakside is former fourth-round selection Nigel Bradham.
Bradham, however, couldn’t help but feel a bit torn when he initially heard the news about Alonso.
“Me and Kiko, we're close, we're just really close -- pretty much like brothers. For that to happen to him, somebody that works so hard. I know how he works hard, I work out with him,” he said. “It's a hurtful feeling for that to happen to such a good guy with great character.”
The adoration and subsequent sadness for the injured Alonso didn’t stop there. Bradham didn’t minimize the loss one bit.
“Huge part of the defense, leader of our defense, really. Signal caller, made tremendous plays. He's actually one of the best linebackers in the league right now,” he said. “So for that to happen [to someone] who works so hard, it's devastating, man. It really was.”
With weakside linebacker all but locked up by Alonso ahead of the July 1 news, Bradham was likely training to compete for the other outside linebacker position that wasn’t nearly as set in stone: strongside linebacker.
The Bills signed Keith Rivers in the offseason to a two-year contract to play that role, but it was also Bradham’s best chance to see the field in a defensive capacity. Those courses changed, almost immediately, when general manager Doug Whaley announced Alonso’s season was likely over.
“Any way I can contribute to the team, I know they're counting on me to step up,” Bradham remarked. “They know what I can do and I know what I can do. We can't replace Kiko but you can have some guys step up and make some plays just as well, and that's one of the things you have to do.”
The third-year player doesn’t have the job wrapped up by any means. However, he is the most natural fit to get time at weakside linebacker of any player on the active roster. While he doesn’t possess the same reaction time as the man he’s charged with replacing, Bradham still has plus-instincts that puts him in position to make plays dating back to his days at Florida State.
Before getting to Buffalo, he manned the weakside linebacker spot for the Seminoles throughout his career and flourished in that role. He was noted for his big hits and athletic ability, which helped him stick with the Bills as an important depth player.
Even heading into 2013, Bradham looked primed to take over as the inside linebacker next to Alonso in the team’s 3-4. He was getting ample repetitions with the first-team defense for the first two weeks at training camp.
Then, Bradham effectively shot himself in the foot with a brand new coaching staff that he was trying to impress. Following the team’s second preseason game in 2013, Bradham was pulled over at 2 am and ticketed for marijuana possession.
From that point forward, despite getting the charge dismissed in September, the linebacker had to effectively work his way up from the bottom once again. He was in the doghouse of head coach Doug Marrone. Arthur Moats took his place with the first-team defense and it wasn’t until late in the year that Bradham got meaningful snaps in games again.
He knew he screwed up and he still knows it to this day, which is why he brought it up Sunday without even being asked.
“I had a couple off-the-field issues that kind of set me back, because a lot of stuff went on. But that was one of those things, I just had to grow up and learn from that,” Bradham said. “I feel like that kind of humbled me and got me back to the ground like how I was before all of that stuff.”
The linebacker has a tremendous opportunity in front of him to take the reins at a high profile position in a 4-3 defense. Describing the weakside spot as one that allows players to free style and to “pretty much just roam around and just play football,” he could play a vital role for the Bills if he hangs on to the opportunity.
He will be challenged most notably by rookie third-round pick Preston Brown, but Bradham will get every chance to fulfill the potential the Bills saw in him as a rookie and even last year.
“You have to be ready for any opportunity that you have,” he said. “For me, it's exciting to be out there getting a lot of reps, making calls and just trying to make plays... make the defense better.”