No defined roles for Bills LBs just yet; Thursday mini-camp recap
by Joe Buscaglia,posted Jun 21 2012 5:12PM
In the final day of practice before the Buffalo Bills break for a month, the team got in their last bit of team drills and semi-scrimmaging.
The reason I write "semi-scrimmaging" is due to the fact that the team can only have so much contact during this off-season workouts. On Wednesday, I kept a close eye on the rotation at linebacker throughout the 11-on-11's. Most notably, I wanted to see who lined up where and what role they assumed on given plays.
The conclusion? Either the Bills don't have players pigeonholed in to specific roles just yet, or that's the way Dave Wannstedt wants his linebacking core to look. This all comes with the obvious justification that it is only off-season workouts, and you can't draw too many defined conclusions from them. But it was interesting to see so many guys working at so many different spots even on a play-to-play basis.
Here's the rundown of who took first team reps and where throughout the day:
Kelvin Sheppard - Unknown minor injury, didn't participate on Thursday. Expects to be ready for training camp. Plays the 'Mike' exclusively.
Nick Barnett - Lined up at all three spots at certain points throughout the practice. Diagnosed as the 'Mike' on more than one occasion.
Kirk Morrison - One of the few that played exclusively at one spot. In the few plays he had -- based on the offense running, three and four wide receiver sets without the requirement of having him in there -- Morrison played the 'Sam.'
Bryan Scott - Besides his obvious role as nickel linebacker, on five-wide sets Scott was the 'Mike,' as the only technical linebacker on the field.
Nigel Bradham - Played a fair bit of both 'Sam' and 'Will' throughout the session. I don't recall him getting a look at 'Mike' on Thursday.
Danny Batten - At times commanded the huddle as the 'Mike,' and also the 'Sam' on three-wide sets. Played some 'Will' as well. My best guess for him is that they don't know where his best position is just yet.
Arthur Moats - Played the 'Mike' at times and also dropped in to coverage as the 'Sam.' Also did some work as the 'Will.' I think he's probably in the same boat as Batten in terms of finding a defined spot. That's really nothing new for him in his career.
Scott McKillop - With no Sheppard during team drills, McKillop came in and assumed the 'Mike' role on some first team reps. If he makes the team, that will likely be his primary role.
Rookie Tank Carder didn't get a rep with the first team, meanwhile Chris White is coming off his major knee injury from last season and didn't take any team reps.
I asked Sheppard if it's just a matter of getting guys experience early on at a bunch of different spots or if that's the major ideology of Wannstedt's defense. He spoke of the former.
"There's about 11 or 12 different linebackers here right now. It's not gonna be that many after camp," the linebacker said. "You never know, you never know who's going to be here, you never know who's going to go down in training camp, so you want the whole room to be ready and that's what we're doing right now."
The Bills have said previously they would like their outside linebackers to have versatility and play both the 'Sam' and 'Will.' I just found it interesting to see it in action during the Bills' final off-season workout.
Outside of where the linebackers lined up, there were some good and bad days just like any.
Since I just went in to full detail about them, there was one linebacker that caught my eye. Nigel Bradham has been very impressive in what he's been able to do with such a limited time in the playbook. He makes good reads to his assignments and gets there to break up some plays. We all know about his hitting prowess, but it's his speed and instincts that have stood out the most to me.
If there's ever an injury to one of the three starters, in my opinion he's the likely next man in. If it's Sheppard that can't play, I wouldn't be surprised if Barnett had to move inside to 'Mike,' bringing Bradham in to assume the 'Will' in three-linebacker sets. It's early, but that makes the most sense to me right now.
I'm fairly intrigued by the prospects of one of the Bills' newest signees, H-back Dorin Dickerson. With the type of unique skill-set he has, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he were to make the team outright. He's been getting first team reps each day at practice, and gives Chan Gailey another viable receiving option to play with that could stretch a defense. He just seems to be the type Gailey would like to keep around.
For the not-so-good days, I'd have to start with Chris Hairston. He has the toughest assignment of any lining up across from Mario Williams every day, but a couple times it just wasn't even a contest. Williams blew right by Hairston for an obvious sack a pair of times. I don't even think Hairston got a hand on him.
Once Erik Pears is back, Hairston will be in a training camp battle against Cordy Glenn for the starting left tackle job according to the head coach. When asked about it today, Gailey said he wasn't sure who would win the starting job. Glenn took every single rep at left tackle with the first team that the media was allowed to see.
Finally, Leodis McKelvin had his old bugaboo creep up on him today. On two separate occasions the cornerback was right where he needed to be to make a play, but the receiver went over the top of him to make the play and come down with the ball. The most notable one occurred early on when Donald Jones caught the ball while McKelvin had his back to Ryan Fitzpatrick. He did make a play in a similar instance as the practice progressed.
With mini-camp now all wrapped up, the Bills have a little over a month to soak up the last ounce of their off-season. The next time they get back to work is when they report for training camp on July 25 at St. John Fisher College. The first practice session is on July 26.