In the 2014 offseason it was quite evident that the Buffalo Bills were not happy with the state of their linebackers. Even with both Kiko Alonso and Nigel Bradham on the roster, the team signed two free agents with the mentality to start both of them.
The additions of Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers gave the Bills a starting combination — or so they thought. Before they set foot on the St. John Fisher College campus, the team learned that their best young linebacker would not be available to them in 2014.
Alonso suffered a torn ACL during an offseason workout in Oregon which left the Bills with just another question to answer at linebacker. They found the answer — at least for 2014 — in Bradham, a former fourth-round selection that has yet to crack the starting lineup consistently in his young career.
Midway through training camp, the Bills had yet another query to respond to with their lineup. Bradham, who was cited for a marijuana charge in August of 2013, finally received a suspension from the National Football League for his actions. Banned for the first game of the season, head coach Doug Marrone and defensive coordinator needed to come to a decision on which young player would be entrusted with the vacated responsibilities.
Barring any other setbacks, the Bills have found their man in rookie linebacker Preston Brown.
“Right from the beginning when we were in there, for me when I first watched the film, my impression was that this reminds me of Kiko last year,” Marrone said. “He’s a very good tackler, obviously. He has all those tackles and played very well.”
“It's something that I really probably didn't think of when I first got drafted,” Brown said of making his first start in the first game of his career. “I mean, I'm dreaming every night about the game so it's kind of like a big starting to set in right now that you're gonna be out there the first game.”
Brown won’t be filling in for Alonso and Bradham in the truest sense. The main responsibilities of that duo was as a weakside linebacker, but the Bills plan to utilize a more practiced hand at that specific spot with the veteran Rivers.
Instead, Brown, a bigger and stronger build of linebacker, will take Rivers’ usual role as the strongside linebacker against the Chicago Bears. He’s listed that way on the team’s unofficial depth chart, and he confirmed that it would indeed be his role on Sunday.
“It's more tight end based, but on the strongside of course,” Brown said of the differences. “Just being more physical on the tight end, make sure you set that edge on the strongside.”
It’s a big spot for a rookie on a team that believes they are close to contending for a postseason berth. While Brown admitted that he’s expecting some nervous energy, he also knows it will subside once the game finally gets underway.
“Yeah, it'll start building up,” Brown said of the anticipated bus ride over to Soldier Field. “I only get nervous right before kickoff, that's the big thing with me. I'm cool throughout the whole week right before the kickoff, when I get that first tackle, then I'm good to go.”
Due for a matchup against one of the toughest offensive opponents they’ll encounter all season, the Bills will surely need him to kick the normal rookie nerves to the curb — and quickly.
Brown and the Bills will take on the Bears Sunday at 1 pm.