Sunday, August 22, 2010

Your 2010 Buffalo Bills Preview: Linebacker edition

The deal

Honestly, you could make the case that after the quarterbacks, the linebacking core may be the weakest depth chart for the team. You have guys that are either switching positions from defensive end to linebacker or you have guys that are injury prone. If you think nose tackle was the biggest question mark for the Bills transformation to a 3-4 defense, you must have not taken a glance at the Bills linebacker depth chart.

NFL coaches who institute the 3-4 defense always speak about the importance of having a lot of talent at the linebacker spot. Think of the linebackers that the Steelers have had over the last 15 years, guys like Joey Porter, Kevin Greene, Chad Brown, Greg Llyod and LaMarr Woodley were all-pros that a defense could build around. As for the Bills, they just don't seem to have those type of linebackers on the roster.

The basis of what you want your linebackers to accomplish in a 3-4 defense goes like this:

The linebacker unit is made up of two inside linebackers flanked by two outside linebackers (OLBs). The OLBs often line up closer to the line of scrimmage than the ILBs, while being lined up next to the defensive ends and may also be positioned at the same depth or deeper in coverage than the ILBs.

Strengths of the 3-4 include speedy ILBs and OLBs in pursuit of backs in run defense and flexibility to use multiple rushers to confuse the quarterback during passing plays without being forced into man-to-man defense on receivers.

The 3-4 linebackers must be very athletic and strong enough to shed blocks by fullbacks, tight ends, and offensive linemen to get to the running back. In most cases, 3-4 OLBs lead their teams in quarterback sacks. (Wikipedia)

Got that?

The Players
Chris Kelsay-Outside Linebacker (Starter)
Last year: 5 sacks and 83 tackles

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not a fan of Chris Kelsay. Yes, he's a leader, but for a guy pocketing 5-6 million dollars a year, I'd have liked to see more of an impact. Sorry, but the high-motor compliment that seems to resonate on some of the members of the Bills front seven is whithering away with this writer. Kelsay's 22 career sacks didn't do much for me when he was the starting defensive end and now that he's making the transition to outside linebacker, I'm even more concerned about his production. Frankly, If I were the Bills, I would have cut Kelsay for a few reasons: 1) He's entering the last year of his contract. 2) He's over 30 years old. 3) He's learning a new position.

I'm not sure how the Bills plan on using Kelsay, but if they just ask him to rush the passer, then the experiment of transitioning to an outside linebacker won't be that big of a change for him. However, if Kelsay is asked to drop back into coverage and has to cover running backs or tight ends, then this is going to be a disaster. Frankly, even when Kelsay is just rushing the passer, I'm still not floored by his skills. He's just not quick enough to make it around the corner to be a constant pass rusher.

Reggie Torbor-Outside Linebacker (Starter)
Last year: 1 sack and 46 tackles

Who??? Yes, that's what I said when I found out that Torbor was starting at outside linebacker. I really don't have much to say about the guy. He played for the Dolphins last year under linebacker coach and now current Bills defensive coordinator George Edwards, and contributed one sack and 46 tackles. The scouting reports say that Torbor is very athletic with excellent agility and closing speed. However, he's undersized and doesn't play well in pass coverage.

Bottom line: You want an OLB that can get to the quarterback and 6.5 sacks in six years doesn't cut it. BTW, he only started two games last year.

Paul Poszluzny- Inside Linebacker (Starter)
Last year: 1 sack, 3 interceptions, and 134 tackles
Face facts, if Paul Poszluzny didn't have a polish name or if he didn't hail from the same college as Shane Conlan attended, he would be viewed as just another guy for the Bills. For a linebacking core that's as thin as the Bills have, Poz has to be be counted on to make plays. Unfortunately, if you look at Poz's first three years in the NFL, I don't exactly have the confidence that he can make those plays.

Now, in fairness to Poz, some of his setbacks have been due to injuries; missing 17 games over his career. However, even when he's healthy, he doesn't do enough in penetrating the line of scrimmage and he seems to be a liability on passing downs. Now, Poz's biggest contribution is that he plays well against the run, if he's going downhill. However, when Poz has to go lateral, he just lacks the quickness that you would want in your linebacker.

If there's one thing that Poz should look forward to with the change to a 3-4 defense, its how he's going to have another inside linebacker playing next to him to help cover the field.

This is going to be a pivotal year for Poz, as he's a free agent after this year. I know some Poz fans will say that he was held back in a cover 2 defense because he wasn't called upon to blitz all that much. In a 3-4 defense, he'll be allowed to blitz and attack the QB more. If Poz doesn't make enough plays this year, I think you can chalk up finding a inside linebacker to the Bills offseason wish list.

Andra Davis- Inside Linebacker (Starter)
Last year: 3.5 sacks and 113 tackles
I'll make it short and simple about Andra Davis: The guy knows how to play against the run. Of course, I haven't watched enough Browns or Broncos games to know that, but that's what the scouting report says about him. Davis has 3 seasons of 100 tackles or more and should make a decent one/two punch with Poz in stopping the run.

Another thing going for Davis is that he doesn't get injured (Knocking on a huge Maplewood Tree), unlike the rest of the Bills roster. Davis hasn't missed a game since 2006 and has only been lost for seven of a possible 128 starts. That's pretty impressive considering that he plays one of the more physical demanding positions at inside linebacker.

Davis is a big hitter and can diagnose plays very quickly. His biggest issue is that he doesn't play well in pass coverage (Like Poz) and is getting up there in age.

Kawika Mitchell: Inside Linebacker (Back-up)
last Year: O sacks and 37 tackles
Well, if it isn't Mr. Twitter himself, Kawika Mitchell. The former Giants linebacker is coming back from a season ending injury. Mitchell kind of runs hot/cold with his play. He's probably the most explosive linebacker in terms of speed, but sometimes his mind doesn't catch up to his skills. Mitchell bites a lot on play action and he tends to take some god awful angles when pursuing ball carriers.

I also have to wonder if Mitchell's salary and the fact that he's coming off a major injury may make him a training camp casualty. Mitchell makes a little more then $3 million a year and is currently listed 3rd on the depth chart, which means he's not starting (Duh). Now, it should be noted that Mitchell is probably the only inside linebacker who can play on 3rd and long situations. So, maybe I'm reading too much into the Bills looking to save money. Hell, they don't have to pay Aaron Schobel the 8 million dollars that he was suppose to earn this year.

Frankly, I don't understand why the Bills don't have Mitchell play OLB. He has the speed to rush the quarterback and looks to have the build of a OLB that you would want. I'd rather see Mitchell playing outside than some dude named Torbor.

Aaron Maybin- Outside Linebacker (Back-up)
Last year: 0 sacks and 25 tackles
When it was leaked that the Bills were going to a 3-4 defense, even without hiring their head coach, my only assumption for the switch was so the team could jump start Aaron Maybin's career. If you look at Maybin, he looks like your prototypical outside linebacker. You want your OLB to be quick off the edge and Maybin seems to possess that quality. The problem for Maybin is that he's extremely raw. He doesn't have a counter move to his standard bull rush tactic, and he has only started a season worth of games at the college and pro level.

The other issue going against Maybin is that he's not particularly liked by the media or most Bills fans. Look, I get that the guy over celebrates when he makes plays and that he will probably bronze his cleats when he gets his first career sack, but can we stop with the overkill on the guy's celebrations. Gees, thank goodness T.O. didn't get in the endzone all that much last year or war would have been declared. It's the nature of football these days. It's all about celebration and that's how it goes.

Here's the bottom line about Maybin: When the guy came out of college, a lot of the scouts had termed him as being a project. Many experts thought that Maybin going to the Bills would be beneficial because he wouldn't have to be hurried to start. Mainly, because he was playing behind Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay. A year later, everything has completely changed. Schobel has retired, the Bills aren't running a 4-3 defense, and the team is now in desperate need of pass rushers. Even still, patience has to be the name of the game with Maybin.

Look, I'd love for Maybin to come out and get 10 sacks this year and start. However, the bottom line is that he's learning a new position and still needs seasoning. Even if Maybin has a downer of a year, you can't just say he's a bust. I know the media wants to forget what the experts said about him being a project; in order for them to crap on him even more, but he's still developing. He's a project and we won't get the benefits of his play until next year at least.

I'll say this, when you see the guy rushing off the edge, I can't help but think that there's something there with his talent. He's got the speed and explosiveness that you would want from your OLB. Maybin's got the talent, however, he just needs someone to teach him how to get the most out of his physical gifts.

Chris Ellis- Outside Linebacker (Back-up)
Last year: 0 sacks and 8 tackles
Normally for my Buffalo Bills previews, I wouldn't dive this deep into a roster position. However, the Bills outside linebacker position is so thin and so average, that all of these guys will probably get playing time in some shape or form. Hence the reason I'm going to write about Chris Ellis. The former 3rd round pick from the 2008 draft hasn't really gotten onto the field, due in large part to injuries. However, when he's been healthy, he hasn't brought anything to the table.

Now, Ellis is switching positions (what else is new with the OLBs?), which seems to fit his game because he's a bit undersized, but has a quick first step.

On a side note, I don't understand how Torbor or Ellis can get more snaps than Maybin. These guys aren't good and the team has absolutely no long-term investment in either of the two players. If this is what stands in Maybin's way of getting on the field, then I'd be more inclined to just throw the kid in the lion's den and have him learn on the fly. I'm all about baptism by fire with young players, especially if the players in front of them aren't worth taking to church.

What I like about the linebackers?

1) The inside linebackers play well against the run.

2) Andra Davis will be a nice compliment to Poz.

3) Um, they are kind of young (Looking for anything).

What I don't like about the linebackers?

1) They can't cover a lick in the passing game.

2) The four starters have a combined 41.5 sacks for their careers.

3) The outside linebackers don't seem to be threats for rushing the passer.

4) Not fast enough.

1 comment:

  1. Well, now that Torbor is hurt, you will get your wish and see maybin play.

    I fully expect to see moonsaults from him when he sacks Matt Cassel.