Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bills' nickel linebacker spot next to Kiko up for grabs


With a switch to a more traditional 4-3 scheme, the Buffalo Bills will be able to utilize their linebacking talent to hopefully execute a more efficient run-stopping scheme, an area in which the defense struggled in 2013.

But what happens when three linebackers on the field turns into two?

In talking with Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, coach Doug Marrone said Tuesday he's positive about one three-down linebacker on the roster, last year's Rookie of the Year finalist, Kiko Alonso. That second spot in nickel package, however, will be earned in the offseason.

"Keith Rivers played three downs out there before. Brandon Spikes has been out there before in nickel," Marrone said. "And like I told those guys, 'We'll go out and practice and see what we'll do and start putting the best players in the best positions.'

"The thing I like is when you get players that want to be out there the whole time. You'll have an opportunity to prove you belong out there for three downs."

Rivers and Spikes, both new additions to the roster via free agency, struggled a bit against the pass in their respective roles last season. Rivers slightly outperformed Spikes in coverage according to ProFootballFocus, though Spikes took 262 more snaps than his new teammate. 

If either man doesn't prove worthy enough to play all three downs, Buffalo also has strong-side linebacker Manny Lawson at their disposal, who was the team's next best linebacking option against the pass after Alonso in 2013. In fact, the 29-year-old was tops among all 3-4 outside linebackers in coverage, according to PFF. Youngster Nigel Bradham, though limited in his time on field last season, also performed well. 

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