Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Marrone impressed with Kiko-less linebacker corps


The Buffalo Bills linebacking corps was anything but a sure thing coming into this season, even before the injury to Kiko Alonso.

Despite the stellar play of the rookie in 2013, the unit was still adding two new pieces in Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers, and depth at the position was a concern. Alonso was slated to move into a new role as well, a transition that was likely to come with a learning curve.  

Alonso's season-ending knee injury further complicated things for new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, though coach Doug Marrone has been extremely pleased with the unit's performance thus far.

"With the linebacker concern with the injury to Kiko [Alonso] and then not having been with Brandon Spikes before, but obviously played against him, Brandon’s done a nice job with leadership," Marrone said this week, via "I think Nigel has really stepped up his game and is playing well. Keith Rivers is a guy that has been in this league, so you know what you’re going to get. He’s an ultimate pro.

"But then the other players, Preston Brown, Ty Powell, Randell [Johnson] you never know what you’re going to get with younger guys. They’ve come in and done a heck of a job. They’re young, they’re excited, they’re playing, they’re tackling. The thing that I’ve been most impressed with and why we’re doing such a good job, we’re tackling better now at this time of year than we did last year. 

"We need to continue that during the season."

The tackling has been very apparent against the run, where Schwartz's smothering schematic has worked to perfection thus far. In three preseason games, the defensive starters have only allowed 29 yards on 15 carries, according to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, and Marrone noted earlier in the week the presence of the linebackers when those big stops have occurred. 

"There’s three linebackers instead of two or sometimes one where we’ve been in the past, where some people have been able to make some big plays on us," Marrone said. "We’ve done a good job there of keeping the ball inside. The players have responded well to it."

The next big test for the unit will come Saturday, when the team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs are stocked with talent at the running back position this year, headlined by the return of Doug Martin after the sophomore missed half of last season with a shoulder injury.

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