Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We'll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 27th and the Sept. 10th opener at New Era Field against the New York Jets.
Realistically there are just two candidates for the Bills middle linebacker job. Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland. It should make for an interesting training camp battle. Below we lay out some of the key factors that could play into the final decision made by head coach Sean McDermott and his defensive staff.
Right off the bat, Preston Brown entered the competition for the starting middle linebacker job with a leg up. First and foremost he's played in a 4-3 system before at the 'mike' linebacker position, and was productive in doing so.
Reggie Ragland has not.
"There's some that I still have to get used to," said Ragland. "I never played in a 4-3 before, but I'm getting there and taking my time with it. I'm just asking all the questions that I can. It's different from being out there and then just being in the classroom, learning. I'm just taking my time."
Ragland also was not cleared to participate in any team periods of practice during the OTA practices, so he did not get to physically rep the plays and his assignments on defense until mandatory minicamp.
That has left Brown with all the first team reps at the position and all indications are he has performed admirably, though it's not yet real football. For Brown the competition doesn't faze him.
"I've been in competition since high school," said Brown. "With all the linebackers, not just Reggie but whoever it is, we're all competing to play. I mean, we're all trying to make the team better. The best three are going to play, [or] the best four or whoever is out there is going to play and have fun."
It's believed that whoever doesn't win the starting middle linebacker job will be moved outside, likely the strong side knowing both Brown and Ragland are two of the bigger linebackers on the roster. Brown played outside for two years in college at Louisville. Ragland only played outside at Alabama in pass rushing situations, but defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier believes Ragland is capable of making such a transition.
"We think he could potentially play outside," Frazier said. "We have a limited sample size based on his rookie season and that was just training camp so you have to look at his college tape and project. Based on our projections we think he could play the middle linebacker position and one of the outside positions."
Both Brown and Ragland sound more concerned with just playing than where they might be lining up in Buffalo's defense.
"Whatever happens, happens," Brown said. "I really don't have any preference or anything – I just want to play football. Whatever I can do to help the team, I'm going to do that."
"If I do (move outside), that just means that I have to learn it," said Ragland. "Just be a competitor. Just like I told the coaches, I will do whatever they need me to do to get on the field. If I have to do that, I will. I'm a competitor and I love this game. I love to play. If I've got to slide over, it's not going to stop me from working my tail off every day."
It should be an intense competition come training camp. Ragland clearly has more to overcome. He has to learn a new scheme in which he has never played and return to form off a long layoff. It won't be easy, but Ragland is unaffected.
"I'm a competitor. I know Preston and he's a competitor too," Ragland said. "I just have to come out and keep working hard, just like he does. Day in and day out. He's a very good player and a very smart player also. I've just got to make sure that once I am on the field, I am on my game."
Though no one knows for sure whether Brown or Ragland will nail down the middle linebacker job, what does seem certain is both will be on the field at one of the three linebacker positions this fall. Frazier all but confirmed as much this spring.
* *"You've got three linebackers on the field and we hope that we'll try to mesh the right three in our 4-3 scheme and maybe that'll be Lorenzo (Alexander) and Preston together or maybe it'll be a different configuration," said Frazier. "You always want to get your 11 best on the field and I believe that those guys (Brown and Ragland) will be part of our best 11."