In Josh Stamer's five years with the Bills he has shown that he is one of the most dominant special teams players on the Bills roster. He finds himself in a similar situation this season; he is fighting for a roster spot with other very worthy players.
Stamer, Roy Manning and rookie free agent Thaddeus Washington have been making strides in showing they deserve to be among the final 53. However, there is realistically only one spot available for them.
Angelo Crowell, John DiGiorgio, Keith Ellison, Mario Haggan, Paul Posluszny and Coy Wire appear to be the top six linebacker candidates right now. Buffalo kept seven linebackers last season and that could very well be the case again for the 2007 campaign.
With playing time limited for back up linebackers, each player must prove they can contribute elsewhere. When the time comes to make final cuts one thing that will be focused on is if the team's reserve linebackers can perform on special teams.
"As a backup linebacker if you aren't starting you better be a good special teamer to be kept on the team," said Stamer. "You have to contribute somehow to the team winning."
As a special teams contributor Stamer has made himself a prized possession for the Bills. Stamer has 75 career special teams tackles 47 of which are solo tackles. A major factor in making the roster, Stamer's special teams abilities will give him a major edge in the eyes of the coaching staff.
This training camp is no different than any other, battling for a roster spot is not an unfamiliar situation for Stamer. As one of the hardest workers on the team Stamer has shown time and time again that his work ethic is difficult to match.
"Regardless if there is someone young pushing me from behind, I'm going out there everyday and every play giving it my all regardless of who is behind me and who is in front of me," said Stamer. "That is just my attitude and my character."
Stamer is clearly a standout when it comes to special teams contributions. Although special teams is a significant factor to who makes the team, performance on the field defensively also weighs heavily in that decision. And when it comes to defensive contributions the playing field is level.
Manning came to the Bills late in 2006 when the injury-plagued linebacking corps was wearing thin. While he was inactive for the final four games last season, he is the agile type of linebacker the Bills are looking for. Manning also offers the flexibility that is required in the Bills defensive scheme.
"I am playing the WILL now and I started camp at SAM so I have already switched positions," said Manning. "You need to know all the positions. Even the inside guys, everybody needs to know what the other guys are doing just to have a better understanding of what you have to do."
As a three-year NFL veteran Manning has the mentality required for a player who is battling for a roster spot in training camp.
"Me personally I don't like to get into the numbers, I learned that as a rookie. Just play hard and control what you can control," said Manning. "I have already trained myself on no matter how the situation looks just to focus on what I can do."
As veterans Stamer and Manning have the necessary mentality to block out the daily battle for a roster spot. What they also hold over rookie Thaddeus Washington is the versatility to play multiple linebacker positions.
Washington for the most part is limited to playing the middle linebacker position due to some limitations in terms of covering ground. Despite only getting reps at one position, Washington is using the seven-on-seven drills for the younger players after practice to show he valuable enough as just a middle linebacker.
"It's a big help to be able to go through some plays that the first and second defense were running to show you can do the same things as the other guys," said Washington.
Despite his lack of versatility, Washington brings something to the table. Entering his senior season at Colorado he was voted the hardest hitting linebacker in the Big 12. He showed that he can pack a punch in a punt rush drill as he bowled over special teams ace Sam Aiken on one particular rep. His hard hitting could make him an eye-catcher for the coaching staff.
As a rookie Washington is trying to avoid dwelling on the numbers game at the linebacker position. Instead he has been focusing on the future.
"There are so many ways to look at this; one way is to stay positive. Keep looking forward, you can't look back at the negative things," said Washington. "A lot of things may happen but you have to keep working. It will make you a better person and better football player."
As he continues to focus on the positives from practice it will be important that Washington shows that he can be productive despite some limitations in versatility.
The Bills coaching staff will most likely look for a player who can play at more than one linebacker position. That factor could ultimately rule out Washington in the battle for a roster spot. Both Stamer and Manning can be moved around to various linebacker positions, which obviously helps their cause.
Don't be surprised to see Stamer back for another season with the Bills. Along with Sam Aiken and Coy Wire, Stamer has cemented himself as one of the top special teams contributors on the roster.