For the second time in three seasons, a void is left in the middle of the Buffalo Bills defense because of an injury to middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. The broken bone in his arm suffered during the first half of Monday night's loss to the Patriots will keep him out for almost half the season, so the team is turning to backup linebacker Marcus Buggs for the home opener against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
The status of Posluszny's injury and the amount of games he could miss were hot topics at One Bills Drive this week. The attention turned squarely to Buggs, making his first NFL start while replacing a productive defensive leader and captain. Buggs said he understands the situation, but feels the time is now to prove himself in the league.
"This is what I've been working for my entire life, through high school, college, in the offseason," Buggs said. "My time has come and (it's) best I take the opportunity and run with it."
Buggs, who signed as an undrafted free agent in May 2008 out of Vanderbilt, was promoted to the 53-man roster in October from the practice squad. He earned special teams duties in his first regular season game against Miami Oct. 26, only to be placed on injured reserve a month later with a high ankle sprain.
Coach Dick Jauron said the uncertainty of injuries gives Buggs a chance to step in and fill a need at the position.
"Right now our plan is to move Buggsy up in there and look at different things," Jauron said. "Obviously, we've got to have people ready to play in there because you don't know—you never know. Just like with Paul, you can lose guys and we hope we don't. But our plan right now is to move Marcus up and let him go, he's a good player."
During the offseason, Buggs moved from the 'will' position at outside linebacker to the middle, where he played considerably well in training camp and preseason games. Although he is undersized by NFL standards (5-11, 225), Buggs aggressive style and experience playing all three linebacker positions made the transition smoother. His performance and the ability to grasp the techniques in a short amount of time gave the coaches confidence in naming Buggs the starter.
"He's really gotten better each week in commanding and controlling the defense," linebackers coach Matt Sheldon said. "I think he's ready. Based on playing time in the preseason, he's actually played more than Paul. So he's had his trial by fire in the games and we're excited about his opportunity."
As the quarterback of the defense, the middle linebacker is responsible for making numerous pre-snap checks and placing defenders in the right coverages. Sheldon said Buggs' ability to manage the flow of the game is a key to his success on Sunday and one his greatest improvements since moving to the position in the spring.
"A big part of the mike linebacker's job is game management, so he needs to focus on that. From there once he gets the hand signals and gets used to the microphone, we're obviously going to have him on his own assignments. They're all equally important and we anticipate him having a good outcome.," Sheldon said. "He's made good strides and showed improvements with his pad level and leverage in the preseason. And as we said, his game management is getting better all the time."
Buggs said gaining the confidence of his teammates in the game will be a result of preparing for his responsibilities.
"It's all about me doing the right things and making the right calls in the huddle," Buggs said. "Gaining their confidence, knowing I will be able to get them lined up from play to play."
Considering the fact Posluszny left the game in the second quarter Monday, Buggs received a number of snaps against one of the league's top offenses in the Patriots—playing time that can only help the adjustment to full-time duty.
"Mentally and getting my feet this past weekend helps me a little bit for this weekend," Buggs said. "The aggression and speed of the game, I won't have to get too used to it. There is good and bad things—Poz got hurt, but I get a little experience heading into the weekend."
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell agreed.
"I think it will help him. I think the voice, his presence on the field, I think all those things are important to the guys around him too," he said.
It doesn't hurt playing beside two veteran linebackers in Kawika Mitchell and Keith Ellison, players who know the system and can help from a communication standpoint.
In the event the middle situation needs adjustment Sunday, Fewell said a plan has been devised to shift Ellison to the middle and rookie Nic Harris would take the outside spot on the strong side.
Buggs said he is not letting the plan affect him and is ready for the challenge.
"I believe in myself and I feel like I have the other guys' trust in me," he said. "It's the coaches' call to make, and whatever they call will be in the best interest of the team."