Buffalo's defense has had to withstand a string of injuries of late. From Kyle Williams to Alex Carrington to Mario Williams the losses have largely been up front. But Nigel Bradham went down with an ankle injury last Sunday. With the starting linebacker not expected to dress this week against Houston, the Bills will be relying on rookie Tony Steward to man his weakside linebacker role.
"I'm just looking forward to getting out there and be able to help the team," said Steward Tuesday. "Step in and do what I can to make sure that I do everything to help the team win."
Steward, the team's sixth-round pick this past spring, was sidelined right at the start of the season with a knee injury, but has rebounded nicely and feels very comfortable in Buffalo's defensive scheme.
"It helps to be familiar with it and have a few reps at the position. In practice they try to rotate us in and make sure we all know what we're doing and make sure we understand what's going on. It helps out a lot."
Steward's duties have largely been resigned to special teams, but that changes now as he joins Preston Brown and Manny Lawson in the starting lineup.
"He's got talent," said Preston Brown. "That's something to see in a young guy. He's going to come out there and play hard. We know he knows his stuff. It will be good to help him out there, get some reps there and get some experience."
Perhaps the biggest plus for Steward this week is the opportunity to get a full practice week in with the first team defense. The last few weeks the team's practice schedule has been compromised by a short week leading up a Thursday night game and a Monday night game shortening last week's preparation on the practice field. Getting the physical reps alongside the teammates he'll be lining up with Sunday should prove to be valuable.
Steward's ultimate goal is to put the minds of his teammates at ease and playing at a level where they're not worried about having to cover up for any rookie mistakes.
"I think the biggest thing is going to be mental," he said. "Making sure everybody is still of the same mindset as if all the starters were here. So I think as long as we continue to prepare and just get our jobs done in practice then come Sunday we'll be alright."
This was not the way that Steward wanted to get an opportunity to start, but injuries are part of the business. So he is eager to make a good first impression.
"It sucks that Nigel had to get hurt, but this is how guys get opportunities in the league and it's next man up," Steward said. "So I think right now I'm where I want to be. I feel comfortable in the system. I know I'm playing behind a great player. I think the biggest thing is to make the most of my opportunity."