In the wake of what is likely a season-ending knee injury for Kiko Alonso, a veteran like Keith Rivers is the odds on favorite to replace him in the defensive lineup. But GM Doug Whaley made a concerted effort in the offseason to add depth to the linebacker position, and the new youth at that position will now have a greater chance at landing a role on Buffalo's roster in 2014. Preston Brown, Ty Powell, Randell Johnson, and Jimmy Gaines are some of the names who will have a good shot of playing a bigger part in the Bills fortunes this fall.
Brown is already a favorite of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The middle linebacker is a sharp player with good football instincts and on field awareness. Lining up as one of the first team nickel linebackers and handling pre-snap calls and checks, Brown's role is even more important now that Alonso won't be lining up next to him in that subpackage.
"The last three years at Louisville I was playing nickel and dime so I have plenty of experience and that's an opportunity to get a hand on the ball or get after the quarterback," Brown said. "That's probably the most fun for me being out there on third down."
Signed off Seattle's practice squad last season, Powell was slated to make the move from outside linebacker to middle linebacker to compete with Brown behind starter Brandon Spikes. Those plans might change now in the wake of Alonso's injury.
Last year Powell lined up at strong side linebacker in Mike Pettine's scheme, but he might need to be a primary depth player behind Rivers, should the veteran be tabbed as Alonso's replacement on the weak side. Either way Powell figures to be given a couple of hats to wear to step in where needed on the outside.
Buffalo's seventh-round pick has lined up on the weak side mostly with the second and third units on defense. Johnson has a long, angular body type, which helps him to keep blockers from getting their hands on him. He also showed an ability to get his hands in the passing lanes.
Johnson, who largely got after the quarterback in college at Florida Atlantic, is going to be doing a lot of learning on the job. His athleticism however, could give him a chance to convince the staff that he can fill in on the edges if needed.
Gaines had to learn all three linebacker positions in college at the University of Miami. Though he lined up at middle linebacker in his last 18 career games for the Hurricanes, the Bills had him at both outside linebacker positions during rookie minicamp.
Gaines (6-3 240) might be best suited for a strong side role, but depth will be needed behind Bradham at that spot and the Buffalo native is expected to be part of that candidate pool.
Undrafted rookie Darrin Kitchens and first-year player Nathan Williams will also be in the mix at training camp.