In a game with plenty of ups and downs, the starting linebacking corps was playing at a noticeably elevated level in the team's 27-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The three starting linebackers were the team's top tacklers, posted three tackles for loss and claimed one of the two deflected passes of the game. Keith Rivers topped all players with six combined tackles, two of which went for loss.
Behind Rivers, LB Nigel Bradham and Brandon Spikes combined for nine more tackles, two of which were also behind the line of scrimmage. The numbers do not accurately depict the linebackers' presence by a long shot though. All game, the trio was disrupting plays and creating pressure in some of the games more crucial moments.
"We just knew we had to have a great mentality all week to come out here and show what we could do as a defense," said Bradham. "We knew we had to have great communication out of us as linebackers. We knew we had to make plays when the opportunity was given to us. That was our mindset and it's going to be our mindset for the entire year. We want to be the best linebacker corps in the league and we're going to work toward that every day."
Bradham had an especially impressive play early on the Bucs first drive of the second quarter. It was first and 10 on the Bills' 21 yard line. Bucs quarterback Josh McCown looked to pass as running back Jeff Demps went deep right with Bradham dropping in coverage. Despite Demps' Olympic-caliber speed, Bradham was able to keep pace and followed through by breaking up the pass to Demps in the end zone. The Buccaneers' drive eventually stalled and the team settled for a field goal.
All preseason, the linebacking unit has been working hard to jell, especially with two newcomers in Rivers and Spikes. Their commitment to develop an on field chemistry is beginning to reveal itself late in the preseason.
"It's been great to build some cohesiveness and get to know each other," said Rivers. "I'm excited to build on that. We've got a long way to go in a short period of time so we've got to crank it up and get ready for the real deal. Guys have been doing a great job, especially (Nigel) Bradham, keeping guys' mentalities right and everybody talks to each other about how we can improve and get better as far as being the leaders of the team."
Coming into this week, the players wrapped up camp at St. John Fisher College and prepared to return home to Buffalo. Despite the transition, the unit stayed focused and honed in on preparing for the Bucs.
"Pretty much we just focused on technique and playing fundamentally sound and being physical," said Bradham. "We know what we got to do to execute and we got the ability to do it so it's pretty much working on our communication every day, getting better and better and just knowing each other's reads and being able to execute our jobs and know each other. We're going to help each other and we know the front is going to be up there creating penetration so we just got to go out there and make plays."
Going forward, however, the unit will have to prepare to open the season without Bradham as he serves his one game suspension during the team's Week 1 game against the Chicago Bears. Despite this temporary loss of a player whose abilities have proven invaluable to the defense as a whole, the team is preparing for his one week absence from the lineup.
"You know, roll with the punches," said Rivers. "There's nothing you can do about it. There was nothing you can do with Kiko (Alonso) going down and there's nothing you can do about Nigel not being able to play the first game. Next guy up has got to step up. Everybody's capable so the next guy has got to step up and do what you got to do."
For now the linebackers, and the Bills as a whole, look forward to one more preseason game to work out the kinks and readjust to working at One Bills Drive.
"It felt good getting back here," said Bradham. "The crowd was in effect, being loud and everything. It definitely felt good. It's been different for the three games so for us to get back home it felt real good."