The news was not the kind Bills GM Doug Whaley was hoping for on his summer vacation just couple of weeks prior to the opening of training camp. Learning that top linebacker Kiko Alonso had torn his ACL was a big loss. But now almost three weeks later he and the Bills are ready to press forward believing they have a roster with the depth capable of enduring such a subtraction.
"It's a tremendous loss, but no one is crying for us so we've got to have the next man up," Whaley said. "We feel we've built a roster that can sustain a loss like this, and our expectations aren't going to drop."
Whaley confirmed that Alonso had successful surgery to repair his torn ACL on Thursday, which was first reported by Alonso's agent on Twitter. The plan is to allow Alonso to recover from the procedure, let the swelling subside and then he'll be back in Buffalo for the start of rehabilitation when the team returns from training camp.
The players don't deny that the Alonso loss is a significant one. At the same time they are prepared to put their full trust in the man who steps into the lineup in his absence.
"From a team perspective, it is a low blow just because we know what he can do and what he can contribute to the team, but whoever the guy is that's sitting behind him, I know we're going to put the best guy out there to replace him," said Aaron Williams.
When the team takes the field on Sunday night for their first practice the plan to replace Alonso will begin to take shape. Whaley did not want to speak for head coach Doug Marrone and the thoughts his defensive staff has in mind for Alonso's vacant weak side linebacker position, but he did present some options.
"I have to talk to coach, but right off hand, Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham and maybe Ty Powell among the young guys," he said. "So it's an exciting time for them and an exciting time for us to say, 'Alright what we saw in these guys is true and they can play.'"
Whaley also maintains that veteran free agent signee Keith Rivers is expected to be a part of the starting linebacker contingent as well.
"I think he's actually a four down player," said Whaley of Rivers. "So I think he's going to be, again I don't know which one is going to play SAM and WILL, but he's going to have to step up and take the lead between him and (Brandon) Spikes and whoever is going to take the other linebacker. But I think he can play on special teams and on third (down) and passing downs and nickel situations."
The main objective of Buffalo's personnel boss this past offseason was to insulate the roster with enough depth so that a potentially costly injury to a starter wouldn't be so catastrophic. Now his offseason acquisitions of players like Rivers and Spikes and the drafting of Preston Brown will be tested with Alonso not expected to play this season.
"We feel we have a roster that we're building with some cornerstone pieces where we can consistently compete for playoffs and championships," he said. "A big determination on that is with the loss of Kiko, and we'll see if we've found the right guys to replace him."
Though there may still be those outside the organization that might choose to use Alonso's absence as a reason for any potential shortcomings on defense for the Bills, Whaley and coach Marrone are not going to allow it to be used as such in house.
"Injuries are a part of the game and it's not an excuse for us," Whaley said. "It can't be an excuse for the team and it won't be. People are getting hurt all the time. We've got to be ready to move on."