Field Goals: Linebackers shaping up

Now that Bills training camp is truly up and running – it is closer to the end than the beginning, actually – it seems like a safe time to look into a few more position battles.

One of the most intriguing positions on the roster is linebacker. While the Bills re-vamped defensive line has fans and media drooling over the potential they may hold this season, the linebacking corps leave something to be desired.

Entering camp, the Bills base defense would start Kelvin Sheppard at mike with Nick Barnett on the weakside and Kirk Morrison on the strong side. However, as Joe Buscaglia reported today, it seems as if Arthur Moats has the inside track on the starting strong side position.

Moats, who also received some complimentary press last week, appears to have finally settled into a position that suits his skillset as a somewhat undersized pass rusher. After originally being slated as an inside backer in the 3-4 after his draft year, Moats floated to the outside and gained instant fandom for his hit on Brett Favre. However, he still struggled to see playing time since his 6’0” frame is not ideal for and outside linebacker position in a 3-4.

For than matter, his size isn’t ideal as a defensive end in a 4-3 either. Although he does have the pass rushing skillset that is desired from a rush linebacker in an even set.

However, Moats’ promotion shouldn’t be welcomed with sunshine and lollypops. It is not much different than if a late round pick or undrafted free agent managed to earn regular playing time. Simply put, it isn’t necessarily an ideal situation.

As the roster stood entering camp, the Bills were preparing to start the season with three traditional inside linebackers filling each of their linebacking positions. While Sheppard is certainly versatile enough to play the middle behind an odd or even front, jigsawing Barnett and Morrison on the strong and weak side seemed like a decision made out of necessity rather than pure skill.

There should be considerable faith that Barnett will succeed on the outside. He proved that he has strong cover skills and the general skillset to succeed on the outside. The decision to move him isn’t nearly as questionable as the one regarding Morrison.

A player who played his best football in the middle of a 4-3 defense, Morrison barely saw the field last year and now looks as if he could potentially be a training camp casualty depending on what direction the Bills decide to go in.

Don’t Cross the Moats

The one thing that has always made Arthur Moats attractive is his ability to get into the backfield. Despite being undersized as an outside pass rusher, he has a nose for the quarterback. While he may not represent the most secure option as an outside linebacker, if he is used in the right situations he should prove to be effective.

There could be a chance that he is keeping the seat warm while rookies like Nigel Bradham and Tank Carder adjust to the NFL. However, he may also just represent the lesser of two evils regarding he and Morrison.

Hybrid Effect

This season officially marked the transition of Bryan Scott from defensive back to linebacker. Scott will fill the primary role in the nickel package, serving more as a rover than anything else. However, his proper position will be linebacker.

How this will affect the final roster numbers is curious. Assuming the Bills keep six linebackers, Scott would surely be taking the potential roster spot of one of the many players on the bubble. This is very similar to the way the Brad Smith could alter the number of receivers or quarterbacks kept based on which position he would be counted as. Will Scott’s inclusion as a linebacker now bump a player from either defensive backfield or the linebacking bubble?

Bubble Battle

Sheppard, Barnett and Scott are all locks to make the roster. There is little doubt about that. Due to his recent surge, Moats appears to be a lock as well. Bradham and Carder are likely to make the team with the hope they continue to improve as the season progresses. Best case scenario is one eventually trends to become a starter by the end of the year or entering 2013.

Based on those numbers, there will be little wiggle room for those players battling for a roster spot. As of right now, Bradham and Carder are likely just safe of the bubble while Scott McKillop, Morrison and Chris White battle to stay relevant for a spot on the roster.

Who do I keep? Sheppard, Barnett and Moats would be my starters (based on the current depth chart) with Bradham and Carder being the backups. McKillop would be my dark horse addition with Scott being kept as that LB/S hybrid. However, there may not be enough room for McKillop to sneak onto the roster based on those numbers.


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