For the Bills' defense to transition into the 3-4 scheme successfully, they'll need an improved showing by their linebacking corps, a group riddled with injuries last season. Entering training camp, however, this unit is filled with more questions than answers.
First and foremost will be how the team chooses to replace Aaron Schobel, who was ticketed for outside 'backer but doesn't sound like he's going to play football this season. The favorite to take his spot is Aaron Maybin, a 2009 first-round pick who looked overmatched at defensive end and disappointed as a rookie. A switch to OLB should fit him well, as his top-notch athleticism will be more effective in space. Buffalo will be counting on him to consistently pressure the quarterback and be its sacks leader.
At the other OLB spot, the Bills will be counting on Chris Kelsay to produce, but he's another former end who could take time to make the switch. For insurance, they signed ex-Dolphin Reggie Torbor and have been using him strictly outside.
Inside, the Bills know they have a dependable playmaker in Paul Posluszny, but it's deciding what to do next to him that will be one of the big story lines of the preseason. Maybe the club's biggest free-agent signing of the offseason was ILB Andra Davis, a former Bronco and Brown who had 90 tackles in each of the past two seasons. The 31-year-old was brought in for his experience in the 3-4 alignment, and we hear that the team wants him to be the guy lining up with Posluszny inside.
First, though, Davis will have to beat out Kawika Mitchell to earn the starting job in camp. Mitchell, who missed 11 games last season after having surgery to reattach his quadriceps muscle to his kneecap, was able to return for the June minicamps and was even seen calling the defensive plays in the huddle. Even though he has been primarily a 4-3 player in his career, the eighth-year veteran has already earned the confidence of new head coach Chan Gailey.
"He's an impressive player," Gailey said. "He's a quick study. Even though he wasn't on the field early, he knew what to do when he got in there."
How the linebackers come together could go a long way in determining how much progress the "D" makes in Year One of the new regime.
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