AFC East: Keith Rivers

Previewing Bills-Texans at NRG Stadium

September, 28, 2014
9/28/14
10:40
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HOUSTON -- Welcome to NRG Stadium, where the Buffalo Bills (2-1) square off with the Houston Texans (2-1) in the Bills' second road game of the season (1 p.m. ET; noon local).

Weather conditions: None. The Texans have their retractable roof closed at NRG Stadium, so the conditions will be perfect. It's warm and muggy outside; temperatures are in the low 80s and there are passing thunderstorms.

Two downgraded: The Bills downgraded starting left guard Chris Williams (back) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion) from "doubtful" to "out" on their injury report Saturday. That means the Bills will be without at least four players because of injury: Williams, Goodwin, linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) and wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee). They need to declare three additional inactives.

Two starters probable: Of the six players who were declared probable for Sunday's game, the two situations to watch the most are linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) and safety Da'Norris Searcy (ankle). They were both limited in practice throughout this week. Both should play. In Rivers' case, it would be his first action since leaving the season opener with an injury. Searcy left last week's game.

Vinovich gets the call: Bill Vinovich, who is in his second stint as an NFL official, is Sunday's referee.

EJ Manuel added to Bills' injury report

September, 24, 2014
9/24/14
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel was added to the team's injury report Wednesday with abdominal soreness.

"He came in, he had some soreness," coach Doug Marrone said. "Since he's a high-profile player, you got to put him down."

"I'm fine," Manuel said. "I think any time you bring something to a trainer they have to put it up there, but I'm good to go."

Starting left guard Chris Williams did not participate in Wednesday's practice but Marrone said he could return Thursday.

Linebacker Keith Rivers, who returned after missing Friday's practice, was again a limited participant Wednesday.

Did not participate:
WR Marcus Easley (knee)
LB Randell Johnson (knee)
G Chris Williams (back)

Limited participation:
LB Keith Rivers (groin)
S Da'Norris Searcy (ankle)
WR Marquise Goodwin (illness)

Full participation:
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)
QB EJ Manuel (abdominal)
WR Robert Woods (ankle)

Keith Rivers returns to Bills practice

September, 24, 2014
9/24/14
12:50
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) returned to practice Wednesday.

Rivers
Rivers missed last Friday's practice and did not play in Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers. It's unclear how much Rivers will participate in Wednesday's practice; he was a limited participant in Wednesday and Thursday's sessions last week.

Meanwhile, linebacker Nigel Bradham was not at practice Wednesday for personal/family reasons. He is expected back at the facility later Wednesday.

Starting left guard Chris Williams, who left Sunday's game with a back injury, was not at practice. Rookie Cyril Richardson is expected to take over in his place.

Linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) and wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee) also were not on the field for the start of Wednesday's practice.

Keith Rivers among Bills' inactives

September, 21, 2014
9/21/14
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) will not play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

Rivers practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday before sitting out Friday's practice. He was listed as doubtful on the injury report.

In addition to Rivers, the Bills will be without rookie linebacker Randell Johnson. The Bills are expected to start Brandon Spikes, Nigel Bradham and rookie Preston Brown at linebacker, with Ty Powell and Larry Dean as the reserves.

Here is the full list of Bills inactives:

RB Bryce Brown
TE Chris Gragg
LB Keith Rivers
LB Randell Johnson
CB Ross Cockrell
G Cyril Richardson
OT Cyrus Kouandjio
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle) is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.

Woods returned to practice Friday and was a limited participant after missing Thursday's practice.

Meanwhile, linebacker Keith Rivers is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game after missing Friday's practice. Rivers, who has a groin injury, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday.

Here is the Bills' full injury report:

Out:
S Jonathan Meeks (neck/placed on injured reserve)
LB Randell Johnson (knee/did not participate)

Doubtful:
LB Keith Rivers (groin/limited participation)

Probable:
DT Stefan Charles (hip/limited)
G Chris Williams (back/limited)
WR Robert Woods (ankle/limited)
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs/full participation)
TE Lee Smith (toe/full participation)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods was added to Wednesday's injury report with an ankle injury.

Woods was not listed on the team's unofficial injury report Monday, so it's likely that he suffered the injury during Wednesday's practice.

Meanwhile, linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) was limited in his return to practice on Wednesday.

"I felt pretty good," Rivers said. "Moving around pretty well and [will] just keep taking it day by day."

Did not participate:
S Jonathan Meeks (neck/placed on injured reserve)
LB Randell Johnson (knee)

Limited participation:
LB Keith Rivers (groin)
DT Stefan Charles (hip)
WR Robert Woods (ankle)

Full participation:
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)
TE Lee Smith (toe)

Gilmore, Williams probable vs. Dolphins

September, 12, 2014
9/12/14
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- There is a strong chance that the Buffalo Bills will have half of their starting secondary on the field Sunday.

Safety Aaron Williams (head) and cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin) were both listed as probable on Friday's injury report.

Meanwhile, tight end Lee Smith (toe), who returned to practice Thursday, was listed as doubtful. Expect the Bills to turn to Chris Gragg as a blocking tight end if Smith cannot play.

Here is the Bills' full injury report:

Out
LB Keith Rivers (groin; did not participate)

Doubtful
TE Lee Smith (toe; limited participation)
S Jonathan Meeks (neck; limited participation)

Probable
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin; full participation)
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs; full participation)
WR Chris Hogan (ankle; full participation)
S Aaron Williams (head; full participation)

Aaron Williams' head injury termed 'MTBI'

September, 11, 2014
9/11/14
3:30
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills safety Aaron Williams, who left Sunday's victory over the Chicago Bears with concussion-like symptoms, was listed on Thursday's injury report with what the team termed a mild traumatic brain injury, or MTBI.

Williams was limited in practice for a second consecutive day. Coach Doug Marrone said Williams participated in "more than individual drills."

The Bills said Wednesday they are following the NFL's return-to-play protocol for possible concussions. If Williams can't play Sunday, expect Duke Williams to start in his place alongside Da'Norris Searcy.

Here is the Bills' full injury report from Thursday:

Did not participate
LB Keith Rivers (groin)

Limited participation
S Jonathan Meeks (neck)
S Aaron Williams (MTBI/head)
TE Lee Smith (toe)

Full participation
CB Stephon Gilmore (groin)
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)
WR Chris Hogan (ankle)

Lee Smith returns to Bills practice

September, 11, 2014
9/11/14
1:05
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Tight end Lee Smith returned to Buffalo Bills practice Thursday after missing the season opener with a toe injury.

Smith, who started 14 games last season, is typically used as a blocking tight end on early downs. In his place, the Bills used Chris Gragg in that role Sunday.

Meanwhile, linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) remained out of practice Thursday. Safety Jonathan Meeks (neck), who practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, was not spotted Thursday.

If Rivers can't play this Sunday, the Bills are expected to use Preston Brown or Ty Powell in his place in the starting lineup.

Bills' Rivers not practicing Wednesday

September, 10, 2014
9/10/14
1:00
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills linebacker Keith Rivers, who left Sunday's win over the Chicago Bears with a groin injury, was not on the practice field Wednesday.

Rivers started the opener at linebacker and was considered day-to-day Monday by coach Doug Marrone.

Tight end Lee Smith (toe) also did not practice.

Meanwhile, safety Aaron Williams was on the field for the start of Wednesday's practice. He left Sunday's game with concussion-like symptoms.
The blows for Buffalo Bills fans came in quick succession Tuesday night.

First was a shocking 33-word statement from general manager Doug Whaley that sent a clear message: brace for the worst with linebacker Kiko Alonso, who quickly had become a fan favorite and rising defensive star last season.

[+] EnlargeKiko Alonso
AP Photo/Bill WippertKiko Alonso's torn ACL puts the Buffalo Bills in quite a pickle at linebacker.
"We have learned tonight that Kiko Alonso injured his knee while working out in Oregon," Whaley said. "We do not have the details at this point, but early indications are that it may be significant."

Less than an hour later came confirmation, from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, of Bills' fans fears: Alonso had torn his ACL and is expected to miss the upcoming season.

At a time when those around the NFL are relaxing on beaches and boats, the stunning developments with Alonso have taken the wind out of the Bills' sails.

This is a crushing blow just more than two weeks before training camp begins.

Alonso was part of a defensive resurgence last season under former coordinator Mike Pettine, playing every defensive snap. The team moved him to weak-side linebacker this offseason, and its hope was that Alonso would take another step forward, helping to improve the Bills' run defense as a run-and-hit outside 'backer.

At this point, you can rip up those plans and toss them in the trash, at least for this season. The Bills are back to the drawing board at linebacker.

Luckily for them, the team made two low-cost, high-upside signings this offseason, bringing in Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes. That shored up what was, aside from Alonso, a weaker point in their defense last season.

Before Alonso's injury, the Bills planned to start Rivers on the strong side and Spikes in the middle. With a hole potentially opening up on the weak side, they have several options.

First, they could move Rivers to the weak side. That would open a hole on the strong side, but Rivers has adequate range to play any of the three linebacker spots. He has an injury history that should make the Bills leery of relying too much on him, but at this point they might not have a choice.

Moving Rivers across the formation would require someone else moving into his old spot. One choice would be Preston Brown, a third-round pick who impressed at middle linebacker this spring. Having a rookie learning one position in organized team activities and another in training camp isn't ideal, but Brown has impressed coaches so far. The Bills could hold their breath and hope that Brown makes like Alonso and steps in without a hitch on the strong side.

Rivers
If the Bills wanted to go with more experience in their second level, Manny Lawson is their best bet. Lawson, who turns 30 later this month, started 15 games last season at strong-side linebacker. That's a different position in Pettine's defense than it is for Schwartz, and Lawson would need to play off the line more than he did last season. Moving Lawson back to linebacker would also weaken the Bills' depth at defensive end, but it's an option they need to consider at this point.

Another possibility is to replace Alonso with Nigel Bradham, keeping Rivers on the strong side. Bradham, a former fourth-round pick, started 11 games in 2012 as part of a Bills defense that ranked 31st against the run. His playing time was cut considerably under Pettine last season, but he offers more athleticism than the alternatives at the position.

There are few, if any, remaining options on the free-agent market who could step in and start for Alonso. Any new player coming in would have to play catch-up to learn the defense. The Bills could add a veteran for depth during training camp, but they would likely keep the expectations low with any new addition.

Instead, the strongest bet is that Alonso's replacement is either Bradham, Brown or Lawson.

None is Alonso. After snagging four interceptions in his first four games, Alonso's on-field play and his nonchalant personality earned him "legend" status among Bills fans, who flocked to buy his jersey.

In a cruel offseason twist that came down like a bolt of lightning on a summer night, Alonso won't be wearing his jersey on the field this season.
Jim SchwartzAP Photo/David RichardDefensive coordinator Jim Schwartz arrived in Buffalo after five seasons as Detroit's head coach.
Even the Cleveland Browns haven't had it this bad.

The Buffalo Bills have run through more defensive coordinators over the past four years than any other team in the NFL, complicating their player-acquisition process through both free agency and the draft.

While their defensive schemes have changed each offseason since 2011, it's not all bad news. In hiring Mike Pettine last winter and Jim Schwartz to replace him in January, the Bills are sacrificing long-term coaching stability to help win now.

It's the right approach. Schwartz has extensive experience as a coordinator and head coach, while Pettine is a riser in the NFL coaching ranks, having recently been hired to lead the Browns. They're both talented defensive minds and better than the alternative, which would have been to promote from within or to poach an up-and-coming position coach from another team.

Schwartz is already putting his mark on the Bills defense. General manager Doug Whaley revealed last week that Kiko Alonso, who finished second in voting for the Associated Press' Defensive Rookie of the Year award, will move to weakside linebacker as part of yet another defensive overhaul.

Replacing Alonso at middle linebacker will be newly signed Brandon Spikes. The Bills also signed Keith Rivers, a former first-round draft pick, to potentially start at strongside linebacker.

It will be a whole new look, but one that presents some challenges for the Bills.

It was only a year ago when Buffalo signed linebacker Manny Lawson to a four-year, $12 million deal. The lanky veteran proved a strong fit in Pettine's system, starting 15 games and posting his best statistical marks since 2009.

Now Lawson is a man without a home. Under Pettine, Lawson could play close to the line of scrimmage, setting the edge against the run and blitzing on occasion. Things will be different with Schwartz, who rarely blitzes his linebackers and requires sturdier defensive ends than the 240-pound Lawson.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Bills' defense improved in a number of areas during Mike Pettine's lone season as coordinator.
With three years left on Lawson's contract, the Bills wouldn't have received much of a salary-cap benefit by releasing him. Instead, they paid Lawson his $500,000 roster bonus last week and will try to find him a place among their new furniture.

"I think he's going to be a hybrid player. He's going to be able to bring us something as an outside linebacker but also come off the edge as a defensive end," Whaley told WGR 550 last week. "His versatility is going to be utilized within this system. That we think is going to be very valuable for us."

Translation: We like you Manny, but we don't really know what to do with you.

Lawson might find a situational role at defensive end, where Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are the top two options. It also could be a position where the Bills try to add depth in the draft.

What about Alan Branch, who started 13 games at defensive end last season? Pettine's system required three big bodies along the defensive line. At 325 pounds, Branch fit that bill.

Without waiting to see how things would unfold with Pettine, the Bills jumped the gun in late December and gave Branch a three-year extension worth more than $3 million per season, with nearly $4 million in guaranteed money.

Under Schwartz, Branch figures to have a lesser role. The Bills already have a pair of defensive tackles in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus -- who both made the Pro Bowl last season -- and Branch will be a capable but likely overpaid backup.

The Bills were smarter in doling out contracts last week. Spikes received a one-year deal and Rivers signed for two years. Both contracts included little guaranteed money.

After all, who knows where Schwartz will be by next January?

It took Schwartz eight seasons as the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator to earn his first head-coaching job, with the Detroit Lions. He's known as a prideful coach who, when introduced in Buffalo, came off miffed about the way things ended after five seasons in Detroit.

"I think if you look around, just about every coach has been in that position. Every coach has had some situation," he said. "There are some great ones that have been fired."

At 47, Schwartz might not have to wait long for another head-coaching opportunity, but that doesn't make him a bad investment by the Bills.

The Bills gambled when they hired Pettine last winter. It was among the NFL's worst-kept secrets that Pettine wanted to become a head coach. He was on the fast track. Unusual circumstances may have led to his hire by the Browns, but the departure from Buffalo was inevitable.

Likewise with Schwartz. The Bills might rebuild and grow with Whaley, Doug Marrone and EJ Manuel, but it's unlikely that Schwartz will stick around long enough to see that process through.

In Pettine and Schwartz, the Bills hired the best options on the market. Pettine boosted several areas of the Bills defense, helping it improve from 22nd in yards allowed per game in 2012 to 10th in 2013, while seeing the red zone defense jump from 31st to sixth last season. The Bills finished second in opposing QBR, second in sacks, second in interceptions and first in opposing completion percentage.

Meanwhile, Schwartz's defenses were typically strong in Tennessee, especially against the run. The Titans finished in the top six in rushing yards allowed in five of Schwartz's eight seasons as defensive coordinator.

Most important, both coaches are confident and experienced, allowing Marrone to focus his attention where it's needed the most: on offense. Had the Bills turned to a younger, less experienced defensive coordinator than Pettine or Schwartz, it would have created more continuity with scheme but also would have stretched Marrone thin.

Whaley and his scouting staff might get headaches trying to keep up with the defensive changes, but for a city that desperately needs a winning team, this is the right way to go.

Ranking the Bills' free-agent moves

March, 17, 2014
3/17/14
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After a flurry of activity last week, the Buffalo Bills were quiet on the free-agent front this weekend.

That gives us a chance to take a step back and assess what the team has done thus far. It's still early in the process -- the free-agent signing period began less than a week ago -- but the following is our early read on the Bills' moves.

Let's rank them, best to worst:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaSigning Brandon Spikes should shore up the Bills' run defense.
1. Signing Brandon Spikes: This is the player Bills fans wanted in Buffalo. Spikes adds toughness and physicality to a run defense that struggled at times last season. The Bills wanted to free up Kiko Alonso to make more plays, so they moved Alonso to the weak side and signed Spikes to take on more blockers at the line of scrimmage. Spikes can handle that load, and he'll have help in front of him from a pair of Pro Bowl defensive tackles: Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Spikes got a one-year, $3.25 million deal that can reach $3.5 million with incentives. The contract is incentive enough for Spikes; he'll be in a "prove-it" situation that could allow him to have greater value on the open market next offseason with a strong season in Buffalo.

2. Signing Corey Graham: The Bills may have overpaid a little here, but that's OK. Even if Graham doesn't slide into a starting spot, he figures to play the majority of defensive snaps. Cornerback play is as important as ever in the NFL, especially at the depth levels. If opposing offenses spread the field, Graham will be an asset in the slot or on the outside. Signing Graham also helps the Bills avoid a situation like early last season, when injuries forced Justin Rogers into the starting lineup. That wasn't a good fit for Rogers, but paying Graham $4 million per season is insurance against that happening again. Graham also adds value on special teams, where the Bills had issues last season.

3. Signing Keith Rivers: Of the Bills' moves thus far, this one may have flown under the radar the most, yet Rivers could have a significant role in the Bills' new defense. Since Spikes is a weaker player against the pass, Rivers will likely be part of sub packages on passing downs. He'll need to show off some athleticism that the New York Giants didn't see in him, as they turned to Jacquian Williams in that role instead. Overall, Rivers is expected to have a bigger role than he had in New York, which is where the Bills are gambling a bit. Still, it's a low-risk, high-upside signing, as the Bills signed Rivers for $5 million over the next two seasons. Their best move is to supplement the position in the draft.

4. Re-signing Dan Carpenter: The Bills got Carpenter back at an affordable price, paying him an average of $2.49 million over the next four seasons. If Carpenter keeps up his pace from last season -- when he didn't miss a kick after the first quarter -- he'll continue to be a quality find by the Bills' front office. Then again, if Dustin Hopkins is eventually waived and performs just as well elsewhere for a lesser price, the move to go with Carpenter won't look quite as good. Carpenter still needs to improve on his kickoffs, but he wasn't phased by the Buffalo weather on his field goals last season.

5. Signing Chris Williams: The Bills had a need at left guard. Was Chris Williams the best option available? Possibly. But why sign him to a deal with $5 million in guaranteed money? As much as general manager Doug Whaley disagrees with the term here, Williams was a bust with the Chicago Bears. Yes, he's still in the league -- but his play was shaky last season for the St. Louis Rams, and now the Bills are banking on him as their starting left guard. It's not going to crush the salary cap or doom the team if Williams flops, but it's just an odd move. Why not limit your contract offer to a one-year, "prove-it" deal and make Williams fight for a starting job?

Note: Financial terms for tight end Scott Chandler and running back Anthony Dixon are not yet available, so we'll hold them out of the ranking for now.

Breaking down Keith Rivers' deal

March, 14, 2014
3/14/14
12:22
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Changes are in store for the Buffalo Bills at linebacker.

Rivers
General manager Doug Whaley said Friday that Kiko Alonso will move to outside linebacker, potentially starting alongside Keith Rivers.

Whaley noted that Rivers will "compete" for a starting role, which is probably a good thing for the Bills. Although Rivers is a first-round pick, he never caught on with the New York Giants after being acquired in a trade two years ago.

Rivers has battled injuries throughout his career but is a low-cost option for the Bills at strongside linebacker.

Here is a look at Rivers' contract:

Signing bonus: $1 million

2014 season:
Base salary: $1.25 million
Workout bonus: $100,000
Cap number: $1.85 million

2015 season:
Base salary: $1.6 million
Workout bonus: $100,000
Cap number: $2.2 million

Thoughts on Graham, Rivers signings

March, 12, 2014
3/12/14
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The Buffalo Bills continued to be active in free agency Wednesday, agreeing to deals with cornerback Corey Graham and linebacker Keith Rivers.

Graham
Rivers
Here are some initial thoughts on the signings:

Where does Graham fit? Among the Bills' needs in free agency, cornerback was lower on the list. The Bills ended last season with their top trio basically set: Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin on the outside, with Nickell Robey in the slot. Ron Brooks served as the fourth cornerback and if the Bills were to upgrade, that's where it would be. With Graham's signing, Brooks moves further down the depth chart, while Graham's exact fit among the rest of the personnel remains to be seen.

Graham provides good value: According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan, Graham's deal will pay him $16 million over four seasons. CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported that incentives could push the deal as high as $19 million. On the surface, that's a lot for a potential backup cornerback, but not necessarily when considering other factors. The NFL continues to trend toward more of a passing league, forcing defenses into more sub packages. That could put Graham (and Robey) on the field more than some other "starters" on defense.

Upgrade on special teams: Finally, Graham adds a presence on special teams where the Bills badly needed it. Graham is known as a strong special-teams player -- he represented the NFC in the Pro Bowl following the 2011 season -- and he will join Marcus Easley as the top contributors on that unit. While Graham might not have much of an impact on first or second down, he could earn his money on third and fourth downs, and that's just as important.

Rivers' deal points to scheme change: The Bills added Keith Rivers, a former first-round pick, on a low-money deal. According to ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker, Rivers is set to earn $5 million over two years. Rivers probably wasn't going to return to the New York Giants, where he started eight games last season. The former first-round pick never panned out with the Cincinnati Bengals, but the Bills have a need at linebacker. There are plenty of moving parts to be sorted out, but Rivers' best shot at landing a starting job would be at strongside linebacker. That's a spot where the Bills could use help -- Manny Lawson may not be a good fit in a 4-3 scheme -- and Rivers is one option to fill that gap.

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