Buffalo Bills: Nigel Bradham

Bills must dig deeper at linebacker

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Days after losing Kiko Alonso to a season-ending knee injury, the Buffalo Bills signed veteran Stevenson Sylvester to bulk up the depth chart at linebacker.

Now the Bills have lost Sylvester to a season-ending knee injury. Though Sylvester wasn't expected to start in Alonso's place, he was considered a strong possibility to make the 53-man roster.

Losing Sylvester could hurt the Bills most on special teams, where Sylvester excelled in four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his place, the Bills could lean more on Ty Powell and rookie Randell Johnson for roles on special teams.

Here is a refresher of the Bills' depth chart at linebacker:

Keith Rivers (starter, strong side)
Brandon Spikes (starter, middle)
Nigel Bradham (starter, weak side)
Preston Brown
Randell Johnson
Ty Powell
Jimmy Gaines
Xavius Boyd

The Bills must find a replacement for Bradham in the starting lineup for Week 1. They have used Brown in that spot during practice this week and he's the favorite to take over during Bradham's one-game suspension.

Since Bradham won't count against the roster in Week 1, we predicted that Sylvester would earn the spot as the sixth linebacker. Now, we foresee the Bills keeping only five linebackers on the roster for the opener. Gaines and Boyd, both undrafted free agents, have played sparingly in the preseason and don't seem likely to be on the active roster for Week 1.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills placed linebacker Stevenson Sylvester on injured reserve Wednesday, the team announced.

Sylvester has a torn patella tendon in his left knee, per a source. He had been out of practice since Tuesday.

The fifth-year pro, who spent his first four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was competing for a spot on the 53-man roster. He was among the candidates to replace linebacker Nigel Bradham in the starting lineup for Week 1, when Bradham will sit a one-game suspension.

The Bills may now turn to rookie Preston Brown alongside Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers for that game.

Sylvester's injury also thins out the depth at linebacker, where the Bills have already lost Kiko Alonso (torn ACL) for the season.
The Buffalo Bills received a slight reprieve from practice Tuesday, as their morning session was shortened to a walk-through because of rain in the area.

With three remaining preseason games following joint practices this week with the Pittsburgh Steelers, let's take a look at some of the unanswered questions about the Bills' roster:

What will be Robert Woods' role? The Bills' second-round pick has been in the headlines ever since he played into the third quarter of the Hall of Fame game earlier this month. Coach Doug Marrone telling Woods to play more with a "chip on his shoulder" certainly didn't quell the speculation about Woods' role, and the questions continued Friday night when Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins were the top pairing on the outside. The remaining three preseason games could determine how Woods fits into the offense this season after starting 14 games and catching 40 passes from three sub-par quarterbacks last season. We've seen the Bills use various combinations of Woods, Chris Hogan, Watkins, and Williams dating back to early in organized team activities. While game-specific pairings at receiver could continue into the regular season, most teams settle on a top group. At this point, there is little assurance Woods is among the top trio.

What's next for Henderson? Following Cordy Glenn's return to practice over the weekend, Marrone pumped the brakes on any possible position switch for seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson, who has been starting in Glenn's place at left tackle. Marrone stressed Glenn is being eased back into the lineup and until that happens, Henderson is holding down the fort -- and doing it well. Still, unless Glenn suffers a setback, Marrone will need to make a decision about Henderson. Does he join the competition at right tackle? Does he get a run at right guard? If the Bills want to have their five best offensive linemen on the field, then what we've seen from Henderson thus far suggests he should be part of that group.

Who starts at right guard? The competition at this position continues to churn. Incumbent Kraig Urbik has rotated with rookie Cyril Richardson through two preseason games, with others (Chris Hairston, Antoine McClain, and J.J. Unga) waiting on deck. An injury to left guard Chris Williams postponed the battle this weekend, as both Urbik and Richardson ran with the first team in practice. If Williams remains out as the preseason continues, then the Bills may not have an answer about a starter until later this month. Even then, there are no guarantees. Last season, left guard Colin Brown started five games before he was released and replaced in the starting lineup by Doug Legursky. This question could linger into the fall.

Who starts for Bradham? Through the first few practices of training camp, there wasn't much of a competition at weak side linebacker. Nigel Bradham seemed to have won over the coaching staff after a rocky 2013 season and was the favorite to replace Kiko Alonso. That changed when Bradham lost his appeal of a one-game suspension. As a result, the Bills will be without Bradham for the season opener in Chicago. Who starts in his place? From a depth chart standpoint, it would be Stevenson Sylvester, a four-year veteran who has been the second-team Will linebacker in the preseason. Yet rookie Preston Brown has drawn praise for his work at middle linebacker, where he's played almost exclusively in training camp. Between now and Sept. 7, the Bills will need to decide who starts in Bradham's place. It's not a major question, but one that could factor into the defense's performance on that first Sunday of the season.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Remember training camp last summer, when there was a true quarterback competition between EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb?

Those were the days. With Manuel virtually entrenched as the starter entering his second season, the Buffalo Bills have surprisingly few position battles brewing as they progress through their second week of training camp.

[+] EnlargeDa'Norris Searcy
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports Da'Norris Searcy seems to have the upper hand in the race for the Bills' open safety spot.
How many starting spots are up for grabs? Here's our rundown:

Right guard: Coach Doug Marrone confirmed last week that there was a competition at this position. Kraig Urbik started 16 games last season, but with an influx of depth players along the offensive line this offseason his job isn't safe. His main competition is Chris Hairston, who began to see some reps with the first-team late in spring practices. Through the first eight practices of training camp, we'll peg Urbik's reps with the first team at around 70 or 80 percent. Hairston is getting some time, but it's not an even split. We'd expect Urbik to be the starter in preseason games.

Right tackle: This was our top competition of the spring but it's barely been a contest. Second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio hasn't received any time with the first team and looks to be coming along slower than the Bills would have hoped. Marrone had praise last week for Erik Pears' play through the early part of camp, noting that Pears was healthy after apparently being banged up last season. The real competition for Pears might be seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson, who has held up fairly well at left tackle in place of Cordy Glenn. If Glenn returns soon then Henderson could get a crack at the right tackle spot.

Third receiver: There might not be a clear-cut winner of this battle. The Bills have used a variety of receiver groupings through the first eight practices. Mike Williams, Chris Hogan, and Marquise Goodwin have all seen time alongside Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. How each of those players are used in the regular season could be determined by the situation. T.J. Graham, who we considered part of this mix in the spring, has barely seen any time with the first-team offense. He's fighting for his job.

Weakside linebacker: This spot opened up when Kiko Alonso suffered a season-ending knee injury. Nigel Bradham has seen the most reps with the first-team defense, but we've also seen the Bills mix-and-match their personnel here. Preston Brown, Jimmy Gaines, Stevenson Sylvester, and Randell Johnson have all rotated through in different groupings. We'd still put our money on Bradham but like the third receiver spot, this could depend on the situation and the offensive style of the opponent.

Safety: This has been Da'Norris Searcy's job to lose since the spring. The Bills have almost exclusively used Aaron Williams and Searcy as their top pairing at safety, which is a notable step down from the Williams-Jairus Byrd combo from last season. The key for the Bills is not putting Searcy in a spot where offenses can expose a weakness in the defense. He's not a rangy ball-hawker like Byrd. Ideally, the Bills would like for Duke Williams to grow into a larger role, but he hasn't shown it yet in training camp. Williams and fellow second-year safety Jonathan Meeks should see plenty of time in the preseason, and they will need it.

Bills Camp Report: Day 2

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • There has been a throng of national media watching Bills camp through two days and they've seen Sammy Watkins put on a show. After catching every pass thrown his way in Sunday night's practice, Watkins continued to impress on Monday. He strode past Leodis McKelvin for a would-be touchdown grab early in practice and made a catch over three defenders look effortless later on. It's not just the deep game, either: he used his long arms to snag a pass on a crossing pattern, through traffic at one point as well. Watkins has that rare size and speed combination that can make him a dangerous weapon against opposing defenses. His height, long arms, and make-it-look-easy strides remind me of Randy Moss.
  • Speaking of height and speed, I've been impressed with Bryce Brown thus far in camp. The 6-foot running back has long legs and shows some burst getting into the second level. The Bills coveted Brown for more than a year before acquiring him in May. It remains to be seen how many carries the Bills can siphon from C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to Brown, but he adds depth to a backfield that didn't have much of it last season.
  • Nigel Bradham continues to see first-team reps at linebacker, a surprise given how his role virtually evaporated under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine last season. Even coach Doug Marrone has noticed a change in Bradham's work ethic. "Honestly, I think last year Nigel struggled at times with us," Marrone said Monday. "I saw a change, more of a commitment from him when we came back, which I give him a lot of credit for." The Bills are giving Bradham the first crack at replacing Kiko Alonso and he seems to have impressed the coaching staff. The issue with Bradham may be his abilities in stopping the run: The Bills turned to Arthur Moats last season against heavier offenses and rookie Preston Brown is knocking on the door for playing time on defense. It's a battle we'll continue to monitor closely.
  • After missing all of organized team activities and minicamp, T.J. Graham is back practicing this week. The results have been up-and-down. He made the play of Sunday's practice when he caught a deep bomb from Jeff Tuel, but in one of his first routes Monday he had a pass fall right through his hands after beating a defender on a similar deep route. Graham is the top "bubble" player for the Bills and can't afford those sort of plays.
  • Cordy Glenn remained out of practice Monday and the Bills are still mum on what landed him on the non-football illness list. "It’s a medical condition. I’m preparing to go on as if he’s not playing, which he’s not," Marrone said. "I’m just waiting for the doctors and I can’t speak about the condition because it’s something that happened outside of football. I’m planning on playing and right now he’s not there, so I have to play with him not being there. When they tell me he’s there then obviously we’ll plug him back in."
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills will begin life without linebacker Kiko Alonso when they start training camp Sunday night.

As players reported to St. John Fisher College on Friday, general manager Doug Whaley put the absence of Alonso, who underwent surgery this week, in perspective.

"It's a tremendous loss, but no one's crying for us," Whaley said. "Next man up. We think we've built a roster that can sustain a loss like this. But our expectations aren't going to drop."

As expected, Whaley mentioned rookie Preston Brown and third-year 'backer Nigel Bradham as possible replacements for Whaley. The second-year general manager added that each of those players have already practiced with the first team, as Alonso was out for most of OTAs recovering from hip surgery.

Other tidbits from Whaley:

Philosophy on EJ Manuel: There will be pressure on quarterback EJ Manuel to perform this season, but Whaley said the team has tried to give Manuel as much help on the field as they can. "He doesn't have the weight of the world on his shoulders, that he has to go out and win it," Whaley said. "We've surrounded him with some people where if he does his job, he should be OK." As far as how Manuel will need to improve, Whaley said: "I want to see him have more control of the huddle, of the offense. A command and a presence out there that we saw in college."

No word on Marcell Dareus: Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has two pending legal situations from incidents this offseason, something that could make him subject to an NFL suspension. Whaley said Friday that he hasn't heard from the league on that front. Dareus wasn't among the players who moved into the dorm while reporters were present Friday.

Cordy Glenn status bears watching: Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, considered the Bills' best offensive lineman last season, missed minicamp with what was called an illness. Glenn was placed on the active/non-football illness list this week and can be removed from the list at any time. Whaley was cautious Friday when talking about Glenn's status. "We're still waiting on some reports on him, but it looks like it's going to be one of those day-to-day things and we'll see how it progresses." Asked a follow-up question if Glenn's illness could threaten his season, Whaley said: "We don't think so, at this time. But again, we'll just have to see how it progresses. We hope not." Glenn is present at camp. "He'll be doing some light exercises and stuff like that," Whaley said.

Other injury updates: Whaley said the team is still easing cornerback Leodis McKelvin back into action after offseason surgery. He is on the active/physically unable to perform list. Defensive tackle Alan Branch, meanwhile, is on the non-football illness list. Whaley said there were tests that came back during his check-in physical that require further scrutiny before he can practice.

Roster moves: The Bills released two players -- cornerback Darius Robinson and wide receiver Cordell Roberson -- on Friday. Whaley said the team is "upgrading" the roster and is in the process of signing two players to replace them. They are expected to be younger players, not veterans.

Counting the Bills: Linebackers

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
Continuing a series analyzing the economics of the Buffalo Bills' roster, position by position:

Position: Linebacker

Total cap value: $9,540,029
Compared to NFL average: 44.1 percent less
NFL positional rank: 30th

Portion of Bills' total cap number: 8 percent

2014 cap numbers:
Brandon Spikes: $3.25 million (14th on Bills, 46th among NFL linebackers)
Keith Rivers: $1.85 million (Bills: 21st; NFL: 74th)
Kiko Alonso: $977,364 (Bills: 31st; NFL: 122nd)
Nigel Bradham: $686,065 (Bills: 39th; NFL: 146th)
Preston Brown: $582,000 (Bills: 46th; NFL: 191st)
Ty Powell: $495,000 (Bills: tied for 60th; NFL: tied for 252nd)
Randell Johnson: $435,933 (Bills: 69th; NFL: tied for 291st)
Darrin Kitchens: $422,000 (Bills: 73rd; NFL: tied for 309th)
Jimmy Gaines: $421,667 (Bills: tied for 74th; NFL: tied for 312th)
Nathan Williams: $420,000 (Bills: tied for 78th; NFL: tied for 328th)

Average per year:
Spikes: $3 million (tied for 17th on Bills, tied for 53rd among NFL linebackers)
Rivers: $2.025 million (Bills: 23rd; NFL: 72nd)
Alonso: $1.075 million (Bills: 28th; NFL: 112th)
Brown: $751,438 (Bills: 34th; NFL: 147th)
Bradham: $641,065 (Bills: 43rd; NFL: 182nd)
Johnson: $570,933 (Bills: 50th; NFL: 214th)
Kitchens: $512,000 (Bills: 63rd; NFL: 272nd)
Gaines: $511,667 (Bills: tied for 64th; NFL: tied for 275th)
Powell: $495,000 (Bills: tied for 77th; NFL: tied for 337th)
Williams: $465,000 (Bills: tied for 84th; NFL: tied for 356th)

Most overpaid: None. The Bills added Spikes and Rivers on relatively short-term, low-risk deals this offseason. Overall, the Bills aren't spending much on linebackers. The position could be a problem spot following the Alonso's injury but that's not the result of financial decisions. The Bills have plenty of youth at the position and will look for Bradham or Brown to step up in Alonso's place.

Most underpaid: Alonso. No-brainer here. Like with Robert Woods and Cordy Glenn, the Bills and Alonso can't strike an extension until after the third year of Alonso's rookie deal. However, the circumstances could be different in Alonso's case. Since he was hurt while working out away from the team's facility, the Bills can place him on the non-football injury list. Alonso wouldn't get an accrued season and would have only three years of service when his contract expires after the 2016 season. In that scenario, he would become a restricted free agent and the Bills would have more control over his future. Still, the more likely outcome is that Alonso returns to health next season and the Bills extend him before he hits the open market.
Kyle WilliamsAP Photo/Bill WippertKyle Williams recorded a career-best 10.5 sacks last season for the Buffalo Bills.
With Buffalo Bills players set to report to training camp on Friday, we continue our rapid-fire fact or fiction with the Bills' defense:

1. The Bills will finish with at least 45 sacks this season.

Our take: Fiction
Justify it: The Bills set a franchise record last season with 57 sacks, second most in the NFL. That included career highs from Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes, as well as contributions from cornerback Nickell Robey (three sacks) and safety Da'Norris Searcy (3.5 sacks). Mike Pettine's scheme is notorious for blitzing defensive backs, something that won't be seen as much in Jim Schwartz's defense. That will shift more of the pass-rush focus to the defensive line, especially the ends. Mario Williams and Hughes could very well have double-digit sacks but I don't think the Bills have the depth at that position to push them over 45 sacks for the season. Only seven teams topped that number last season, up from four teams the year before.

2. Alan Branch will start at least one game at defensive tackle.

Our take: Fact
Justify it: At last check, an NFL spokesman had no comment on a potential suspension for Dareus. That makes sense, as he has pending legal cases in both Alabama and New York that still need to be sorted out. I wouldn't call it a sure bet that Dareus is suspended and if he is, it may only be for one or two games. That would be the best opportunity for Branch, the Bills' top reserve at defensive tackle, to get the nod as a starter. Dareus and Kyle Williams have stayed remarkably healthy in their careers in Buffalo, so an injury to either would be unexpected. Still, Dareus missed time in the final two games last season for disciplinary issues and if anything of that nature crops up again, I don't think Doug Marrone would hesitate to bench Dareus again. One way or the other, it seems more likely than not that Branch will need to start at least once this season.

3. Preston Brown will start more games at linebacker than Nigel Bradham.

Our take: Fact
Justify it: These are the two players at the top of the list to replace Kiko Alonso. While the Bills are high on Brown, their third-round pick this year, it may be unrealistic for him to step in right away as a full-time linebacker. The knock on Brown's game is his athleticism; he ran a 4.86-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and may not be an ideal fit in nickel packages against speedier offenses. Brown could be a good option as a downhill thumper, much like Brandon Spikes, on early downs. On third down, though, it may be smarter for the Bills to use Bradham to match up better against tight ends and shifty running backs. Brown could get more starts than Bradham but overall playing time could still be split fairly evenly between the two.

4. Stephon Gilmore will earn a Pro Bowl nod this season.

Our take: Fiction
Justify it: OK, this is a lofty goal, but for a former 10th-overall pick entering his third season, the Pro Bowl should be in the discussion. Gilmore's stock was on the rise at this time last year before he fractured his wrist in the preseason and didn't return until midseason. He's healthy now and is looking to take a step forward. Can he move into the same neighborhood as Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman or Patrick Peterson? Probably not this season, but if he can put up similar performances to Brent Grimes, Alterraun Verner or Joe Haden -- some of the other Pro Bowl cornerbacks last season -- then Gilmore stands a chance of traveling to Arizona this winter. However, our take is that Gilmore falls short. Good cornerbacks are aided by strong safety play and the Bills have question marks in the back- end this season.

5. Da'Norris Searcy will start more games at safety than Duke Williams.

Our take: Fact
Justify it: Like with Brown, much of this depends on how the Bills treat Searcy on early downs as compared to later downs. Searcy isn't considered a rangy, "deep" safety and isn't an ideal fit to replace Jairus Byrd. But I haven't gotten the sense that the Bills are comfortable turning to Duke Williams, their fourth-round pick last season, in a prominent role. That means Searcy is in line to start at safety opposite Aaron Williams, with Duke Williams as the top reserve. That setup could change on later downs. Searcy brings value as a close-to-the-line player in sub packages, in a hybrid linebacker-safety role. If Searcy moves up toward the line of scrimmage on third down, then Duke Williams could slide in as a deep safety. The Bills did something similar last season when Byrd was sidelined with a foot injury, using Searcy and Aaron Williams as deep safeties on early downs but replacing Searcy with Jim Leonhard in sub packages.
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.

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.
With three days before the Buffalo Bills begin their month-long summer vacation, it's a good time to step back and examine the roster as the team prepares for training camp.

Today, we'll begin a series called "Bubble Watch" that we ran last year and in 2012. Here's the exercise: We slice the roster into three parts. The first group is players that are locks or near-locks to make the roster. The second group is players "on the bubble," or who have a realistic shot of either making the roster out of training camp or getting cut. The final group is "longshots," or players who will be hard-pressed to make the squad.

We've already divided the roster and came up with 34 players who we'll consider "on the bubble." From there, we'll assign a percentage chance of that player making the team. It's not scientific, and if you add the percentages up at the end of the series, they'll likely lean towards more than 53 players making the team to account for injuries.

We'll analyze two players Tuesday and then continue with one player per day through July 18, the day players report to training camp.

Let's get it started:

Name: Nigel Bradham

Position: Linebacker

Age: 24

2013 stats: 16 games (two starts), 51 tackles, one pass defensed

Chance of making 53-man roster: 50 percent

Why he should make it: Bradham has more speed than his counterparts at linebacker. The Bills signed a pair of free agents this offseason -- Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers -- but neither is a natural fit in sub packages. Third-round pick Preston Brown could emerge as a nickel 'backer next to Kiko Alonso if he continues to pick up the system well, but if there are hiccups, Bradham could get a shot at a sub package role. That's his best chance of making the 53-man roster.

Why he shouldn't make it: This could hinge on whether the Bills want to keep five or six linebackers. They carried six through the first part of last season, but two of those -- Marcus Dowtin and Jamaal Westerman -- were almost exclusively special teams players. Braham would fall either fifth or six on the linebacker depth chart, meaning his contributions on special teams would have to surpass those of seventh-round pick Randell Johnson or a carryover from last season, Ty Powell. If he can't match up on special teams, Bradham could get cut.

Closest competition: Johnson, Powell, LB Nate Williams
We recently chatted with ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson, a former scout for the Cleveland Browns, about a variety of Buffalo Bills topics.

Next, we'll take a closer look at the Bills defense under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz:

Overall thoughts on scheme: "By judging what the Detroit Lions have done over the years, they're not going to blitz much. They'll do some but their linebackers aren't considered great pass-rushers. They don't have a lot invested at their linebacker positions in Detroit. They want studs up front [on the defensive line]. By that standard, I think Buffalo fits that."

Thoughts on defensive line: "I'm a real, big Kyle Williams fan. [Marcell] Dareus is a bit of an enigma to me, because I think he's a good player, but I don't know exactly what he is. And that doesn't necessarily matter. He's kind of a big, fat guy but he's not Vince Wilfork. He's not Warren Sapp. He's not a 3-4 [defensive] end. So I don't know exactly what he is. But I think he's best in a 4-3 and can be disruptive and is a quality player against the run and pass, he's just probably never lived up to the draft position he was taken [third overall in 2011]."

Defensive end fits in Schwartz's scheme: "It was Kyle Vanden Bosch for a lot of years. They went out and signed Jason Jones this year to play end, who is a 290-pound guy. Generally, in the Wide-9, they're going to look for speed off the edge. I think Mario Williams is a good player, but I'm not sure that's his game. I like how Jerry Hughes played for the Bills this year and I think he's a keeper, but I don't think he can handle every snap as a 4-3 end. They might need another [defensive] end. A 260-pound guy that runs a 4.6 [40-yard dash]."

On possible diminished role for Alan Branch: "Agreed. Short yardage, I guess he's a defensive end. On passing downs, maybe he's a defensive tackle. He's certainly not an end. I don't think he's a great Wide-9 fit. He's not Ndamukong Suh. That's for sure. I think he's more of a 3-4 end. 'Let's be stout at the point of attack, eat up as much space as possible, don't lose in the run game.'"

On Alex Carrington's role: "Yeah, maybe. Maybe he's a third or fourth [defensive] end for you. He's obviously a bigger body than Hughes. So he could do some different things there. But I still think they're an end short, especially because [Mario] Williams isn't young. You could draft an end reasonably high, an upside guy."

On needs at linebacker: "At outside linebacker. But those guys are kind of like [offensive] guards to me. You can almost find them anywhere. The Lions did that too. They had very little resources in their outside linebackers. [DeAndre] Levy was a [third-round] pick. They had a revolving door at the other spot."

On Manny Lawson: "I don't think he fits the scheme. I think he's best as a 3-4 outside linebacker and I think he's not nearly productive enough to count on. It wouldn't shock me at all if he's a cap casualty."

On Nigel Bradham: "I think he fits this new scheme better than the old scheme. I think he can run and hit well enough to be maybe an OK 4-3 outside linebacker. ... I don't think [Sam and Will] are all the distinguishable in Detroit's system. It think they're more left and right [outside linebackers], run and hit guys. I don't remember them having any 6-3, 245-pound 'Sam' guys. It's more that they're outside linebackers are interchangeable than the old school Bucs, Tampa-2."
Back in September, we broke down the Buffalo Bills' 53-man roster, position-by-position. Now that the Bills' season has ended, we'll review those grades:

Position: Linebacker (preseason grades)

Kiko Alonso -- 100 percent
Manny Lawson -- 61.7 percent
Arthur Moats -- 25.6 percent
Nigel Bradham -- 24.9 percent
Jamaal Westerman -- 5.3 percent
Marcus Dowtin -- 1.5 percent
Ty Powell -- 1.3 percent


Preseason take: Mike Pettine's defense often calls for more defensive backs than it does linebackers, making depth less of a concern here. Dowtin and Westerman are good special-teams players with experience in Pettine's system, but don't figure to play much, if any, of a role on defense. The Bills really only need two full-time players out of this position, and they have them in Alonso and Lawson. Beyond that, Moats and Bradham are viable insurance options. Grade: B

Postseason review: As expected, Dowtin and Westerman did not play much of a role on defense and were eventually phased out on special teams in favor of Powell. Both Alonso and Lawson stayed healthy as the top two options -- Lawson missed one game with a hamstring injury -- so Moats and Bradham were never thrust into a starting role. The grade, then, seems accurate. Had Alonso or Lawson missed any extended time, it would have been a blow to the defense.


Preseason take: Lawson has played 16 games in each of his last four seasons, making him one of the team's most reliable players from a health standpoint. However, the Bills will need to lean on Alonso a lot this season -- and played all 91 snaps in Sunday's loss -- and that could be a risky move with a rookie, especially one who may have responsibilities to make defensive calls in pressure situations. Grade: B-

Postseason review: The Bills leaned on Alonso for every snap of the season and he held up very well. Were there occasional lapses from the rookie? There were, such as on Bobby Rainey's 80-yard touchdown run in Tampa. Did he start to wear down late in the season? Quite possibly, especially as he was hobbled by a knee injury in the final month of the season. But the Bills got more than what most expected from Alonso, who proved himself reliable. This grade should have been higher.

Defensive snaps: Bradham gets spike

December, 10, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- A look at snaps played by Buffalo Bills defensive players, while analyzing how the totals reflect the way players were used (totals provided by the NFL):

LB Kiko Alonso -- 66 of 66
S Jairus Byrd -- 66 of 66
CB Leodis McKelvin -- 66 of 66
CB Stephon Gilmore -- 64 of 66
S Aaron Williams -- 64 of 66
DT Marcell Dareus -- 59 of 66
DT Kyle Williams -- 53 of 66
DE Mario Williams -- 52 of 66
LB Manny Lawson -- 49 of 66
LB Nigel Bradham -- 47 of 66
DT Alan Branch -- 47 of 66
OLB Jerry Hughes -- 25 of 66
CB Nickell Robey -- 19 of 66
DL Corbin Bryant -- 18 of 66
S Da'Norris Searcy -- 12 of 66
DT Stefan Charles -- 10 of 66
LB Ty Powell -- 7 of 66
LB Arthur Moats -- 2 of 66
CB Ron Brooks -- 0 of 66
S Jim Leonhard -- 0 of 66
S Duke Williams -- 0 of 66

ANALYSIS: Bradham saw a sharp increase in snaps after being largely phased out of the defense for most of the season. In contrast, Moats played only two snaps. Was that a matter of game plan or a trend going forward? We'll have to see. ... Powell played seven snaps in place of Lawson, likely for evaluation purposes. On Monday, coach Doug Marrone said the Bills will look to get Powell more playing time in the coming games. ... Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant were rotated into the mix along the defensive line. ... Among defensive backs, Searcy played only 12 snaps, while Brooks and Leonhard did not appear on defense. That was likely the result of the Buccaneers staying in more 'regular' personnel packages for much of the game.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A look at snaps played by Buffalo Bills defensive players, while analyzing how the totals reflect the way players were utilized (totals provided by the NFL):

LB Kiko Alonso -- 86 of 86
S Jim Leonhard -- 83 of 86
DE Mario Williams -- 78 of 86
S Da'Norris Searcy -- 76 of 86
OLB Jerry Hughes -- 76 of 86
DT Kyle Williams -- 71 of 86
S Aaron Williams -- 70 of 86
CB Leodis McKelvin -- 68 of 86
DT Marcell Dareus -- 60 of 86
DT Alan Branch -- 47 of 86
S Jairus Byrd -- 41 of 86
LB Nigel Bradham -- 39 of 86
LB Arthur Moats -- 36 of 86
CB Stephon Gilmore -- 26 of 86
OLB Manny Lawson -- 25 of 86
CB Nickell Robey -- 22 of 86
DL Corbin Bryant -- 19 of 86
DL Jay Ross -- 11 of 86
OLB Jamaal Westerman -- 8 of 86
S Duke Williams -- 1 of 86
S Jonathan Meeks -- 0 of 65
CB Brandon Smith -- 0 of 65

Analysis: Playing in his first game this season, Byrd was on the field for less than half the time. The Bills leaned heavily on Leonard (97 percent) and Searcy (88 percent), with Byrd coming on as a third safety in sub packages. Presumably, the Bills will try to work Byrd into more of a full-time role in the coming games, if he is not traded. ... Gilmore played 30 percent of defensive snaps and was hampered by having to wear a large club on his injured left hand. The expectation is that he'll be worked more slowly back into full-time duty compared to Byrd. ... The trickle-effect of Lawson's second quarter injury can be seen between an increase in snaps for Hughes (88 percent) and Bradham (45 percent). Coach Doug Marrone said Monday that Lawson is healthy and ready to go Sunday, so both Hughes and Bradham should return to a more normal snap count, as both are mostly situational players. ... Robey's 22 snaps were lower than one might expect for an up-and-coming player. The Bills appear to be high on Robey, but this may have been a case where he didn't match up well against a taller group of Bengals receivers. Byrd coming on as the fifth defensive back also lessened Robey's playing time.

Defensive snaps: Injuries leave mark

September, 23, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A look at snaps played by Buffalo Bills defensive players, while analyzing how the totals reflect the way players were utilized (totals provided by the NFL):

LB Kiko Alonso -- 78 of 78
S Aaron Williams -- 78 of 78
S Da'Norris Searcy -- 77 of 78
S Jim Leonhard -- 73 of 78
CB Justin Rogers -- 72 of 78
DT Kyle Williams -- 65 of 78
OLB Manny Lawson -- 63 of 78
DT Alex Carrington -- 57 of 78
DE Mario Williams -- 55 of 78
DT Alan Branch -- 51 of 78
CB Nickell Robey -- 45 of 78
OLB Jerry Hughes -- 38 of 78
LB Arthur Moats -- 32 of 78
DT Marcell Dareus -- 24 of 78
DL Corbin Bryant -- 20 of 78
S Duke Williams -- 11 of 78
OLB Jamaal Westerman -- 7 of 78
CB Leodis McKelvin -- 7 of 78
LB Nigel Bradham -- 3 of 78
OLB Marcus Dowtin -- 2 of 78
CB Johnny Adams -- 0 of 78
CB Brandon Burton -- 0 of 78
S Jonathan Meeks -- 0 of 78

ANALYSIS: Big jump in snaps here for Jim Leonhard and Alan Branch, who stepped in for McKelvin (injured in first quarter) and Dareus (injured in third quarter). Two solid veteran signings by general manager Doug Whaley. ... It wasn't how the Bills envisioned it in the preseason, but Rogers played 92 percent of snaps and was targeted frequently by the Jets. ... Bradham continues to see limited action on defense. Head coach Doug Marrone said after each of the first two games that Bradham's low snap count was due to "personnel match-ups," but over three games, a pattern has developed. It doesn't look like he will contribute much to Mike Pettine's defense, which relies more on defensive backs. ... Corbin Bryant (20 snaps) could be slated for an increased role if Carrington's injury is serious. Bryant was a healthy scratch in Week 1.