The Buffalo Bills had been in contact with linebacker Kirk Morrison since the NFL's free-agency signing period started a month ago. Once he saw an opening on the Bills' roster, he said he was sold on the idea of becoming a Bill.
"Buffalo was always a team that called me from the beginning when free agency first started," Morrison said after his first practice with the Bills Monday. "They were kind of deep at linebacker. And as the numbers kind of got thin, I said, 'You know what, that's a team that I'd like to play for.' Shawne Merriman did a good job of calling me and keeping me in the loop and kind of recruiting me down here, and I'm excited I came down here."
Morrison, signed after backup Reggie Torbor was lost for the season to a shoulder injury, gives the Bills more competition and good insurance at inside linebacker.
Andra Davis and Nick Barnett are the starters. Torbor was playing coverage linebacker with Barnett in the Bills' "big nickel" package on passing downs. The "small nickel" features Barnett and Bryan Scott as the underneath coverage men. Morrison could step into the big nickel duty, and he has the credentials to push Davis hard for a starting spot once he learns the defensive scheme. The Bills are high on their two rookie inside linebackers, Kelvin Sheppard and Chris White, but the fact Sheppard has missed almost all of August with a hamstring pull probably played into the signing of Morrison, as well.
Morrison, 29, has started 95 of 96 games in six NFL seasons. He made at least 116 tackles each of his first five seasons in Oakland but dropped to 89 last year with Jacksonville. The Jaguars decided to upgrade at middle linebacker in the 4-3 defense and signed Paul Posluszny from the Bills.
Morrison said he's confident he can adjust to a new situation in the 3-4 defense in Buffalo.
"I've just been a consistent player," he said. "I've started the last 95 consecutive games in my career. I've never missed a game in the NFL. One thing is I study hard, I work hard and just on Sunday you can count on me to be there. That's how I've always been. My role here is still kind of up in the air because I just got here."
"I've got to play a lot of catch-up, learn a lot of defense, and until that happens I'm definitely comfortable with sitting behind Andra and Nick and just being a part of a rotation," he said. "You've still got young Kelvin Sheppard too who's learning, I see him out here working. So we've got a good group of guys, we're going to learn off each other and feed off each other."
Bills coach Chan Gailey on Morrison: "He's a veteran linebacker that's played mike [middle] linebacker a decent amount, and he's been productive over the years. He brings some experience, speed and hopefully some good play to our football team. It's going to take some work to get him involved and get him acclimated, but we've got a little bit of time so we'll do the best we can."
Morrison is 6-foot-2, 247 pounds and is a former third-round draft pick. Davis, 32, is 6-1, 255. He has 100 starts over nine seasons. He started four games last year for the Bills but was lost for the season to a shoulder injury after six games. The Bills missed him after he was hurt.
"We've got some guys that have played in games before and know their way around the game, so we feel pretty good about that and we've got some good young ones," Gailey said. "It's going to be an interesting fight to see how that turns out."
Morrison said waiting a full month after free agency started to sign was not easy.
"I've just been at home training, working out two to three times a day, doing everything I could to be prepared for when my number was called," he said. "I had interest from other teams but I was looking for the opportunity that I could go out and be a positive leader on a football team."
"I'm not surprised," he said of his layoff. "There is a lot of young guys in this league, a lot of guys who are drafted. And from the teams I talked to they liked my work, six years worth of film. But as far as a lot of the guys who they haven't seen teams told me to be patient, we've just got to see what these guys can do before we make decisions."