Linebacker Kirk Morrison knows he has something to prove to Buffalo Bills fans.
"To Bills fans, and even to myself," Morrison said after Tuesday's spring practice.
"There's a little chip on my shoulder a little bit. I feel like a rookie all over again. Nobody really saw too much of me. This year I just have so much to prove."
Morrison came to the Bills last August with a pretty respectable NFL track record. He had started 95 of 96 games in his six-year NFL career. He never missed a game. He played more than 95 percent of the defensive snaps in five years with Oakland and logged almost 80 percent of the snaps with Jacksonville in 2010.
Yet Bills fans aren't sure what they're getting from Morrison, because he played only 55 of 1,001 defensive plays last year, according to News figures.
That's due to change. Morrison, the backup to Nick Barnett at weak-side linebacker last year, is the scheduled starter at strong-side linebacker in the new 4-3 defense of coordinator Dave Wannstedt.
"I don't want to be the guy to let this defense down," Morrison said. "We have big beef up front. They're gonna make it a lot easier for us. It's up to me to go out and do my part. So if it's extra film, or extra meetings with coaches, whatever it may be, I gotta make sure I'm doing it at all time."
The character and work ethic Morrison showed as a backup last year helped convince the Bills to bring him back on a two-year deal in March. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Morrison has shown in his career he can read blocks and find the ball. He averaged 100 tackles a season with Oakland.
Most of his career has been at middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme. But Morrison thinks versatility is one of his strengths and that he will be able to make a smooth transition to strong-side 'backer.
"I'm in my comfort zone in the 4-3," he said. "I've played all three positions in the 4-3. I played Will (weak side) my entire rookie year. Then I moved to the Mike (middle). In Jacksonville, I played a little bit at Sam (strong-side) and in the middle."
"We have some big dogs up front," he added. "They're going to be able to set the edge for me and I can play off the ball a little bit. In this 4-3 the Sam and Will are kind of interchangeable because you pick up a tight end. A lot of times teams trade and switch off (motion the tight to the other side), and you need to know both. Me knowing how to the play the Will, because I played it here last year, makes things easier."
Morrison has been sitting out this week's practices due to a "tweak" in the leg. ("I'll be ready to go next week," he said.) But he thinks the spring practices are giving the defense a big edge over last season.
"I think what we're doing right now is huge for us," he said. "There's carry-over from last year, but there's a lot of new terminology, a lot of new defenses going in. Just the way we're running around, as we start to understand what we're doing, you're starting to see guys flying around making plays out here. It's been fun to watch. It's encouraging because we know we're still a long, long ways away, but the improvement from last year to right now we feel like is night and day. Our communication is better, our depth is a lot better, and I think everybody sees it."
Morrison can't wait to let fans see it from him, too.
"I know what it takes," he said. "I've been there. I've been in the fire before. I know the grind week in and week out."
The Bills held their eighth organized team activity Tuesday in the team's fieldhouse. Quarterback Tyler Thigpen, who had missed last week with muscle pull in his midsection, was back participating in 11-on-11 drills in the workout and ran the second-team offense.