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Bills counting on LB Bradham to improve

Buffalo Bills General Manager Buddy Nix knows the popular opinion regarding his team’s linebackers is that it needs better ones.

Nix, however, disagrees.

“I think we’ve got some talent there, and a lot more than people think,” he said. “We’ll know more with this group after we get through” organized team activities.

Chief among those players Nix was referring to is second-year veteran Nigel Bradham.

“I think he’s a great fit for what we’re doing, because he can fly. He can run,” Nix said. “He’s a guy that the closer he gets to the ball, the faster he gets. He likes to play. He was an excellent special teams guy.

“I would think that he’ll have a good year.”

Bradham knows a lot more will be expected of him in his second season.

“Nobody’s going to be harder on myself than me,” he said after the Bills conducted their first voluntary minicamp practice. “The mentality that I have, come out here, do anything I can to make the team better in any way I possibly can. That’s the attitude I have to take, to come out here and get better every day and just live up to the potential and expectations that I have.”

Bradham had a solid, if unspectacular, rookie season. Playing as a strong-side linebacker, he appeared in all 16 games, starting the last 11, and finished with 47 tackles. Only one of those went for a loss, however, and Bradham did not have any interceptions or forced fumbles.

He hopes moving back to weak-side linebacker will help to make him more of a playmaker.

“It’s definitely more comfortable,” he said. “You’ve been at a position your whole life. You’ve got a certain feel for it. You’ve just got natural ability at it, some things that can’t be really coached and just natural instincts over there on the weak side for me that I have.”

Bradham described last year as one of “adversity.” He made it clear the new coaching staff led by Doug Marrone and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was a nice change.

“Definitely more enthusiastic. It’s like an energy atmosphere, kind of like a young feel,” he said. “Everybody’s hyped. Everybody is in to it together – from coaches to players. Any time you have an atmosphere like that it’s pretty much just have fun, and enjoy yourself while you’re out here.

“I see myself fitting in well. I feel like the scheme is really good for me, as far as where I can use my speed, my ability to cover and pretty much be able to get some big plays and big hits on some guys this season. I felt like the scheme fits me pretty well as an overall linebacker.”

When the Bills released Nick Barnett this offseason, they lost their leading tackler from a season ago. Barnett, who played the weak side in Dave Wannstedt’s 4-3 scheme, finished with 112 tackles.

“I definitely was watching Nick last year,” Bradham said. “With him being the Will linebacker, he was teaching me a lot in the meetings. Great role model. I’m glad I got the chance to learn from him as a player. He was a great player, and unfortunately he’s not here this year, but hopefully I can take his role and step up and make plays like he did.”

Bradham was a celebrated five-star high school recruit before going to Florida State. With the Seminoles, he finished as the team’s leading tackler for three straight seasons. Bradham had just two sacks in his final season, but said the new scheme installed by Pettine will call for him to rush the passer at times.

“As far as the scheme, it’s something different and something I’ve never really been a part of as far as the blitzing,” he said. “I’ve been in most of all the coverage schemes, but this one has a lot more blitzing in it, so it’ll be a lot more fun.”

Nix expects Bradham to be a “three-down” linebacker, meaning he won’t have to come off the field when the Bills go to their nickel package to combat the opposition’s passing attack.

“It’s becoming a passing league,” Bradham said. “Any time you have a linebacker that can stay on the field all three downs, it’s pretty much an advantage for your defense because he’ll be able to play the run when they do try to run it.”