MOBILE, Ala. – Potential answers at inside linebacker are clearing up this first phase of the offseason.
First, it is noteworthy that General Manager Doug Whaley said he wants to re-sign Nigel Bradham, even pointing out that he’s had success in a 3-4 before Rex Ryan arrived. One of Ryan’s former linebackers – the New York Jets’ Demario Davis – could be a option in free agency. New York will let Davis test the market, NJ.com reported.
And then, there’s this group of prospects at the Senior Bowl.
Statistically, the Bills didn’t get enough from their group, and injuries whittled them down to undrafted pick-up A.J. Tarpley by Week 16. It sure doesn’t help when play calls from the booth are being called into Preston Brown late.
Whether it’s Bradham, Brown, Davis, Ty Powell off his torn ACL or one of these rookies, the Bills must enter 2016 with a confident 1-2 punch in the heart of their defense.
Florida’s Antonio Morrison, 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, could be one potential fit. Known for playing through a whistle – having an edgy temperament – Morrison had 96 tackles (11 for loss) on a very stingy Gators defense last season. In a rout against Chad Kelly’s prolific Ole Miss offense, he had 16 tackles (3.5 for loss).
All of this after shredding his ACL in a bowl game to cap the 2014 season.
“It just made me realize you can get hurt on any play in this game,” Morrison said after Thursday’s practice. “I know guys get hurt playing football – it’s 100 percent injury chance playing this game. Any play you can get hurt so every play you have to go your hardest.”
He credited his trainer, doctor and physical therapist, adding it also took his “will” to return.
The result was a linebacker who left bruises.
“I’ll just be myself every day and bring it every play,” Morrison said. “I was raised that way. And every time I’m on the field, I want to give it my all.
“That’s just how I was raised, how I was born. I’ve been playing that way forever.”
Whoever is running Rex Ryan’s defense must be capable of processing a complex scheme mentally on the fly. The Bills try to match an offense’s personnel, often, at the last possible moment. Morrison believes playing in Will Muschamp’s defense prior to 2015 groomed him.
“They all prepared me for this,” he said. “It’s nothing. I was privileged to get coached by those guys.”
There will be rookie options and, certainly, veteran options. If Davis is released, Ryan will be intrigued.
The 27-year-old Davis, a third-round pick by the Jets in 2012, has started the last three seasons. He had 90 tackles and two sacks this past season, though he struggled in coverage against running backs and was platooned with Erin Henderson the last six games.
The Play of the Day on Thursday? No doubt, that belongs to West Virginia safety KJ Dillon. He blew up one running play about 3-4 yards in the backfield, drawing a roar. Just crushed him. There’s no touch football down here in Mobile – these players understand it’s one prolonged job interview and Dillon, a lower-round prospect, made the most of it with this jarring collision.
His last two seasons with the Mountaineers, Dillon had 14 tackles for loss and four interceptions.
The next best defensive play of the day belonged to Minnesota’s Eric Murray. The 6-foot, 199-pounder was tested on a jump ball to Cincinnati’s 6-2 Chris Moore in the corner of the end zone and extended to break it up.
Teams will love Murray’s feisty disposition.
Meanwhile, the best defensive back on the North team has been Boise State’s Darian Thompson. In 7 on 7 in the red zone Thursday, he broke on one slant route for a difficult pass breakup. And he did it without clutching or grabbing, surely what scouts want to see with flags flying so freely in the NFL today.