Truth be told, Lorenzo Alexander’s allegiance resided on the San Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
But even though he’ll be playing on the other side of the Bay on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills’ outside linebacker is looking forward to going home.
Alexander was born in Oakland, and played high school football less than 14 miles from the Raiders’ Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. He spent the 2015 season with the Raiders, too, so there is that added significance for the Bills’ leader in sacks as his team prepares for its all-important Week 13 matchup.
“I grew up a 49ers fan, so it really wasn’t my team, but it was fun to be at home,” Alexander said. “To play for the Silver and Black, I grew up going to more of their games than the 49ers games. You see all the history there, the great players who played there, so to be a part of that legacy in a sense was really cool.”
Alexander’s role with the Raiders was much different than what he’s doing in Buffalo. He played 460 snaps, but just 45 came on defense, with the rest on special teams.
Still, he made an impression on Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.
“He’s a tremendous young man,” Del Rio said. “He was everything you want in a pro in terms of his approach, his toughness, his willingness to go to work every day and not just do it himself the right way, but show guys around him how to do it. A lot of us guys here are really happy and proud for him to be having the kind of year he is there in Buffalo.”
All of which begs the question, why’d the Raiders let him get away?
“I didn’t spend offseason and training camp with them,” Alexander said. “I kind of got picked up right after preseason was over, so I wasn’t there that long, but it was good. I got to see my mom every week, coming over for ‘Taco Tuesday’ and stuff like that. Thanksgiving, Christmas day, stuff you normally miss with your family, I got to do all that.”
Alexander probably never would have gotten the chance to play for the Raiders if it weren’t for an injury. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 as a special-teams ace with Washington, then signed with Arizona to play the role he’s filling this season with the Bills.
But a Lisfranc (mid-foot) injury cut his 2013 season short after just three games.
“It never really materialized after that,” he said. “Coming back off that injury, it took me a couple years to get back to my current self.” A lot of things came good out of that experience. I had another child during that time I was on injured reserve. I renewed my faith. Then I got to go home. If I had never got hurt, I probably never would have played for the Raiders. … So there’s a lot of things that kind of trickled down from that injury that I wouldn’t want to take back.
Alexander has been asked to play a bigger role with the Bills, and has done so admirably. His 10 sacks lead the team and is tied for second in the NFL behind Denver’s Von Miller (12.5). Just last week, coach Rex Ryan called him the Bills’ MVP.
There has to be a part of him, then, that relishes the chance to show the Raiders what they’re missing, right?
“I don’t really ever dwell on that,” he said. “Most people who know my story know that. It’ll be good to get back and visit. I’ve got a whole bunch of friends and family that are coming to the game – people that I grew up with who are Raiders fans. You tend to play well and show up well when you go home, because you want to showcase for your friends.”
Alexander skipped Wednesday’s practice and was limited Thursday because of an ankle injury, but should be on the field Sunday barring any sort of setback. Earlier this year, he played one week after suffering a hamstring injury, part of the reason his teammates named him the toughest player on the team (spoiler alert: read more about that in Sunday’s edition).
“That’s why I play this game,” he said. “You play it for the respect from the guys in the room. If they respect you and know you’re a good football player, one who plays hard, then that’s a success to me.”
Undoubtedly, Alexander’s current teammates know that. On Sunday, he’ll get a chance to show his previous ones, too.