Subpar DTs likely to hinder Buffalo’s LB corps

By Connor Byrne  |   Thursday, July 12, 2007  |  Comments( 52 )

Buffalo Bills
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After losing big-name defenders Nate Clements, London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes during the early months of the offseason, Buffalo's fans were given new hope when the Bills chose linebacker Paul Posluszny during the second round of April's draft. Posluszny, thought of as a world-class college player while at Penn State, is expected to be the team's starting middle linebacker when the Bills' regular season begins on Sept. 9.

Given the 22-year-old's success with the Nittany Lions, Bills fans naturally have high hopes that he'll excel from Day 1 in the NFL. However, those grand expectations may be a little premature, and that's actually not the Butler, Pa., native's fault.

After all, it's the Bills who haven't assembled a good enough front four to free up Posluszny and his fellow starting LBs -- likely to be Angelo Crowell and Keith Ellison.

Fletcher, 32, was highly productive during his five years with the Bills. Last season's 146 total tackles, four interceptions and two sacks were no exception. Despite his outstanding numbers (Fletcher, now a Redskin, amassed no fewer than 133 tackles in each season with Buffalo and never missed a game), the knock on the 5-foot-10, 245-pounder was that most of his tackles came 10 yards downfield.

For the most part, that was true. And, to be honest, it might be the case for Posluszny, at least for 2006. After all, when the defensive tackles are weak, it often hinders the production of the linebackers. That's a big reason why Baltimore selected mammoth tackle Haloti Ngata in the first round of the '06 draft. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome picked Ngata to better allow all-world linebacker Ray Lewis to run free. It worked, as Lewis racked up 103 tackles and a career-high five sacks last season.

At the moment, Buffalo doesn't have a space-eater like Ngata because its Tampa 2 scheme doesn't call for huge tackles. Still, though, the Bills' current players who fit their defensive style have proven to be backup-level tackles at best. It all seems to hinge on second-year man John McCargo, a first-rounder in '06 whose foot injuries have hindered him since his college days at North Carolina State.

If McCargo can somehow turn into a force this year -- the Bills' version of Chicago's dominator in the middle of the D-line, Tommie Harris -- it means Posluszny and Buffalo's other linebackers could roam the field and produce tremendous results. If that happens, Posluszny could have a similar first season as Houston LB DeMeco Ryans (also a second-rounder), who piled up 155 tackles and 3½ sacks en route to NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2006.

In all likelihood, though, McCargo and the remainder of Buffalo's ragtag group of D-tackles won't fare too well in 2007 (when Tim Anderson and Jason Jefferson are being counted on, there's a problem).

Should that be the case, the LB corps -- particularly the old-school Posluszny, whom Bills fans already seem to love -- will have plenty of difficulty.

It's hard to be above average, let alone perform at star-caliber levels, as a linebacker when the tackles up front don't pull their weight.

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