Nothing like 14 years of missing the playoffs to lead many Bills fans to do what they often do when something bad happens, like that of the loss of linebacker Kiko Alonso for the season, they ‘cry a river.’
If I listened to what many are saying on the radio, Facebook or Twitter then quite frankly it would almost seem pointless to write this column. But before you start crying a river, chalking up 2014 as another lost season and start sulking at the prospect of who Cleveland picks with the high draft pick we gave them, just settle down and relax. Thanks to Bills GM Doug Whaley, the season is far from lost. One of the main priorities this offseason even before Alonso’s torn ACL last week was to add linebacker depth. They did this through free agency (Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes) and through the draft (Preston Brown and Randell Johnson).
There is another aspect that should be kept in mind, Alonso’s rookie success was mainly through playing middle linebacker in former Bills Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense. He was supposed to be moving to the outside to play the outside under new DC Jim Schwartz’s scheme, but hip surgery earlier this offseason kept Alonso out of many of the organized team activities and so even a healthy Alonso would be behind at this point in learning the defense.
With training camp less than a couple of weeks away, the Bills go into camp knowing that not only will they deal with a devastating injury, but that a blessing in disguise could be that Rivers had been working with the starting unit much of the offseason. Not that this means he is entrenched in the position, but the Bills appear to be better prepared to deal with the loss of Alonso than a year ago with a veteran linebacker already having spent much time preparing as though he was a starter. Much speculation is that rookie Preston Brown could take the job as well. Maybe some shuffling could lead to more time at OLB for veterans Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes. Or perhaps, like Alonso a year ago, another young player such as Ty Powell or Randell Johnson just might surprise some people. Any way it happens the Bills have a good mix of veterans and youth who should help fill the role for 2014 while Alonso recovers.
It also may very well mean that the trade with Cleveland to move up and select receiver Sammy Watkins could be more important to the team’s success in 2014. If he helps vault the progress of second year QB EJ Manuel and the Bills passing game then the Bills offense should be in a better position to build leads early with a talented group of WR’s (Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin) and an equally talented stable of running backs (Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon) to control the ball in the second half of games and help the Bills get to the postseason for the first time since Hall-of-Famers Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith helped the Bills last reach the playoffs in 1999.