If there's any Bills player just counting the days until the opening kickoff in September, it's got to be Paul Posluszny.
The sturdy middle linebacker from Penn State was only able to start three games last season, before being sidelined by a forearm injury. Posluszny was to be the anchor for the Bills linebacker corps, filling the void left by London Fletcher, who led a powerful group of linebackers in 2006. With training camp approaching, and his arm fully healed, Posluszny and a few fresh faces will look to return this group to dominant fashion once again.
Among the fresh faces is Kawika Mitchell, who the Bills acquired in free agency in February. Mitchell comes from the Super Bowl-winning Giants and will most likely be playing in the weak-side linebacker slot this fall. He is not only a talented linebacker, but he will be bringing some much needed experience to the team, having played for six years in the NFL and in the all-important postseason as well.
On the opposite side is Angelo Crowell, another six-year veteran, who has emerged as one of the Bills' toughest players. After Posluszny's injury last season, Crowell had to step up and he did, compiling a career-high 126 tackles. He is a very reliable player and will continue to be a solid force on the strong side.
Two no-names, John DiGiorgio and Keith Ellison, saw plenty of playing time last season due to the incredible amount of injuries the team suffered during the course of the year. Both stepped up under tough circumstances and could potentially give some stiff competition for the presumed starters during training camp. DiGiorgio, who filled in at Posluszny's position, had a breakout season finishing second on the team in tackles with 137. Ellison started nine games last season and provided enough solid play to keep Mitchell on his toes at camp.
Some more players acquired this off-season will also offer some good competition in camp. Marcus Buggs and Jon Banks were free agency pickups, while Alvin Bowen was the team's fifth round draft pick out of Iowa State. Also on the roster is a second-year player who spent time in NFL Europa, Blake Costanzo.
The main thing to look for during camp is the return of Posluszny and the impact he'll have on the field.
Before getting injured at New England in Week Three, The Poz was probably the best on the Bills' defense. In the opener he made 10 tackles (nine solo) against Denver, and had 12 stops at Pittsburgh. It was clear The Poz was a cut above. Now with some added talent around him, he could blossom even more.
When Marv Levy chose to draft him last year, the young linebacker reminded him of former Bills standout Shane Conlan, from the glory days of the early 90's. With high praise like that, he obviously expected nothing but greatness from Posluszny. He not only possesses the traits to be great himself, but he also can make the team around him better as well.
The upgrades in the LB were much needed. The Bills ranked near last in the run-defense category last season, and a banged-up second line of defense was part of the problem. This season, barring another plague of injuries, there will be a nice-sized list of linebackers who will be able to make an impact for the team, and not just fill a roster spot. Buffalo has the depth it didn't last year at this position.
Another way Posluszny will hopefully make an impact is with his leadership. Middle linebacker is typically a leadership role on defense, and Posluszny has the brains and work ethic to be a real leader alongside Donte Whitner. It should be interesting to see if does in fact step up and becomes a real leader.
Paul Posluszny – if healthy – could be a huge second-round steal.
Regardless of if he becomes a leader or not, the linebackers should be a lot better this coming season. With the two solid, six-year veterans on the outside, and the second-year, soon-to-be stud that is Posluszny holding down the middle, how could they go wrong? By the end of training camp, the starting three should be turning some heads around the league with their play. Not only that, but the coaches will have a deep reserve of both young, fresh talent and players who have already proven that they can play and make a difference on game day.