Bills 2020 Training Camp Injury Preview: Linebackers

Will Milano suffer another hamstring strain?

This is Part 9 of the Buffalo Bills training camp preview revisiting injuries from 2019 & the impact it may have on their performance and availability in 2020. Part 9 consists of the linebacker room.

Not Returning

LB Lorenzo Alexander 

16 games, 7 starts, 9 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 2 sacks, 50 combined tackles, 31 solo, 19 assisted, 4 TFL, 9 QB hits

Newly retired, Lorenzo Alexander brought a lot to the Bills during his four years in Buffalo and really helped set the stage for hopefully long term sustained success. He was an effective leader, willing to do the dirty work on special teams, and guide young players as they entered the league. 

Despite his age and willingness to play anywhere asked, Alexander did not suffer any known injuries during 2019. In fact, he barely showed up on the injury report during his time with only a partially torn hamstring and ankle injury back in 2016. Since then, Alexander has not appeared on the injury reports with the exception of veteran rest days. 

While Alexander certainly suffered injuries that were not reported, he walks away from the game on his own terms, especially coming in as a UDFA, carving out a 15-year career. This was evident by his most recent post where he is wearing a surgery gown, ready to go into surgery for an unspecified procedure. Considering he has the NFL insurance & documentation from the injuries, it is wise to get any ailments addressed now while it is covered.

Bills Mafia thanks him for all that he brought to the area and we wish him well in retirement. 

LB Maurice Alexander 

7 games, 8 combined tackles, 6 solo, 2 assisted

Alexander did not quite have the season that he likely envisioned when he signed with Bills. He came in to compete for a backup job and contribute on special teams which he earned out of training camp. Unfortunately, he suffered a number of injuries and was pressed into playing on defense which likely led to his season-ending on IR.

During his 7 game stint with the Bills, he suffered knee, left hip, and calf injuries, with the knee injury originally occurring against the Bengals. He was questionable for the Patriots game but eventually played. He then suffered a left hip injury filling in for the injured Matt Milano playing against the Dolphins. 

He was later ruled out against the Redskins with a knee injury and then placed on injured reserve the next week with knee and calf injuries. The specifics of each of the injuries were never really divulged but whatever the injuries were, they were severe enough that he ended his season early. He has yet to find a job in 2020 but could find something if injuries occur if rosters expand due to the pandemic.

LB Julian Stanford 

16 games, 1 fumble recovery, 3 combined tackles, 2 solo, 1 assisted

Stanford, a crucial special teams contributor leaves the team following the Bills not signing him to a new contract for 2020. He contributed throughout his time with the Bills & at times was effective when called upon for defense, specifically in the season finale against the Jets. During 2020, he did not suffer any known injuries. He will also be forced to find a new team for 2020 in order to stay in the NFL.

Returning Players

LB Corey Thompson 

12 games, 5 combined tackles, 2 solo, 3 assisted, 1 TFL

For a player that is a backup and mainly special teamer, Thompson was oft-injured throughout the season. Despite all the injuries, he was still able to appear in 12 games and perform well on special teams, with his only defensive performance in the season finale against the Jets. Thompson continued to battle to be relevant on the field this year, but the injuries did take a toll on him.

Thompson’s injuries below:

    • Groin strain

He suffered a groin injury midway through training camp that may have been minor, but he still sat out as a precaution against the Panthers in the preseason. He did not appear to have any recurrence of the injury later in the preseason or regular season, but if not addressed properly, those injuries can linger and cause missed time in chunks as the injury becomes more chronic.

    • Ankle surgery

It was initially reported that Thompson suffered an ankle sprain just prior to the Bengals game which left him designated as questionable. It was also never revealed which side he injured. He ended up playing in the game, recording his lowest snap count of the season with 6 plays, indicating that he was not fully healthy to contribute. 

He missed the next 4 games requiring ankle surgery that was never fully explained why he required the procedure. At the time, it was thought that he may have bone chips or loose bodies floating around in there, causing the ankle to lock up. There are many other possibilities that it could have been, but considering there wasn’t a clear mechanism of injury and lack of reporting regarding the specifics, truly hard to say what he was dealing with.

Whatever it was, it was minor enough to only miss 4 games and then return to play later in the season. My initial guess is that this injury will not linger into 2020, but without more details, I am not 100% certain.

LB Tremaine Edmunds

16 games, 16 starts, 1 INT, 9 passes defended, 1.5 sacks, 115 combined tackles, 66 solo, 49 assisted, 10 TFL, 4 QB hits, 1 safety

Edmunds really can do it all. He has morphed into the middle linebacker that the Bills thought he could be when they drafted him in 2018. He also doesn’t appear to be stopping peaking anytime soon with his best football still appearing to be ahead of him. 

Thankfully he continues to stay healthy, suffering no known injuries in 2019. While he does play an incredibly physical position and is not immune to injury, the fact that he has avoided missing time due to concussions, strains, and sprains bode well for the linebacking corps going into 2020.

LB Matt Milano

15 games, 15 starts, 9 passes deflected, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1.5 sacks, 100 combined tackles, 64 solo, 36 assisted, 7 TFL, 7 QB hits

Matt Milano continues to outplay his original draft position which could set him up nicely for a payday when free agency arrives next year. He started off slow during his rookie year before coming on strong in the second half. He followed that performance in 2018 until an ankle fracture with dislocation stopped him from likely making a Pro Bowl that year. 

Milano came back strong from the injury and had quite a complete season, missing only one game due to injury. 

Below is Milano’s injury breakdown:

    • Left hamstring strain

He suffered the left hamstring strain while trying to catch Titans TE Jonnu Smith on the long reception in the second half. He began to decelerate before grabbing at his left hamstring as he ran out of the frame. He ultimately took 2 weeks to recover from the hamstring strain while only missing 1 game along with a well-timed bye week.

He returned to play against Philadelphia and did not appear to have any issues the rest of the season indicating the strain was mild to moderate. He also dealt with some hamstring issues during his rookie year which is concerning that this may become a more frequent injury for him. Recurrence rates for hamstring strains from year to year can be as high as 30% but vary based on the grade of injury.

It is also interesting to note that the Bills do treat hamstrings incredibly conservatively in order to ensure that they return to play at 100% instead of pushing them and risk re-injury. Considering his history and position he plays, there is concern that he suffers yet another hamstring strain either in training camp or early in the season as everyone adjusts to the abbreviated offseason.

LB Vosean Joseph 

Spent 2019 on IR with a torn labrum in the right shoulder

Joseph, unfortunately, suffered a shoulder injury after getting drafted in the 5th round of the 2019 draft. While Joseph wasn’t a lock to make the roster, the shoulder injury he suffered certainly didn’t help things. It appeared that he tore his labrum at some point during the 2nd preseason game which resulted in going to IR with season-ending surgery. Labral tears are typically full recoveries & the re-tear rates are anywhere from 13-26%. 2020 will hopefully allow Joseph to step up to the active roster and show why the Bills drafted him in the 5th round. 

LB Tyrel Dodson

Dodson spent the season on the practice squad and suspended list due to the domestic violence incident he had with his girlfriend. He ultimately served a 6 game suspension on the commissioner’s exempt list before ultimately being waived and signed to the practice squad. As expected, Dodson did not suffer any known injuries during the season and will hopefully come in ready to play with all his personal issues behind him.

LB Del’Shawn Phillips

Phillips spent the second half of the season with the Bills practice squad before signing a reserve/futures contract following the season completion. He enters the 2020 season with no publicly known injuries in the past 3 years and could fight for a practice squad/expanded roster spot if the league allows it. To read more on Phillips, check out the article at Banged Up Bills.

New to the roster

LB AJ Klein

It feels like the Carolina connection is becoming repetitive at this point. Klein is yet another example of a player who found success down south & is reuniting with Sean McDermott. Klein comes in understanding the systems and has shown to be healthy as evidenced by the article over at Buffalo Rumblings. He is certainly a player that can fill the gaps and provide veteran leadership as some of the younger players continue to develop.

LB Tyler Matakevich

Matakevich comes to Buffalo as a special teams ace after 4 seasons in Pittsburgh. The only concern he has injury-wise coming in was a torn labrum several years ago. In the Buffalo Rumblings, it was mentioned that there is an 8-10% chance that he re-tears the labrum. But up above with Joseph, there is a 13-26% chance he re-tears. The difference being the first source is more general population, the second source is more specific to the NFL. Either way, his risk is minimal due to the injury being several years old. 

I’ve read multiple instances where it will not be a good thing if Matakevich is playing defense for the Bills and that still appears to be the case going into 2020. 

LB Mike Bell

Bell is a familiar face, having spent rookie minicamp with the Bills in 2019 as a safety before ultimately being cut. He was out of football in 2019, working on a position change to linebacker and adding 20 lbs to his frame in order to adjust. 

There is a hope that he could transition as Matt Milano did coming out of college, but there is no guarantee that Bell will be able to adapt fully until he spends some time with an NFL roster, whether it is training camp or practice squad. To read more on Bell, check out Banged Up Bills.

2020 Outlook

The linebacker corps come into 2020 fairly healthy with Edmunds, Milano, & Klein locks to make the roster. Between the three, a knee and hamstring injury cost them a total of 2 games last season. There is concern regarding a recurrence of the hamstring strain for Milano going into 2020, but hopefully, he comes into training camp in excellent shape to help mitigate his risks. 

Others that are locked to make the roster include Matakevich, Thompson, & Joseph if he has a healthy training camp. Dodson, Phillips, & Bell all are still in play and will likely be in the plan for practice squad or bottom of the roster decisions for depth insurance. Most of the injuries at the position belonged to Maurice Alexander who takes his baggage with him into free agency. 

I am slightly concerned about the overall depth at the position if the top 3 get injured at any point. It is not realistic that there will be starting-caliber players for depth purposes at any position, but a lot will be riding on the health of the unit to ensure its effectiveness in 2020.

Author: Dr. Trimble

My name is Dr. Kyle Trimble and I am, first and foremost, a Buffalo Bills fan!! When I am not cheering on the Buffalo Bills, I am a Physical Therapist. To give a background on myself; I was born and raised in Erie, PA, moved to Buffalo in 2006 to begin my studies at D'Youville College towards becoming a Physical Therapist at which time I became a devoted Buffalo Bills fan.  I graduated in 2013 with my Doctorate in Physical Therapy and moved home for several years. Moving back to the Buffalo area in 2016, I have gained extensive experience in outpatient orthopedics, skilled nursing, acute care hospital, and home care. Having obtained a significant wealth of knowledge that continues to grow, along with a undying fandom of the Bills, puts me in the unique position to educate my fellow fans about our great team. 
I am currently an injury spotter working with Dr. David Chao, Orthopedic Surgeon @ProFootballDoc based out of San Diego. In this role, I provide real time updates regarding injuries during the game. I hope you enjoy what I publish and I welcome any comments or questions you may have.
Disclaimer: My opinions are my own.  Any thoughts I have on the injuries is based on media reports, my knowledge of the injury, and speculation based on the information currently available.


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