Bills Season Injury Review-Linebackers

Read up on the returning & new faces of the LB corps going into 2019 including how injuries may impact them.

As training camp approaches, optimism is high for the linebacking corps in 2019. The spotlight is placed on this unit due to the lack of availability in 2018 that was apparent as key injuries occurred. During the off-season, Brandon Beane made it an effort to find more talent in order to create competition at the position in the event that starters go down. Today’s post will review the injuries from 2018 and if it will impact 2019.

First up is LB Corey Thompson. The rookie UDFA out of LSU appeared in 6 games with 1 start. During his playing time, he was able to rack up 1 forced fumble, 14 combined tackles, 8 solo, 6 assisted, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hit. Injury-wise, he suffered a minor ankle injury during the loss to the Patriots. Thankfully, this was not an injury that appeared to be serious and does not have any repercussions going into 2019. However, Thompson will have a difficult time making the roster with all the additional depth and will have to make his mark on special teams to have a chance.

Next up is LB Deon Lacey. The veteran linebacker appeared in all 16 games with 0 starts, completing 7 combined tackles, 5 solo, 2 assisted. Most of Lacey’s playing time was spent on special teams where he did not appear to suffer any injuries but he will once again have to fight tooth and nail to earn another spot on the 53 man roster for 2019.

LB Julian Stanford makes the list as another primary special teams contributor from 2018. He appeared in 13 games with 1 start. He accumulated 1 forced fumble, 1 sack, 15 tackles, 13 solo, 2 assisted, 1 tackle for loss. While his contributions appear to be more versatile compared to his other special teams’ counterparts, he still is also not a lock to make the roster. Injury-wise, he suffered a broken nose during the last preseason game which caused him to miss the season opener. He also missed the last game of the season due to what appeared to be a high ankle sprain during the loss to the Patriots. This isn’t an injury that lingers but he will still have to fight in order to make this roster in 2019.

Next up is the ageless LB Lorenzo Alexander. Despite his age and time in the league, Alexander continues to produce, appearing in 16 games with 8 starts. During the season, he recorded 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 6.5 sacks, 74 combined tackles, 55 solo, 19 assisted, 11 tackles for loss, and 10 QB hits. On top of his stellar play, he continues to avoid injury through his rigorous recovery routine during the season. He is coming back to the team in 2019 as he is an incredibly vocal leader and will still prove to be valuable on both defense and special teams.

LB Tremaine Edmunds arrives next on the list with a solid rookie campaign but at times had injuries which limited his ability to fully showcase what made him a 1st round pick in 2018. His stats are as follows: 15 games, 15 starts with 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 sacks, 121 combined tackles, 80 solo, 41 assisted, 5 tackles for loss, 7 QB hits. While he was incredibly productive as the quarterback of the defense, injuries certainly impacted the ability to maximize his potential.

Edmunds suffered a concussion early in the season during the first Patriots game on MNF in where he collided with FB James Devlin and caused him to miss the next game against the Bears. Edmunds also suffered injuries to his right leg and low back during the season. The right leg injury was due to the foot getting caught in the turf and being hit by a falling body which could have caused some serious damage if he was falling the other way but thankfully he just tweaked things. He also suffered a back injury during the win over the Lions which did not cause him to miss anytime but he was labored in his movements following the hit from OL Frank Ragnow. None of the injuries were serious outside the concussion, but Edmunds has a lot of work to do to improve off his rookie season in 2019.

Finally, LB Matt Milano rounds out the linebacker group from the 2018 season. Milano was on pace for a Pro Bowl season appearing in 13 games with 13 starts accumulating 3 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 sack, 78 combined tackles, 52 solo, 26 assisted, 12 tackles for loss, 3 QB hits before injury struck. Reviewing all his injuries, Milano suffered a head injury during the first game against the Jets. Considering he had the bye week right after the game, it was unknown if he was officially diagnosed with a concussion, but it was not something that appeared to cause any long term issues.

Unfortunately, Milano’s season was cut short with a gruesome ankle injury in where he broke his fibula as the result of QB Sam Darnold falling onto his ankle and Milano getting hit from behind. There was and still is much concern regarding how he is progressing in his rehab which I have detailed in my article with Buffalo Rumblings. He should be 100% going into the season and this is supported by his full participation in OTA’s. He is another component that will continue to shore up the linebacking corps in 2019 and take the defense to the next level.

New faces to the team include 5th round draft pick LB Vosean Joseph, UDFA’s Tyrel Dodson & Juwan Foggie, and FA Maurice Alexander. It’s likely that L. Alexander, Milano, Edmunds, Joseph, and M. Alexander all make the team with Dodson, Thompson, and Foggie possibly making the practice squad as they still have eligibility. As for Lacey, he still has a shot to earn a roster spot but as he is a veteran, there may be cheaper options on special teams. This will be a strong corps regardless who makes the final roster as McDermott has a penchant for linebackers and safeties on special teams. The top half of the linebackers is set, the bottom half will be fun to watch!

Continue to check back for the latest updates and news coming out of One Bills Drive. Follow Banged Up Bills on Facebook, on Twitter @BangedUpBills, on Reddit at u/BangedUpBills, and online at www.bangedupbills.com. As always, thank you for reading and GO BILLS!!

Bills Post Draft: UDFA Signings

Assessing the injury histories of the Bills UDFA signings and their injury histories.

Even though the Bills addressed a lot of needs through the draft last weekend, they were far from done, signing a slew of undrafted players to nearly fill out the 90 man roster. Today’s article will review the injury histories of each UDFA and whether they have a shot at making the roster come the regular season.

First up is QB Tyree Jackson out of University at Buffalo. The familiar face was reportedly one of the first players signed following the draft and appeared to be a priority for the front office to begin developing future signal callers. This is a far cry from past regimes that were looking for a quick fix through free agency or hoping to hit in the draft. Injury-wise, he was relatively healthy through his college career despite being a mobile QB. He did suffer a knee injury in 2017 that caused him to miss 4 games. Specifics were not given on the injury but considering the timeline, his mobility, and lack of reports indicating further complications lead me to believe he suffered an MCL sprain. This is not an injury that typically lingers and is supported by the fact that he played in all 14 games last season.

As for Jackson’s future in Buffalo, I expect that he’ll make the practice squad, soaking up what it means to be an NFL pro with the possibility of moving up to a backup role with the Bills or getting scooped up by another team to develop. Still, an excellent signing by Buffalo to identify future talent.

Next is WR Nick Easley out of Iowa. The productive WR out of the Midwest spent only 2 years with the Hawkeyes compiling 103 receptions for 1024 yards and 9 scores. During his 2 years, he suffered a collapsed lung with broken ribs during the regular season finale but recovered well enough to play in their bowl game which is incredible due to the pain alone of broken ribs. In 2018, he dealt with several nagging injuries for which I could not find specifics but he did not miss any games as a result. One article from 2017 revealed several injuries he stated that he had dealt with over his collegiate career included: turf toe, ankle sprains, two concussions, and a severe high ankle sprain from high school. The ankle sprains could have been something chronic over the past year in which he suffered a sprain but quickly recovers due to the scar tissue already present. However, most of these injuries are unfortunately common injuries players sustain but can vary in severity with regards to games missed. I am not certain that these injuries mentioned are what he dealt with this last season, but merely opens a window into what he played through. Future injury concerns moving forward, the broken ribs/lungs are not concerning but the concussions and ankle injuries can cause further worry as previous concussions increase the risk for future concussions. In addition, the ankle injuries could become chronic if not rehabbed properly, leading to more frequent injuries due to instability.

Considering he had to work his way up from Iowa Western Community College to D-1 football to the NFL, he has shown the ability to work and tough it out. While I don’t know how he will fit in with the WR corps, he may be someone who could sneak onto the roster with special teams play and an excellent training camp.

OL Blake Hance our of Northwestern demonstrated that during his time in Evanston, he was incredibly durable at a violent position. He at one point made 35 consecutive starts until an ankle injury forced him to miss one game early in 2018. Overall, he played in 51 out of a possible 53 games for the Wildcats demonstrating his health. He is yet another player that the Bills have placed a priority on with regards to avoiding major injury during college and being available. Considering the academic reputation that Northwestern has, he could be an intelligent developmental player on the practice squad that earns roster consideration in the future as the Bills continue to mold their offensive line.

Another local player that the Bills picked up as a UDFA was CB Cam Lewis out of Buffalo. It’s always said, you can never have too many cornerbacks. The Bills certainly understand this as it seems like while they have talent at the position, if an injury occurs, the quality of play goes way down and finding a CB4 that can be consistent has been challenging for this regime. While Lewis may not be the answer, he may be someone they can develop if he shows promise in training camp. He could also be someone that they put on the practice squad or cut but keep close by in the event of a shortage of defensive backs. Injury-wise, he did deal with several while in college but nothing that is likely to become a problem at the next level. In 2017, he dealt with a broken thumb and forearm that caused him to miss 5 games. In 2018, he suffered a leg injury which forced him to miss the Army game, but no specifics regarding the nature of the ailment could be found. This could have been something as simple as a contusion, pulled calf muscle, etc. that necessitated rest.

LB Juwan Foggie out of UNC-Charlotte continues the trend of effective, healthy players that the Bills have targeted in the draft. Foggie appeared in 47 games over his career, appearing to avoid injury which is remarkable in itself. As there are no injury concerns, he could be another player that sees practice squad time with an effective training camp or cut and brought back if injuries mount.

WR David Sills out of WVU appears to be an incredibly sneaky signing by the Bills during the UDFA period. The former QB turned WR has been a hot topic in past years, famously being given a verbal scholarship offer by then USC HC Lane Kiffin when he was 13. Unfortunately for Sills, he broke a knuckle on his throwing hand during his junior year of high school which altered his throwing motion which led to the position change. During his time at WVU and El Camino College, he did not suffer any reported injuries which is remarkable considering how much physical demand is required at that position. Sills will have a tough climb up the depth chart at WR, but could make noise with a great training camp and may warrant a roster spot to avoid losing him altogether.

LB Tyrel Dodson out of Texas A&M declared for the draft as a junior but that decision appeared to be short-sighted as he was not drafted and will have to work even harder to get an NFL roster spot. While has productive during his time in College Station, the one thing that he has going for him was that he did not suffer any major injuries. The only injury that can be found was in 2018 he suffered a minor sprained ankle against Ole Miss for which he did not miss any games. While the linebacking corps can always use extra depth, Dodson may be another player who makes an NFL training camp and nothing further.

Finally, K Chase McLaughlin out of Illinois rounds out the UDFA signings. McLaughlin was the 2018 Big Ten Kicker of the year, hitting 4 of 6 FG’s from 50+ yards out. As he is a kicker, special teams players are typically not known for getting injured and he was no exception. While K Stephen Hauschka continues to produce at a high level, he has begun showing his age along with suffering an injury last year due to a blindside block. I do not believe that McLaughlin will seriously challenge for the starting kicker role. However, the competition will certainly help keep Hauschka on his toes to produce.

Overall, these UDFA signing’s show some promise but are relative long shots to make the team. Bills fans know all about UDFA’s making their mark in the league with LB Lorenzo Alexander spending nearly 15 years in the league along with CB Levi Wallace and WR Robert Foster eventually making the roster and producing despite their starting position as a UDFA. This will be an exciting group to watch through training camp who can make their presence known. I believe at least 1-2 of these guys will find their name on the Buffalo Bills roster come 2019.

Continue to check back for the latest updates and news coming out of One Bills Drive. Follow Banged Up Bills on Facebook, on Twitter @BangedUpBills, on Reddit at u/BangedUpBills, and online at www.bangedupbills.com. As always, thank you for reading and GO BILLS!!