The Buffalo Bills get set to open training camp Sunday without the man they hoped would become the defensive leader in 2014. But management said that's what happens in football, and people need to be ready to step in.
General Manager Doug Whaley spoke for the first time Friday about Kiko Alonso. The second-year linebacker tore a knee ligament during training last month in Oregon – where he went to college – and is expected to miss the entire season.
Whaley said Alonso had surgery on the knee Thursday that went well. The linebacker is expected to be in Buffalo by August to resume his rehab through the season. And while replacing someone who, as a rookie, finished third in the NFL in 2013 with 159 tackles is tough, Whaley maintains it's not impossible:
"It's a tremendous loss, but no one is crying for us. So we to .. 'next man up.' We think we've built a roster that can sustain a loss like this. Our expectations aren't going to drop."
That may be the case, but the defense – which improved from 22nd overall in 2012 to 10th in 2013 – was expected to continue making strides behind Alonso. That defense is supposed to be the catalyst, if there is one, for the Bills ending their 13-year playoff drought in 2014.
Especially for players like Fred Jackson, veterans with few chances left at playoff runs, that could prove to be tragic. But he echoed Whaley's sentiment:
"He did some tremendous things for us last year, and we definitely want a player of his caliber on the field at all times. I wouldn't say (we are) rattles, but it's definitely frustrating knowing how hard he worked to get ready for this year, coming off hip surgery. He was trying to get back out there and e able to start the season with us. But now it's just about who's going to be the next guy up."
Candidates to be that guy in the middle of the defense include Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham and Ty Powell. Whaley said they've been getting first- and second-team reps through offseason workouts to help determine who might start the season. Whoever is picked, Whaley said they will be counted upon to perform:
"It's an exciting time for those guys and an exciting time for us to say, 'Alright, what we saw in these guys is true and they can play.' … I think if you look at all 32 teams when they go to camp, everybody is looking to win. We're competitors. Those guys in there are competitors … so any time those guys strap it up, we're expecting to win."
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