Breaks down the competition for the Bills’ starting MLB spot

Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) – All coaches will say there is competition at every position. And while that may be true on some level, we all generally know who will be starting at most positions heading into the season.

Some teams will have more starting spots open and available than others. For the Buffalo Bills, there are very few.

One of them is middle linebacker after fifth-year starter Tremaine Edmunds left via free agency to sign with the Chicago Bears.

There are five legitimate candidates to line up next to weakside linebacker Matt Milano when the Bills open the regular season on Monday night, Sept. 11 at the New York Jets. Here’s a look at each of them in no particular order:

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Terrell Bernard

The Bills, surprisingly to many, drafted Bernard in the third round in 2022. He had a great training camp and preseason his rookie year, but struggled in his one start against the New York Jets. However, he started that game for Milano on the outside and not Edmunds in the middle.

Aside from the one start on the Jets, Bernard played significant snaps in only two blowouts, in home wins over the Titans and Steelers. He played a total of 10% of defensive snaps overall, and 64% of special teams snaps. Is he ready for a bigger role?

At 6-foot-1, 224 pounds, Bernard is considered undersized for the position. However, he has great instincts and recognition and is considered an excellent coverage linebacker, something the Bills really value in their running backs.

Baylon Spector

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Baylon Spector

Spector saw action in six games last season after making the team as a seventh-round draft pick. He was inactive for the other ten. However, he played snaps on defense in just one of those six contests. The rest were only on special teams.

Like Bernard, at 6-foot, 233 pounds, Spector is not the ideal size for a starting middle linebacker in the NFL.

He is a former safety who is very instinctive and knows where to be and when to be there. He has a high football IQ that will serve him well in this contest as the Bills look for someone who can handle the defensive play-calling duties.

How he can handle getting on and off blocks from NFL offensive linemen will be a big test for Spector in training camp.

Tyrell Dodson

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Tyrell Dodson

Dodson has been a very valuable back-up for the club for three seasons, starting five games over that span and playing in every single competition over the past two years.

Dodson is about the same size as Spector, standing 6-foot, 237 pounds. He has already proven that he can step right into the middle linebacker role and call the defense as he has done it before. That part won’t be a problem and could even give him the lead in early camp for the slot since the Bills know they can trust him.

Dodson is a good enough athlete to play three downs, especially next to someone like Milano, who can do so much but is a better run defender than he is in coverage.

Dorian Williams

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Dorian Williams

Williams’ size and game are very similar to Bernard’s. He’s 6-foot-1, 227 pounds, which is a little skinny for the spot. But he is instinctive, tough and athletic. He can be a matchup backer in coverage and knows how to track a ball carrier against the run. But getting through blocks to get there will be the issue.

Not to mention walking right in as a rookie and starting in the middle of one of the best defenses in the NFL on a team with Super Bowl hopes is a lot to ask of anyone.

Williams might be the best fit right away as Matt Milano’s backup, but shows enough flashes that say he should be on the field next to him. However, he is a year behind both Bernard and Spector when it comes to the system and understanding of the position at the NFL level, and he will have a lot on his plate early to compete for this spot.

AJ Klein

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AJ Klein

Klein turns 32 four days after training camp. He is entering his eleventh NFL season.

At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, he has much more of the size of a prototypical NFL middle linebacker than most of the others, but is more of a matchup back when facing a heavier, more run-oriented team. He has been useful in those situations for the Bills over the past three seasons, playing in 37 games for the club in that span.

Klein is the safe insurance choice here. If none of the others show they can handle what the Bills want on a consistent basis, they know they can at least trot him out on the field on first and second down as a run defender, then make a change in coverage situations.

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