PITTSFORD – Buffalo Bills General Manager Doug Whaley said Friday the team has good enough depth to be able to overcome the loss of starting linebacker Kiko Alonso.
“We feel that we have a roster that we’re building – with some cornerstone pieces – that we believe can consistently compete for playoffs and championships,” Whaley said as the players arrived at St. John Fisher College for training camp. “We’ll see a big determination on that with the loss of Kiko and if we’ve found the right guys to replace him.”
Whaley spoke publicly for the first time since Alonso was lost for the season to a torn knee ligament earlier this month.
“It’s a tremendous loss, but no one’s crying for us,” Whaley said. “So it’s the next man up, and we think we’ve built a roster that can sustain a loss like this. Our expectations aren’t going to drop.”
Asked who he sees competing to start at weak-side linebacker, Whaley said:
“Right offhand, Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham, maybe Ty Powell. … It’s an exciting time for those guys and exciting time for us to say ‘all right, what we saw in these guys is true and they can play.’ ”
The Bills’ players will be put through conditioning work today. They will conduct their first practice session Sunday evening at their suburban Rochester home.
Brown is the Bills’ third-round draft pick out of Louisville. He played mostly middle linebacker in college. Bradham is a former fourth-round pick entering his third season. The unheralded Powell is entering his second season. Whaley said all three of those players got valuable experience in the spring.
“He wasn’t taking many reps in OTAs,” Whaley said of Alonso. “So those guys had gotten reps with the first and second teams. So this will just be a carry-over, and we’ll have to see what happens once the pads come on.”
Alonso had surgery Thursday, performed by Dr. James Andrews, a renowned orthopedic surgeon based in Florida.
“From all the reports we’re getting it was a successful surgery,” Whaley said. “He’ll be back in Buffalo when we break camp.”
Whaley said injuries are a part of the game. “It’s not an excuse for us, and it can’t be an excuse for the team and it won’t be.”
Whaley said the organization’s confidence in the linebacker depth was demonstrated by how Alonso’s roster spot was filled. Buffalo signed Stevenson Sylvester, a four-year veteran from Pittsburgh who has mostly played special teams in his career.
“We went and signed a guy that was more special-teams oriented, fill the roster, a guy who can take some reps, than looking for a starter,” Whaley said. “We can withstand an injury.”
In other injury news, Whaley said starting cornerback Leodis McKelvin will be eased into work. McKelvin is starting out camp on the physically unable to perform list.
“Leodis is coming back from that hip surgery, and we just wanted to make sure we eased him in and not get him too strenuous of a workout right off the bat,” Whaley said.
Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn opens camp on the non-football illness list. Whaley suggested the team is expecting Glenn to be ready for the season.
“We’re still waiting on some reports on him, but it looks like it’s going to be one of those day-to-day things and we’ll see how it progresses,” Whaley said.
Does Whaley think it’s season-threatening? “We don’t think so at this time, but again we’ll just have to see how he progresses. We hope not. He’ll be doing some light exercises and stuff like that.”
Defensive tackle Alan Branch also is sidelined by an illness to start camp. “When he came back and did his physical, there were some tests that came back that we need to wait on and see if everything’s OK,” Whaley said. “If they come back OK, then he’ll be out on the field. He is at camp now.”
The Bills released receiver Cordell Roberson and defensive back Darius Robinson. That brought the number of players in the fold to 88. Whaley said the team expected to add two more players to bring the total up to the NFL camp limit of 90.