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Ryan likes what he’s seen from Bills linebacker depth

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It should come as no surprise that Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan has been singling out the play of certain defensive players throughout the team’s OTA sessions.

However, two of the names that he has brought up on a couple of occasions are players that probably aren’t going to be starters on a defense that Ryan has huge expectations for this season.

Linebackers Ty Powell and Manny Lawson have both caught Ryan’s eye, mainly because they have quickly grasped the somewhat complicated scheme and it shows on the practice field. But it’s unlikely either player will start as Powell will back up Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham on the inside, and Lawson will play behind Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes on the outside.

“Powell is the one that jumps out to me on defense,” Ryan said Wednesday. “He’s had four interceptions through these camps, and you can ignore it if you want, but he makes plays. He’s smart, I know the history, former quarterback, bounced around, outside linebacker, defensive end, but he seems to have found a home at inside linebacker and I’ve been really happy with him.”

Ryan joked about Lawson, saying he was mad at him because he showed up early in the offseason program, then stayed away for most of the sessions leading to the start of OTAs. “The guy is impressive,” Ryan said. “He’s a sharp guy, and obviously he has the height and length that you look for (in an edge rushing linebacker).”

Lawson is entering his 10th NFL season, and Ryan said that experience is so useful to the entire unit.

“Knowing not just his assignments, but how the defense works,” Ryan said. “He’s pulling defensive linemen over in different fronts, talking to the linebackers. It settles the whole defense when you have guys like that who are smart and can think. It’s a calming effect throughout your defense.”

Although Ryan made it a point to say that his defense is different than the one his protege, Mike Pettine, ran in 2013 as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator, there are also many similarities, and that’s good for Lawson. Lawson had a nice season under Pettine when he made a career-high 73 tackles, had four sacks, a fumble recovery, and an interception.

Last year when Jim Schwartz switched to a 4-3, Lawson was a man stuck without a position and he made only 17 tackles while playing only 340 defensive snaps.

“I think it really utilizes my talents and it’s just a fun position to play,” Lawson said of edge rusher. “I can just run around and create chaos. I hit pretty much anything that moves and I have different responsibilities from rushing to dropping and man coverage, so you never know what position or what our responsibility is.”

Powell has played primarily special teams during his two seasons with the Bills, leading the team in kicking game snaps (278) a year ago. He started to get some playing time on defense at the end of the year, and it’s clear that if Brown or Bradham get hurt, he is the next man up in the middle.

“They had this scheme my first year here, but now I’m inside, so I really just refer back to Nigel, because Nigel’s been in this defense,” Powell said. “So I’m really learning off of him, but I do feel like this is my natural position.”

Ryan said, “He’s just smart, picks things up quick. Obviously he was more of a special teams guy. Quite honestly, if he doesn’t play a snap, that’s fine by me because that means Preston Brown is playing. But I like Powell. He’s really jumped out to me.”


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