|National Football League|
Bills' Moats competing with Morrison for OLB job
By JOHN WAWROW
PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) Now that Arthur Moats has settled into practicing just one position in the Buffalo Bills defense, the jack-of-all-trades player is performing so well at strong-side linebacker that he's challenging for a starting job.
That was defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt's view Tuesday, when assessing his linebacker rotation in preparation for the Bills' preseason opener against the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
"Arthur Moats and Kirk Morrison are in a battle," Wannstedt said. "And to be quite honest with you, Arthur probably gets the nudge a little bit. ... Arthur may have out-performed him a little bit at this point in training camp."
Not bad for a third-year player, who split time at both outside and inside linebacker as well as defensive end last season. He is also someone who has never had any experience at the strong-side spot until this offseason.
The two other linebacker jobs are set, with Kelvin Sheppard in the middle and Nick Barnett shifting to the weak-side spot in a defense that makes the shift back to a four-linemen, three-linebacker system under Wannstedt.
"Yeah, it's pretty crazy," Moats said. "When they switched to the 4-3, many people said, `I don't even know if he's going to be on the team because they don't know where he's going to play.'"
Moats took that as a challenge.
It was about a week into training camp when Moats figured he must be doing something right. He noticed he was getting as much practice time with the first-team defense as Morrison, an eight-year veteran, who was pegged to start after the Bills (No. 19 in the AP Pro32) re-signed him to a two-year contract in March.
"So far so good," Moats said. "I've just got to keep it up, though."
The Bills took a chance on selecting Moats in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. He played defensive end at James Madison, and was the Football Championship Subdivision's defensive player of the year as a senior. Entering the draft, Moats was projected to be better suited to play linebacker at the NFL level because of his comparatively small 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame.
Moats has been a valuable role player, seeing time at several positions while also contributing on special teams. On defense, he has five sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 29 career games, including four starts.
The most memorable moment of Moats' NFL career came during a game at Minnesota in early December of his rookie season, when his blindside hit on Brett Favre ended the quarterback's NFL-record starts streak at 297. Favre sustained a sprained shoulder on his throwing arm and was unable to start the following week.
Two years later, Moats would prefer to add more to his resume.
"Definitely, as I said back when it happened: `That was cool to start, but I definitely wanted to do a lot more things,'" he said. "And I feel this is one of the steps I'm taking as far as showing that hey, `Not only can I rush the passer, but I could play a linebacker position I've never played before in a scheme that I've never played in before in the NFL.'"
Wannstedt said it was unfair to Moats to try to fit him into so many positions last year, and expect him to be successful. As a result, he decided to put the player into one spot and keep him there. Noted for his pass-rushing skills, Moats believes the chance to play so many other positions helped, by allowing him to better understand defensive concepts and responsibilities.
Coach Chan Gailey said there's something to that.
"Maybe Moats has learned so much football moving all over the place that he really understands the game and how this position fits for him," he said. "I think he's taking advantage of playing a lot of different things."
Gailey said Moats' emergence came as a surprise, because he was expecting Morrison to win that spot.
"It's nothing against what Kirk's done," Gailey said. "It's just that Arthur's earned the right to get some reps up there."
NOTES: Gailey plans to have Moats and Morrison split time equally at the position on Thursday. ... Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was in attendance, watching practice from the sideline. Also on hand was Kelly's former teammate, receiver Andre Reed, who arrived at camp a day earlier. ... The Bills return to training camp in suburban Rochester on Saturday, and will practice through Tuesday before returning home to Orchard Park.
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Updated August 7, 2012