For the greater part of the 2020 season, Buffalo Bills linebacker AJ Klein has been getting criticized for his play and to some degree, it was deserved.
There was a missed tackle here or a blown coverage there and Klein’s bad play came at key points in the game. So, whether or not he was playing well, Bills fans were bashing him for it. Through the first five weeks of the season, he had only recorded 12 tackles and nothing else. He wasn’t exactly living up to his contract, which NFL Insider Adam Caplan reported was a three-year, $18 million deal in the offseason with $11.3 million in guarantees.
After his 14 tackle, 1.5 sack performance against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday though, Klein admitted that he didn’t care about the critics.
“I know the type of player I am, I know what to expect from myself and I know what this defense expects from me,” Klein said in his post-game press conference. “I hold myself to a high standard. So for me outside noise or whatever anyone else says about me doesn’t really phase me.”
Lately, Klein has been silencing those critics. In the past three games, Kelin has recorded 30 tackles, five for a loss, 4.5 sacks, and seven QB hits. He’s also forced a fumble and has recorded a sack in three straight games, which is the longest stretch in his career and more than he’s ever had in a season.
For Klein, he said several things played into his subpar play at the beginning of the season. He added he isn’t one to make excuses but a move from ‘mike’ to ‘will’ linebacker, a position he’s never played before, was a big part of it. There was a learning curve and now he said he seems to be playing looser.
“I feel like I’m playing more free, faster, not thinking as much,” Klein said. “I’m playing will linebacker now, and the rest of my career I’ve always played mike. So that adjustment, and I’m not making any excuses for early in the season and my play, but I just feel like I’m playing fast and I’m trying to run around and make plays, and the less I think the more I’m reacting.”
Klein’s recent success started against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9. He only tallied five sacks, but two of them were sacks. He also deflected a pass and forced a fumble in one of Buffalo’s biggest wins of the season.
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Micah Hyde Praises Klein’s Last Few Games
Being a former Iowa Hawkeye and Klein being a former Iowa State Cyclone, Bills safety Micah Hyde wouldn’t say it to his face, but he thinks Klein is the smartest player on the team.
“He’s like a coach out there, we call him coach Klein,” Hyde said during a post-game video conference. “He’s able to make adjustments, see things, we’re talking out there and he’s a great addition to our defense because of what he’s able to do. He can blitz, he can tackle, and he’s just really playing well.”
During his first season with the Bills, and eighth in the league, Klein has tallied 58 total tackles, recorded five for a loss, and has sacked the opposing quarterback five times, which is a career-high. He’s also forced two fumbles and recovered one all while learning a new system and position.
A.J. Klein Has a History With Sean McDermott
Bills coach Sean McDermott has been known for bringing in former players during his time in Buffalo and Klein is another one that’s proven his worth to a loyal coach.
McDermott was Klein’s defensive coordinator in Carolina for four years. Klein played in 60 games and started in 23 for McDermott and tallied 146 tackles and 16 for a loss while playing behind former Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.
He moved on to play for the New Orleans Saints where he recorded 193 tackles and 6.5 sacks in three years.
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