Bills Head Coach’s Sudden ‘Flip’ on Rookie LB Raises Eyebrows

Dorian Williams

Getty Tulane linebacker Dorian Williams #2 celebrates a touchdown against South Florida at Raymond James Stadium on October 15, 2022.

The Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott announced a significant role change for their No. 91 overall pick from the 2023 NFL Draft, linebacker Dorian Williams, which immediately raised some eyebrows.

While Buffalo was in the market to find a replacement for inside linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who left to sign a $72 million contract with the Chicago Bears in free agency, Bills general manager Brandon Beane swerved to select Williams in the third round. Beane was excited about what the “tackling machine” could contribute on the field. “We’ll start him outside and we’ll see,” he told reporters.

However, when McDermott addressed the media during organized team activities (OTAs) this week, he said that Williams was “playing the middle linebacker position” which throws him in what looks to be a five-man competition for the position with Terrell Bernard, Tyrel Dodson, Baylon Spector, and A.J. Klein.

SB Nation‘s Bruce Nolan tweeted, “I wish I knew what happened with Dorian Williams in the Bills’ eyes. Did Beane misspeak? Did they change their mind? Was there a disagreement on his future role? What changed their view of him between draft night and now?”

One person suggested on Twitter that Beane wanted to temper expectations for the rookie, “which would be understandable,” Nolan tweeted, “but it feels like there are much better ways to do that than saying Williams is an OLB and then having McD say on day one of OTAs that he’s beginning at MLB. It’s simply an odd thing.”

The switch-up gave The Athletic‘s Joe Buscaglia pause. “Beane said that they would likely begin with Williams taking reps at outside linebacker. But only a few weeks later, that initial diagnosis has flipped, as McDermott revealed they began OTAs with Williams working at middle linebacker. It’s a significant development due to the departure of Tremaine Edmunds and with a starting job open next to outside linebacker Milano.”

USA Today‘s Nick Wojton was also surprised by the Bills’ change of heart. “Whether it was prompted by Williams’ play on the practice field or just a simple change of plans, the coach’s word differ from the GMs a few short weeks ago,” Wojton wrote. “Regardless, both will be on the same page with the concept of the player who wins that job is the one that earned it.”

Switching Dorian Williams to Middle Linebacker Looks Like a ‘Smart’ Move

Dorian Williams

GettyTulane alum Dorian Williams participates in the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 02, 2023.

No one questions Williams’ talent, as he recorded 132 tackles, five sacks, seven passes defended, two interceptions, and two forced fumbles last season, and has incredible speed (4.49). But the Bills’ selection of the 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker was “a little puzzling,” Democrat & Chronicle‘s Sal Maiorana wrote.

“Especially in the third round where you’d like to get a player who can be an immediate contributor somewhere beyond special teams, rather than a player who will compete to be Matt Milano’s at backup outside linebacker.”

While it’s unclear what led to the position change, Buscaglia believes this is a “smart” move even though the rookie will face an uphill battle to secure a spot on the field.

“Williams is the closest skill set and body type to Edmunds of all the combatants, potentially giving the team the arm length and fluid movement skills that Edmunds provided last year. But practicing at the position and thinking he’ll walk into the starting role as a rookie are two very different things. It would be unfair to expect a late third-round pick to immediately work in ahead of other players who have been in the defensive scheme for longer.

“But it’s a smart move to see what he can do at middle linebacker in the early stages because it provides another possibility, rather than being pigeon-holed to one of the other options because they elected against finding out how Williams could do with those responsibilities. It’s wise to keep expectations in check for the rookie, but this is an encouraging early sign of their plan for him.”

Dorian Williams Is Ready to ‘Prove’ Himself in Buffalo

Based on former Tulane linebackers coach Mike Mutz’s assessment, the speedy linebacker with the longest arms of anyone selected in the 2023 NFL Draft (33 1/4 inches), will thrive wherever the Bills decide to use him.

Mutz told The Buffalo News, “I thought the No. 1 thing was his coachability. He hung on every word you tried to impart. He wants to get better. It had nothing to do with the physical skills he was blessed with. Even though he had all the success, he always wanted to improve. That’s why I think he’ll continue to ascend at the NFL level… He has outstanding instincts and good football intelligence and a feel for the game. Some of those things you can’t coach. It shows up in some of the plays he made.”

As for Williams, he knows what he can contribute. “There’s not too many people out here running a 40-yard dash, or, you know, jumping their highest vert out here in a game,” he said. “But I feel like the game film and me continuously getting better, proving people wrong is what’s gonna ultimately matter. Nobody cares what happened in college now. It’s all about what you do now. So, just coming out here and trying to prove myself.”

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