A day after saying linebacker Kiko Alonso had suffered a "significant" knee injury, the Buffalo Bills announced that their rising star is out for the season. General manager Doug Whaley confirmed the injury is a torn ACL for Alonso.
Alonso is the latest star linebacker around the league to fall victim to a bad injury before the season begins. San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman will miss some of the season, and Dallas' Sean Lee, Atlanta's Sean Weatherspoon and Arizona's Daryl Washington are all out for the year. Now Alonso joins that list, leaving a hole in the Bills' defense.
Alonso became a star in his rookie season last year, totaling 159 tackles and four interceptions as the starting middle linebacker. Now, the search begins for a replacement, though SB Nation's Buffalo Rumblings described the loss of Alonso in the middle as "crippling" for the defense. There are a number of different scenarios to replace him, many of which have ramifications beyond Alonso's position:
Nigel Bradham might be the obvious choice to take Alonso's place on the weak side, though rookie third-round pick Preston Brown - who saw first-team work in spring practices, including in pass defense sub-packages - could make a serious run for a large role, as well. Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers are expected to hold down the middle and strong-side jobs, respectively. None of these players are Alonso, however; as Alonso played 1,145 snaps last season, Spikes, Rivers, and Bradham combined to play 1,389 with their respective teams.
Alonso's absence could easily have an effect on the team's starting safety competition, as well. Da'Norris Searcy may very well end up winning that job, but his presence as a nickel and dime linebacker may now be essential, which at minimum creates a sub-package opening at the back end of the defense for players like Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks, among other candidates.
If the Bills, full of young talent, are to have a breakout year, they're going to have to do it without perhaps their greatest young star of all.