‘Legend’ of rookie LB Alonso growing in Buffalo

Not long into Kiko Alonso’s first practice, Bills coach Doug
Marrone had to pull the overeager rookie middle linebacker aside to
remind him that these were supposed to be non-contact sessions.

”He looked like he was ready to start tackling today,” Marrone
said in May.

A month into training camp, the Bills had to rest Alonso for a
few days after electronic conditioning monitors indicated he was in
danger of overexerting himself because of the amount of ground he
was covering in practice.

Four weeks into the season, the second-round draft pick out of
Oregon has remained a relentless, havoc-creating presence.

”He’s full-tilt,” defensive end Mario Williams said.

And here’s the scary part, according to Marrone: ”He’s actually
getting better and better each week, too.”

That’s a frightening proposition for a player who has quickly
established himself as one the NFL’s most promising defensive
rookies. After four games, Alonso is tied for the NFL lead with
four interceptions, to go with one sack, a forced fumble and
recovered fumble. His 32 tackles are tops in Buffalo (2-2) and
among league rookies.

And with two interceptions in a 23-20 win over Baltimore on
Sunday, Alonso became the league’s first rookie linebacker since Al
Richardson in 1980 to have an interception in three straight games.
In Buffalo, no Bills linebacker has had a three-game streak since
Darryl Talley in 1993.

Alonso’s production has led to national TV interviews and
prompted a trend on Twitter. Using the hash tag
”LegendOfKikoAlonso,” fans have concocted various amusing and
unfathomable myths about the player, such as: ”He once intercepted
the same pass twice,” and ”Kiko Alonso went tubing over Niagara
Falls. Or as he calls it, `the lazy river.”’

Unrelenting as he might be on the field with his
sideline-to-sideline range, he’s soft-spoken off it. He even
projects an air of anonymity in wearing a woolly Bills cap pulled
tight across his ears and forehead.

Alonso has paid very little attention to the Paul Bunyan-size
hype he’s generated.

”Nothing changes in what I’ve got to do,” he said. ”I don’t
think much of it. It’s great, but I know I just have to get a lot
better.”

And with that, he sat back down at his locker to enjoy a warm
plate of his mom’s homemade paella before rushing off for a team
meeting to prepare for the Bills’ game at Cleveland on Thursday
night.

Kiko is hungry for more.

Kristian ”Kiko” Alonso has been pegged for an NFL career since
his high school days in Los Gatos, Calif. That’s where he played
for Butch Cattolico, who also coached Vikings defensive end Jared
Allen and former Bills quarterback Trent Edwards.

His older brother, Carlos Alonso, was a star linebacker at Los
Gatos, and is now an infielder in the Philadelphia Phillies farm
system.

Kiko continued on to Oregon, where he experienced a troubled
start. Alonso missed his sophomore season because of an injury and
after being suspended due to separate alcohol-related offenses.

Refocused, Alonso proceeded to become a dominant fixture over
his final two seasons. He earned 2012 Rose Bowl defensive MVP
honors after having an interception, 1-1/2 sacks and five tackles
in a 45-38 win over Wisconsin.

Last season, Alonso had 81 tackles, including 14 for a loss,
four interceptions and two forced fumbles despite playing much of
the year with a broken wrist.

Alonso shined at the NFL combine in February. He tied Zavier
Gooden for the best time among linebackers in the short shuttle
(4.18 seconds). He was third in the three-cone drill (6.93 seconds)
and 40-yard dash (4.72).

And yet, whether it was because of his off-field troubles or
that he played on a defense overshadowed by Chip Kelly’s up-tempo
offense, Alonso went somewhat overlooked in the draft. The Bills
selected him 46th overall, believing he was a three-down player and
capable of filling an immediate need on a retooled defense under
new coordinator Mike Pettine.

Pettine has crowed about Alonso’s abilities all offseason. He
was particularly impressed with how Alonso batted away what
appeared to be a sure touchdown pass to Coby Fleener in the back of
the end zone in Buffalo’s preseason-opening 44-20 win at
Indianapolis.

”He made a heck of a play. He’s well ahead of where we thought
he would be,” Pettine said. ”It’s shockingly been very seamless
for him.”

Alonso wasn’t satisfied then, or now.

”Just because I’ve had amazing plays in the previous four games
doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to prove,” Alonso said. ”I’m
striving to be perfect.”

The legend, evidently, still has room to grow.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org