‘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