Bills once again counting on LB Ellison
Linebacker Keith Ellison has heard it many times before how he's too small to effectively play his position in the NFL.
So it didn't bother him that the skeptics raised those concerns once again this offseason, when the Buffalo Bills announced they were switching to a 3-4 system, a scheme not particularly suited to someone with Ellison's 6-foot, 220-pound frame.
''According to most people, I'm not the prototypical-sized linebacker for any defense,'' Ellison said with a laugh Wednesday. ''Football's football. My job is just to do whatever they ask of me.''
It's a no-nonsense approach that's served Ellison well because - for the fourth time in his five seasons in Buffalo - he's being asked to make the jump from backup to a starting job.
Ellison will start alongside fellow middle linebacker Andra Davis on Sunday, when the Bills play at Green Bay. He'll be in the lineup after injuries have played havoc at the position.
Starter Paul Posluszny will miss about three weeks after spraining his right knee in a 15-10 season-opening loss to Miami on Sunday. And that came two days after veteran Kawika Mitchell was placed on season-ending injured reserve because of a foot injury.
Enter, Ellison, the team's ''Mr. Reliable,'' a 2006 sixth-round draft pick who has proven to be a key injury-replacement in having started 38 games for the Bills - and at least seven in each of his four previous seasons.
He started as rookie in place of Takeo Spikes. In 2008, he took over after Angelo Crowell was hurt. And then came last year, when he had at least one start at all three linebacker positions after a string of injuries struck the entire Bills defense.
''This is old hat for me,'' Ellison said with a shrug. ''I feel totally prepared. I've been the backup, and there's always somebody going down. So I've always been ready to step in.''
This stint as a starter might represent Ellison's biggest challenge. He'll be playing in the middle of a scheme where, unlike the 4-3 system, the linebacker is asked to directly take on linemen in defending against the run.
Ellison is aware of that, and plans to rely on his quickness to shed blocks to get to the ball carrier.
He proved capable against the Dolphins on Sunday. Taking over after Posluszny was hurt on the opening play of the third quarter, Ellison finished with six tackles on a defense that gave up only 3 points and six first downs on Miami's seven second-half possessions.
The Packers' Aaron Rodgers-led offense presents a more formidable test, though Green Bay will be without starting running back Ryan Grant, who sustained a season-ending ankle injury last weekend.
On the bright side for Buffalo, outside linebacker Reggie Torbor practiced Wednesday and is expected to start against the Packers after missing last weekend's game with a chest injury. Veteran linebacker Akin Ayodele, signed last week to replace Mitchell, is also expected to fill in for Ellison in certain situations.
Coach Chan Gailey emphasized that Ellison will be getting most of the playing time, because he's more accustomed to the system and proved able to play the position this offseason.
''He's one of those guys who has instincts, he's around the ball a lot,'' Gailey said. ''He's doing a good job. The only thing he doesn't have is size. Everything else he's got.''
Looking back, Ellison wasn't any more worried this year than in the past about making the Bills roster, even though he missed portions of spring minicamps and training camps due to a nagging injury.
''Antsy? Not too much because you know it's out of your control,'' Ellison said. ''It's nothing I could control, if they wanted to keep me or not. I thought I put my best effort forward.''
NOTES: Posluszny referred to his injury as a ''slight sprain,'' and he hopes to be back within a few weeks. He said he was hurt when his teammates landed on him as they gang-tackled running back Ronnie Brown along the sideline. ... C Geoff Hangartner was held out of practice as a precaution after he hurt his left ankle against the Dolphins. Gailey said the player will be evaluated to determine whether he can practice Thursday. ... RB Fred Jackson said his injured left hand has healed enough where he doesn't intend to wear a protective pad as he did Sunday.