ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Terrel Bernard has won the competition to be the Bills starting middle linebacker despite missing all of the preseason with a hamstring injury, coach Sean McDermott announced Wednesday.
Another second-year defender, cornerback Christian Benford, also will start Buffalo’s opening game against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football, and rookie O’Cyrus Torrence will start at right guard, McDermott said.
“They’re all young players that are a little bit inexperienced at this point,” McDermott said prior to the Bills’ first practice of the regular season. “We’re confident in them and they’ll take it one play at a time. It’s not an individual game, it’s a team game.”
Benford, who started five games as a rookie after being drafted in the sixth round out of Villanova, beat out Kaiir Elam, the Bills’ first-round pick in 2022, and fourth-year veteran Dane Jackson, who started 14 games last season, to start opposite top corner Tre’Davious White.
“Over the course of spring and training camp, he was on on his assignments,” McDermott said. “I think he contested balls and made some interceptions, made some plays on balls as well.”
Bernard, the Bills’ third-round pick last year, rotated with Tyrel Dodson, Baylon Specter, and A.J. Klein in the middle of the defense before sustaining a hamstring injury during training camp. Dodson was underwhelming in preseason, Specter is now on injured reserve with a hamstring ailment, and Klein has been released.
“We thought he did some good things when he was healthy and available,” McDermott said. “And unfortunately that situation, that competition got cut a little bit short due to due to an injury. We’re confident in TB and I’m excited to watch him play.”
Buffalo has a vacancy in the linebacker corps after 2018 first-round pick Tremaine Edmunds, a five-year starter, signed with the Bears in free agency. Veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey was signed to the practice squad last week. The 31-year-old Kirksey started all 17 games for the Texans last season.
Torrence, a second-round pick out of Florida, started each of the three preseason games ahead of Bates, an incumbent at the position whom the Bills value for his ability to play multiple spots on the line, including backup center.
“There was nothing Ryan didn’t do, it was more just Cy-Bo coming in as a young player and again, taking it one play at a time and I think a workman like approach to his game early on in spring and then in training camp again, I thought he handled himself well,” McDermott said.
Micah Hyde has back injury
While the Bills have a short injury list going into the opening game, safety Micah Hyde was held out of practice Wednesday due to a back injury, McDermott said. Hyde did participate in stretching and individual drills with his helmet on at the start of practice. McDermott did not indicate whether the injury will keep Hyde from playing against the Jets. “We’re taking it one day at a time,” he said.
One of Buffalo’s defensive captains, Hyde sustained a season-ending neck injury in the second game of the 2022 season. Damar Hamlin started in Hyde’s place for the remainder of the season. The Bills also signed veteran Taylor Rapp to add depth at the safety position. Rapp also could play linebacker in some defensive alignments.