Bills: Matt Milano wanted to “be the best me” & now he’s a starting NFL linebacker
By: Nick Wojton
ORCHARD PARK – Buffalo Bills rookie linebacker Matt Milano was never expecting to be the team’s starting linebacker but by setting out to do what he actually was trying to accomplish, that’s the exact thing he achieved.
Earlier this season, Milano saw starting and extended playing time when he filled in for the injured Ramon Humber. Last week, Milano started for Humber again, this time based on merit. According to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier on Monday, it’s now Milano’s job to lose.
“We inserted him in the starting lineup Sunday, and he did a terrific job. We plan on, barring anything happening this week in practice, him starting again against our next opponent, Miami,” Frazier said.
Milano has impressed throughout the season. He’s had highlight reel plays such as his flying fumble returned for a touchdown in a 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders or his first-career interception during a 30-27 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he looked more like a defensive back.
Which is fitting.
Milano, drafted 163rd overall by the Bills (7-6) this year in the fifth-round of the NFL Draft, played at Boston College. But Milano originally went to BC to play safety, not linebacker. He made the position switch at the urging of coaches and the rest is history.
Milano’s ability to play multiple positions and excel is what made him appealing to Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott during the draft process. By some accounts, the Bills over-drafted Milano as some scouting reports had him pegged going undrafted. Buffalo’s getting a bang for their buck now though.
“You look at his background, the different positions he played in college,” McDermott said. “Playing in space, that showed his athleticism overall. That’s what peaked our interest.”
As prior mentioned, Milano’s had a knack for making flashy plays with his hands. Milano credited his past as a defensive back giving him the ability to make those kinds of plays.
“The game’s really turned into a passing league so you have to defend the pass well,” Milano said. “I don’t want to say you see some linebackers that are stiff, but there are some linebackers who are stiff. I just feel comfortable doing it.”
Despite that skill, Milano’s not going to be handed a started job just because of those few plays. At linebacker, players must be consistent against the simple things, like the run.
“It’s just a mindset. You have to come downhill, play with your hands don’t let blockers get into you and get off blocks,” Milano said in terms of defending the run. “That’s the name of the game, if you get stuck on blocks, you’re going to get beat every time.”
Going forward, Milano was only dubbed the starter against the Colts last week in a 13-7 overtime win for the Bills and this upcoming week against the Miami Dolphins (6-7) according to McDermott.
Milano said he appreciates the coaches think highly enough to name him starter, but he won’t let it slow him down, especially since McDermott called it a battle for playing time between Milano and Humber.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Milano said. “I just want to make the playoffs as a team and get Buffalo to the playoffs and go from there. That’s been our goal all season and that’s just the mindset going into these the next few days.”
But regardless, Milano said he never really expected to even get a chance to start this season. It wasn’t even really his goal. Instead, he just had a day-by-day plan.
“Everyone in here’s trying to work out here and trying to earn a job. That’s just the mindset of the team,” Milano said. “I wasn’t even thinking (about starting). I was just trying to be the best me and whatever happens, happens.”
Kick between the Bills and Dolphins is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday at New Era Field.