It’s Been a Journey, Man
Signed by the Bills to be a special-teams leader, Lorenzo Alexander is having a season like no other in his 12-year career. Stepping into the void at outside linebacker after rookie first-rounder Shaq Lawson went on the PUP list with a shoulder injury, the 33-year-old Alexander has seven sacks going into Week 6—two fewer than his career total going into the 2016 season. The MMQB caught up with him on Thursday to talk about his breakout season, why he detests the “journeyman” label, and what makes playing for the Ryan brothers so fun.
KAHLER: You’ve been in the league for more than a decade, and you’re just now making a name for yourself. So who is Lorenzo Alexander?
ALEXANDER: As a person, I’m a Christian, a man of God; I really love serving Him and the people and the community. I am married, nine years in January. We have four kids and that is what my world revolves around. When everything is good at home, everything on the field or at work is easy for me. As far as a player, I am more of an old-school football player. I went undrafted, so out of necessity I had to do a lot of different things. I played guard, fullback and tight end. It’s all about the team and what I can do to help the team, which indirectly helps myself because it makes me more valuable to the organization and the coaches.
KAHLER: How do you feel when people call you a journeyman?
ALEXANDER: I can’t stand that. They act like I wasn’t in one place. I played in Washington for seven years—that is double the NFL average! If you want to call me a journeyman, because I’ve played on three teams in four years, I guess technically I have become one. But that was more out of having an injury, and I signed a free-agent deal when I left Washington and went to Oakland last year because they needed an older veteran in the room, and now I am in Buffalo. The way I am playing now and the way I have established myself up in Buffalo, I don’t see myself bouncing around anymore. Hopefully I will be fortunate enough to stay up here and finish my career. “Journeyman” makes it sound like you are not established in the league. I’ve been around for 12 years; it’s just a weird term.
KAHLER: Did you envision having this kind of success in Buffalo?
ALEXANDER: I never really came here with the mindset like I had to prove anything to anybody. I had my film from previous years when I have been healthy and it really shows what kind of player I am. I think Rex had a comfort level with me, knowing who I was or what I was about, based on what I did before I had the injury back in Washington. When I was a free agent, then he was with the Jets and he wanted me. So that is why I came. I don’t want to say I was guaranteed a spot, but they told me I was going to be on the team. And my role was special teams, and to be a leader there and then be a rotational guy. My role obviously has changed because of injuries and people being released, but I was never out there to prove anything. I was just out there working on my craft … I never had the mindset to prove that I belong because I have been around for a long time. Guys around the league know who I am and respect my game.
KAHLER: How do you explain your breakout year? Is it something you changed personally? Is it Rex Ryan’s defense?
ALEXANDER: I think it is a lot of things coming together at once. I used to be 315 lbs. And I’ve lost weight over time and now I am down to 240. When I was in Washington, I was having a productive year, not necessarily on the stat sheet itself, but I was creating hurries and pressures. I played behind Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, two all pro type of players, so I wasn’t getting the same type of opportunity. It was 15-20 reps and now I’m playing 50 snaps a game. I am doubling my opportunities. I think also finally getting healthy again. Tearing my Lisfranc ligament in 2013 really set me back and knocked me off the radar as far as a guy that was established in being able to make plays on defense. I was kind of relegated to special teams. I was dominant at that so even with a hurt foot, I could figure out ways to still be productive. But I definitely wasn't up to my standard. But now that I am here, the Rex Ryan defense is second to none. Every guy that plays in it does well if you put your mind to it, work hard and understand what he is trying to get out of you. He’s done a great job of putting me in every spot that works. It’s just about sitting in the seam, being where I need to be, and making the play when it comes to me. I’m not trying to go out there and be The Man. I don’t have to be The Man.
KAHLER: What does it feel like to say, “I’m leading the league in sacks right now?” Have you said it out loud? [Editor’s note: Von Miller moved into the lead, with 7.5 sacks, in Thursday night’s game to open Week 6.]
ALEXANDER: It is surreal. I got guys that I’ve played with around the league reaching out, like Brian Orakpo—he has six sacks right now, and we played together for a long time. And Larry Fitzgerald hit me up and congratulated me on the way I’m playing. We played together in Arizona and he said, “I see you out there balling, good job man, keep doing your thing.” Derek Carr hit me up, just some guys that I have played with within the last three or four years, just congratulating me on the way I’ve started the season. Guys that know me and know how much work I put into this, just to have that respect and guys congratulating me is cool. But at the same time I understand that it is only through Week 5. I don’t want to be a he-starts-fast-but-where-is-he-now guy. The more you play, the more people have film on you and understand what you like to do; they understand your tendencies, so I want to still be able to produce when people are starting to put a book on you as far as how you play football. When they start attacking you a little bit differently, blocking you a little bit differently, how do you respond? I’ve seen guys get knocked down real quick. I am trying to stay even keeled through all of this and continue to do the things that I’ve been doing to help the team win.
KAHLER: Do you have any good stories about either Rex or Rob Ryan?
ALEXANDER: I love the environment that they bring. I’ve never been to a place where coaches have walk-up songs to present in team meetings, like hitters do in major league baseball. The coaches have walk-up songs depending on what the theme of the week is, or what the name of a play is. It’s fun. We put in a play called Boat One. And you know the song, the SNL spoof, I’m On A Boat? Rob walks up to that song to install this play. It’s crazy. What coach does that? I’ve never been around that. They keep it light and fun.
KAHLER: Rob and Rex love to pay homage to their dad. Do they have any specific calls that are reminiscent of the ’85 Bears?
ALEXANDER: Obviously the 46 package that we have, their father created it. So for a second there, we started each game with that. That is one of our mainstays, something that we go to when we want to get after guys and get back to basics. They are going to dial up that package because they know how it works and it is one of those tone-setters where you are going to be physical and hit somebody in the mouth and start the game off right.
KAHLER: The offense came to life after Anthony Lynn took over as coordinator. How does the offense’s newfound success change the way the defense plays?
ALEXANDER: It keeps us fresher when they get in a good rhythm and are able run the ball. Also when we have an offense that is hitting people in the mouth and scoring and being physical, as a defense you want to go out there and support them and get them the ball back. When you get a big lead and create some type of momentum, you are going to be able to rush the passer more often than not.
KAHLER: Do you have a favorite sack of your seven this year?
ALEXANDER: Thursday night game, the one against [Jets OT] Ryan Clady. I was able to turn a corner on him and get a strip sack on [Ryan] Fitzpatrick. That was a pretty cool one.
KAHLER: Any quarterbacks you would like to sack?
ALEXANDER: Obviously the Patriots. I’ve only played Tom Brady I think once and he blew us out when I was in Washington. Now they are in our division and having it as a rival game—so it would be great to be able to sack him. I haven’t had a chance to sack him yet, so if that opportunity arises, that will be a cool thing to add to my career.
KAHLER: You played with Aaron Rodgers at Cal...
ALEXANDER: No, Aaron Rodgers played with me. I was at Cal and he transferred in. You can write that, too. He transferred in for my junior year, which would have been his sophomore year. We played two years together. We used to hang out a lot in college. With our families and living in two different cities, it is hard to catch up now, but he’s a real good friend. I’ve played him a couple times and I sacked him in 2010, the year they won the Super Bowl. Aaron is so cool, he won’t let you know if anything got to him, if it did at all.
KAHLER: How will your role change when Shaq Lawson returns from injury in Week 7?
ALEXANDER: I really don’t know. The coaches are figuring out a plan to integrate him and bring him along. Obviously Shaq is a rookie but he has great talent and ability, and that’s why we took him so high. We definitely want him out there, so if my role diminishes, I’m fine with that. I am all about what is best for the team, because I want to go to the playoffs and win a championship. There is no ego with me. I was undrafted, so I know what it is about when you play this game. It is about winning and doing whatever it takes. I really don’t care because I can contribute to this team in so many different ways.
KAHLER: You saw time at tight end in Washington. Did you have any catches?
ALEXANDER: I did not, and I’m not going to call out the quarterback who threw the ball behind me when I had an opportunity to catch a touchdown. I had a couple routes, but the quarterback could never connect with me. Also, it’s not like I was out there being Gronkowksi. It was really just a glorified offensive lineman doing a lot of blocking. I was out there to set the tone of the run game and to help in pass pro when we decided to take some shots.
KAHLER: You played for Washington, Arizona, Oakland and now Buffalo. How are the Bills different?
ALEXANDER: I think every coach has his own way of doing things and you have to play to your personality, so it is not a shot at the way other people did it. I enjoyed going to work when I was healthy, for me it was hard when I was hurt. But every place I went, I enjoyed going to work because the coaches were passionate. They just make it different than most places because they bring a certain fun-ness and silliness to it. But at the same time, we are working. It is a laidback environment but we are going to get our work done.
• Question? Comment? Story idea? Let us know at email@example.com