'Legend' of rookie LB Alonso growing in Buffalo
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- 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.
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Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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