Bills training camp questions: Can Matt Milano return to form?


Staff member

This is the eighth of 10 questions in a series previewing Buffalo Bills training camp. Today: Can Matt Milano return to form?

The Bills’ minicamp on June 11 was overcast, but there certainly was a bright spot. Linebacker Matt Milano was practicing, though in a limited sense.
It was the first practice back for Milano, 29, since he broke his right leg in an Oct. 8 loss to Jacksonville in London.

Bills linebacker Matt Milano is back on the practice field after suffering a leg injury last season. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

In the days after the bad break, coach Sean McDermott said that Milano’s injury was “more complicated” than usual.

In January, Milano told reporters that he had sustained a fractured right tibia just below the knee, but that there was no damage to any knee ligaments. The tibia, or shin bone, is the larger of the two bones that make up the lower leg. He did not specify where on the tibia the break occurred, and the exact location could impact the recovery timeline.

Milano also said in January that there was about eight weeks where he could not put any weight on the leg.

But last month, he was back on the field.

“He’ll continue to build through the break that we’re going to go on,” McDermott said during mandatory minicamp. “And then hopefully in training camp, he’s at a spot where when we open up, he’s available. It’s just a matter of putting it one day at a time and trying to put practices back to back. Don’t know yet on that. And we’ll just have to see.”

Milano wanted to wait until training camp to address the media, so there’s no personal insight on how he was feeling during minicamp. Still, just seeing him back on the field was a good sign. He was limited, taking part in individual linebacker drills and in full-defense walkthrough sessions, while being held out of the 11-on-11 portion of practice.

Linebacker Terrel Bernard still felt the significance of having Milano alongside him.

“Having him around and out there and involved and everything, it’s been awesome,” Bernard said at minicamp.

So much of Milano’s game is instinctive. Those instincts put him in a good place to still make an impact, even as his recovery may be ongoing. While he could be a bit rusty from not playing for nearly 11 months, he’s likely to snap back quickly on the mental side of things. The bigger questions are how the injury will impact his explosiveness and his ability to get to the play he is making.

But when Milano is back on the defense, Bernard sees it boost the whole team – including himself.

“I think just an added sense of confidence,” Bernard said. “Before the snap, when we’re communicating with each other, he’s saying the communication before I even get it out. Just little things here and there, talking about the splits, about situational ball, like what’s coming, what the offense is presenting to us.

“Me and him have a really tight connection, and I think, like I said earlier, we see things the same way, so having him right behind me, and just reciprocating what I’m thinking, it builds a level of confidence between both of us.”

Safety Micah Hyde, who played seven seasons with Milano, starting with Milano’s rookie campaign, once gave a telling description.

“Milano’s like a unicorn in the sense he can do it all. He really can,” Hyde said in 2022. “He can blitz, he can tackle, he can cover. He has good hands. He can do it all.”
Milano’s unique skill set means he could be a step ahead of other players with a similar injury.

Plus, there’s the nature of the injury. It’s not the same as dealing with a torn ACL or other torn ligaments.
While Milano has always been driven, coaches and teammates have a sense that the time away from the game has upped his intensity.

“Credit to Matt and what he’s been able to do with our training staff and the work he’s put in,” McDermott said in June. “He’s so focused. He was focused before this. I feel like he’s even more focused, if that’s even possible now, in wanting to get back out there for himself, but also for his teammates.”

Bernard and Milano played just four games and change together as the starting tandem before Milano went down early at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Bernard tries not to think of what could have been. Instead, he looks toward the future with Milano back in the lineup, and he feels good about what he envisions.

“You never really look at it like that, honestly, but you know, we’ve had conversations about what we think we could do, and who we think we could be,” Bernard said. “And how we can work with each other and work off of each other. And you have to go out there and do the work, and make it happen, but we’re definitely excited to be able to work together and see what we can do together.”