3 Buffalo Bills

They've brought in rookies and veterans to fortify the right spots, but it likely won't be enough in a talent-heavy division
September 02, 2007

WHAT'S NEW

> The NFLmantra, particularly for Northern teams that regularly have to cope with badweather late in the year, is: You've got to be able to run the ball, and you'vegot to stop the run. Last year the Bills were lousy at both, averaging 3.7yards per carry and allowing 4.7. To ramp up the running game they committed$93 million in the off-season to two free-agent linemen and a rookie back. Thenew left guard, former Redskin Derrick Dockery (seven years, $49 million),teams with rising-star left tackle Jason Peters to strengthen that side of theline, while athletic right tackle Langston Walker, late of the Raiders (fiveyears, $25 million), should stabilize the strong side.

Offensivecoordinator Steve Fairchild, a Mike Martz disciple, will try to turn strong,shifty first-round pick Marshawn Lynch out of Cal (six years,$18.9 million) into Marshall Faulk North, and a 1,500-yardrushing-receiving season for Lynch is a realistic goal. On defense PaulPosluszny, one of the best in a long line of Penn State linebackers, was takenin the second round to man the middle; he and 2006 first-round defensive tackleJohn McCargo (who missed most of last season with a broken bone in his leftfoot), will improve Buffalo's efforts against the run.

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> The Billswon't beat New England out of the top spot in the AFC East, but the offensiveoverhaul and victories last December over the Jets and the Dolphins by acombined 52-13 are signs that a wild card is possible. That's saying something,because aside from the expansion Texans, Buffalo is the only AFC team that hasnot made the playoffs in the 21st century. The Bills, 46 games over .500 in the'90s, are 20 games under in this decade.

Buffalo likelyhas done enough on offense to play with the big boys, particularly if J.P.Losman continues his competent play at quarterback. While the Bills were going5-2 under Losman's direction in a late-season stretch, the coaches' faith intheir third-year signal-caller strengthened as he completed 65% of his passesand threw 11 touchdowns against four interceptions. "He has really improvedhis fundamentals and his decision-making," Fairchild says. "We're notgoing to be the Colts, and maybe he's not going to be Peyton Manning, but I'mvery comfortable with him going to the line and getting us out of a bad playand into a good one."

It's defense thatwill make or break the Bills' postseason bid, and the case for improvement inthat unit is harder to make. Buffalo parted with three top players--linebackersLondon Fletcher and Takeo Spikes and cornerback Nate Clements; replacing themare undistinguished linebacker Angelo Crowell, journeyman corner Jason Websterand the rookie Posluszny. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell thinks Poslusznyhas the potential to be the face of the franchise, but there's a lot ofpressure on the broad shoulders of the 239-pound rookie. Most pro scouts wonderif Posluszny, who played in a brace last year at Penn State to protect aninjured right knee, has the speed to be a sideline-to-sideline playmaker in thepros. The Bills found Posluszny to be fully recovered, and in camp the formerNittany Lion showed good range. "This defense is ideal, because they tellme to play 41⁄2 yards off the ball and get to the football," Poslusznysays. "That's what I do best. I'm a pretty instinctive player. I think Ican be the kind of guy to get double digits in tackles, make big plays and helpcause turnovers." He'll need to do all of that for Buffalo to be betterthan .500.

Run defense wasthe team's biggest concern in the off-season. At the league meetings lastMarch, owner Ralph Wilson, vice president Jim Overdorf, general manager MarvLevy and coach Dick Jauron huddled at a table, when Wilson said, "I want toknow what we're going to do about stopping the run." His defense had beensteamrolled for 140.9 rushing yards per game (28th in the league). Two dayslater Buffalo dealt Spikes to the Eagles for defensive tackle Darwin Walker.But Walker demanded a new contract and refused to report; the Bills traded himto Chicago on July 29 for a conditional '08 fifth-round pick. Now they'll haveto rely on McCargo in that spot and hope Posluszny becomes the tackling machinethat Fletcher was.

When Levy watchedtape of Posluszny before the draft, he kept seeing Shane Conlan, therun-stuffing inside linebacker on Levy's Super Bowl teams of the '90s. The twoplayers have much in common: Each wore number 31 at Penn State (Posluszny inhomage to Conlan), each was drafted by Levy to be the defensive linchpin of theBills, and in the off-season they worked out at the same gym in Pittsburgh.(Conlan lives there, and Posluszny was born in nearby Butler.) Now if Levycould just find players who reminded him of Cornelius Bennett, Bruce Smith andDarryl Talley, Buffalo would be a playoff lock. --P.K.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP
WITH 2006 STATISTICS
COACH DICK JAURON (43-58 in NFL), second season with Bills

OFFENSE

LEE EVANS
POS WR
REC 82
YARDS 1,292
TD 8

MARSHAWN LYNCH(R) (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS RB
ATT 223
YARDS 1,356
AVG 6.1

REC 34
YARDS 328
AVG 9.6
TD 15

J.P. LOSMAN
POS QB
ATT 429
COMP 268
PCT 62.5

YARDS 3,051
TD 19
INT 14
RATING 84.9

ROSCOE PARRISH
POS WR
ATT 23
YARDS 320
AVG 13.9

PEERLESS PRICE
POS WR
REC 49
YARDS 402
TD 3

RIAN LINDELL
POS K
FG 23-25
POINTS 102

LANGSTON WALKER(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS RT
HT 6' 8"
WT 366
G 16

JASON WHITTLE(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS RG
HT 6' 4"
WT 279
G 16

MELVIN FOWLER
POS C
HT 6' 3"
WT 310
G 16

DERRICK DOCKERY(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS LG
HT 6' 6"
WT 330
G 16

JASON PETERS
POS LT
HT 6' 4"
WT 340
G 16

ROBERT ROYAL
POS TE
REC 23
YARDS 233
TD 3

DEFENSE

KEITH ELLISON
POS WLB
TACKLES 65
SACKS 1
INT 1

CHRIS KELSAY
POS LE
TACKLES 61
SACKS 5 1‚ÅÑ2

LARRYTRIPPLETT
POS LT
TACKLES 33
SACKS 2 1‚ÅÑ2

KYLE WILLIAMS
POS RT
TACKLES 53
SACKS 0

AARON SCHOBEL
POS RE
TACKLES 53
SACKS 14

ANGELO CROWELL
POS SLB
TACKLES 82
SACKS 2
INT 2

TERRENCE MCGEE
POS CB
TACKLES 76
INT 0

KO SIMPSON
POS FS
TACKLES 76
SACKS 1
INT 2

PAUL POSLUSZNY(R) (NEW ACQUISITION)
POS MLB
TACKLES 116
SACKS 3
INT 0

DONTE WHITNER
POS SS
TACKLES 104
SACKS 0
INT 1

JASON WEBSTER(NEW ACQUISITION)
POS CB
TACKLES 49
INT 2

BRIAN MOORMAN
POS P
PUNTS 92
AVG 43.6

NEWACQUISITION
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
> 2006 RECORD 7-9 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 27/28/30 DEFENSE28/7/18

2007 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER
9 DENVER
16 at Pittsburgh
23 at New England
30 N.Y. JETS

OCTOBER
8 DALLAS (M)
14 Bye
21 BALTIMORE
28 at N.Y. Jets

NOVEMBER

4 CINCINNATI
11 at Miami
18 NEW ENGLAND
25 at Jacksonville

DECEMBER
2 at Washington
9 MIAMI
16 at Cleveland
23 N.Y. GIANTS
30 at Philadelphia

(M) MONDAY

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank T1
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .539
Games against playoff teams 8

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PHOTOBILL WIPPERTtwin bill Posluszny (left) reminds Levy of Conlan, his Super Bowl super 'backer. PHOTOJEROME DAVIS/WIREIMAGE.COM

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)