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No Luck for Carolina

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck today announced he will return to the school for his junior football season and forego the NFL Draft. Had he come out he likely would have been the first overall pick, going to the Carolina Panthers. It's probably great news for Carolina quarterback Jimmy Clausen. It probably would have benefitted the Bills if Luck entered the draft, since this moves every other player eligible for the draft one spot up. Regardless, only two players will be off the board when it's the Bills' turn to pick at No. 3. There will be plenty of great ones, future Pro Bowlers, available. The Bills' job is to pick one.

---Mark Gaughan

Bills 23rd in attendance

The Bills finished 23rd in average attendance in the NFL, with a total of 63,195 for their seven home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo played to 86.5 percent capacity, which ranked fourth from the bottom in the NFL. Oakland, Tampa and St. Louis were the bottom three in playing to capacity. Dallas ranked No. 1 in attendance, averaging 87,047. Oakland was at the bottom in attendance at 46,431, with Tampa 31st, St. Louis 30th and Detroit 29th. Buffalo and Detroit share the longest active streak for not making the playoffs - 11 straight seasons.

---Mark Gaughan

KC's Charles & Jim Brown

The votes for the NFL's All-Pro team are due on Friday, and in researching the running backs this season, the following noteworthy statistic was found:

Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles finished second in the NFL in rushing with 1,467 yards and averaged 6.37 yards a carry. That's the highest average-per-carry by a running back with 1,000 yards or more since Jim Brown averaged 6.4 yards in 1963. Brown rushed for a then-NFL record 1,863 yards that season, a mark that stood until O.J. Simpson hit 2,003 in 1973.

Players have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season 544 times in NFL history. Only three of those times has a player bettered Charles' average. One was Brown. One was quarterback Michael Vick, who averaged 8.5 a carry in gaining 1,039 yards for Atlanta in 2006. The other was Beattie Feathers in 1934.

Charles was a third-round pick of the Chiefs in 2008. Not surprisingly, he bettered his season average when he faced Buffalo on Oct. 31. Charles rushed 22 times that day for 177 yards, an average of 8.04 a carry. Yes, Charles is going to be on this All-Pro ballot, which I write about in Sunday's NFL column.

---Mark Gaughan


Broncos study Bills' coaching tree

The Denver Broncos have three former Bills coaches in their sights, according to their new vice president of football operations, John Elway, the Denver Post reports. In addition to Mike Mularkey, Denver intends to line up interviews with Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Broncos interim coach Eric Studesville, the former Bills running backs coach, also is a candidate.

Williams, Bills head coach from 2001-2003, won a Super Bowl ring with New Orleans last year and is preparing for a Saints wild-card game this week. New Orleans' defense ranks fourth in the NFL this season.

Fewell, Bills defensive chief under Dick Jauron and interim Bills coach last season, coached the Giants defense to a seventh-place ranking in yards allowed this year. The Panthers, Browns and 49ers also have requested to interview Fewell, according to media reports.

Fewell definitely helped his coaching profile this year. The Giants were 13th in yards allowed last year. They improved from 30th in points allowed to 17th this year. They would have been a lot lower, too, if the Giants' offense hadn't led the NFL in giveaways with 42. 

Meanwhile, another former Bills aide, Giants offensive coordiantor Kevin Gilbride, is rumored to be a candidate for the head-coaching opening at UConn. Gilbride is a native of New Haven, Conn.

---Mark Gaughan



Mularkey hot commodity

Former Bills head coach Mike Mularkey finds himself a hot coaching commodity this week. He has interviews scheduled with Denver and Cleveland later this week, and he might be contacted by Carolina.

Obviously, Mularkey's unsuccessful two-year reign as Bills head coach is not hurting his job prospects. Expect Mularkey to pretty easily dismiss questions about walking away from the Bills job in 2005 during his interviews this weekend. The fact the Bills' organization has been dysfunctional and has failed in the five seasons since he left no doubt lends a lot of credence to whatever explanation he gives on his performance with the Bills.

Ultimately it didn't make sense for the Bills to keep Mularkey in 2006. The man who hired him, Tom Donahoe, had just been fired. The Bills brought on a new general manager, Marv Levy, who had no history with Mularkey. It was time to turn the page. If you're going to let Levy be the GM, let him bring in his own man. (Of course, we all know that didn't work out too well.) The Bills didn't turn the page. They decided to keep Mularkey. Both sides agreed there would be a defensive overhaul. But in ensuing meetings, the Bills didn't want to give Mularkey as much control of hiring and firing staff as he wanted. And Mularkey likely sensed the football administration wasn't to his liking, so he walked away.

What will the Broncos and Browns see when they look at Mularkey's track record? Here are his most recent results:

In 2004, he took over an offense that was 30th in yards and points the year before, he squeezed as much production as he could out of quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The Bills ranked 25th in yards, 13th rushing, 27th passing, 20th on third downs and 7th in points (thanks to a great defense).

In 2005, J.P. Losman took over at QB. The Bills were 28th in yards, 20th rushing, 29th passing, 20th on third downs, 24th in points.

Mularkey took over as offensive coordinator in Miami in 2007 but was stripped of his play-calling duties during the season. That year Miami went 1-15 and ranked 28th in yards and 26th in points.

In 2008 Mularkey took over as offensive coordinator in Atlanta, which ranked 23rd on offense the year before. With new QB Matt Ryan at the helm, here are Atlanta's rankings the past three years (08-09-10) -- 2nd-15th-16th in yards, 10th-13th-5th points.

Obvious conclusion: It's good to have a good quarterback.

Like most first-time head coaches, Mularkey definitely had growing pains in Buffalo. At times he could have done a better job of being Mike and not trying to be like Bill Cowher. He could have communicated better at times within the organization and gotten better enthusiastic buy-in from some players. He learned he should have brought in his own people and not inherited some coaching staff members. (He and defensive chief Jerry Gray clashed). Overall, Mularkey has done a good job getting as much production as he could get out of the offensive tools he's had. Is he better suited to being a coordinator than a head coach? That's what the interviewers will have to decide this week.

---Mark Gaughan

Merriman d. Laettner

Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman today had a sack -- in the courtroom.

Merriman was awarded about $3.8 million and real estate ownership interests by a federal court in a dispute between him and two former pro athletes -- including Western New York basketball legend Christian Laettner.

U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus ruled that a judgment be entered in favor of Merriman against Laettner, Brian Davis and BD Ventures LLC, according to court papers filed Dec. 13 in federal court in Greenbelt, Md. In 2009, Merriman sued the former NBA and Duke University basketball players after they defaulted on a $3 million loan and failed to convey ownership interests promised to Merriman, according to court papers. Davis was a teammate of Laettner's at Duke.

"Shawne Merriman trusted Laettner and Davis to repay the millions they borrowed from him for their business," Marc Kasowitz, Merriman's attorney, said in a statement. "We are pleased that the federal court has vindicated Shawne's rights and is compelling Laettner and Davis to fulfill their obligations."

--Bloomberg News Service

Luck's impact on Bills

The decision of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck on whether to turn pro will have an obvious huge impact on the Buffalo Bills.

College players have until Jan. 15 to declare themselves eligible for the 2011 NFL Draft. Then they have until Jan. 17 to rescind that decision. Once they declare for the draft and Jan. 17 passes, there's no turning back.

Luck is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick if he comes out. Carolina owns the No. 1 pick and would be hard-pressed to pass up on Luck, even though it drafted quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the second round in 2010.

If Luck comes out, the Bills, with the No. 3 overall pick, would be assured of getting one of the top two front-seven defensive players in the draft - Clemson pass rusher Da'Quan Bowers or Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley. That's presuming, of course, those two also declare for the draft and the defensive front seven (a huge Buffalo need) is the direction the Bills opt to go with the third pick.

---Mark Gaughan


Luck, Harbaugh light it up

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck were non-committal about their futures after Monday night's 40-12 rout of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Harbaugh, asked repeatedly about whether he would leave Stanford after the game, refused to offer any clues.

On the victory podium after the game, Harbaugh's statement to his players might have been construed as a farewell comment. Said the hot-commodity coach: "To all of our players, I thought they played with great poise; especially in the second half, they fought the whole time. I love our guys. They respect the game. They respect the process of preparing and doing all the little things."

Luck was 18 of 23 for 287 yards with four touchdown passes and one interception. A bunch of his throws were to wide-open receivers, a testament to the offensive design and play-calling of Harbaugh. But Luck was very impressive nonetheless. His first touchdown pass was a bullet into decent coverage right on the money. He showed impressive elusiveness from his own 10 yard line when he was forced by heavy pressure to scramble to his right and throw a hard strike for a 30-some-yard completion.

Harbaugh is rumored to be a strong candidate to return to coach his alma mater, Michigan. He probably could have his pick of the San Francisco 49ers or Denver Broncos head coaching jobs, too.

Luck acknowledged that his decision on whether to turn pro will be impacted by Harbaugh's decision.

"It will definitely be an impact," Luck said, "but I don't know how much, to be honest."

---Mark Gaughan

Video: Bills Clean Out Lockers

The Bills' 4-12 record this season earned them the third overall draft pick. Mark, Al and Sully discuss what the team needs to end its playoff drought and become revelant again in the NFL.

Gailey's post-season views

Bills coach Chan Gailey gave quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick about as strong an endorsement as one could expect today in a season-ending news conference at One Bills Drive.

Asked how committed he was to Fitzpatrick as the starting quarterback in 2011? "Very committed. He’s done a lot of good things. He can improve. But we’ve got to stop the turnovers. But if we can do that I think we give ourselves a chance to be a successful offense."

Gailey said he is eager to see Fitzpatrick return with a healthy offensive cast next season.

"To be honest with you I'm looking forward to it very much so," Gailey said. "And I think our offensive line is going to be a lot better next year. I think we're going to be able to do better things with C.J. Spiller next year. ... He (Fitzpatrick) allowed other guys to flourish and that’s what he does. He puts the ball where it needs to be for people to make plays and that’s the one thing you like about the guy. He gives your team an opportunity to win."

Other highlights:

x Gailey said he sees the defense continuing to play a multiple-front scheme and not playing strictly a 3-4 front. Said Gailey: “There are a lot of people that are called 3-4 fronts. I think we’ll probably end up being a true multiple front team instead of a true 3-4 team just because our personnel dictates that. I think we’re probably a little bit better suited. I’ve not talked to the defensive staff about this, but just looking at it on the surface right now, I’d probably say we’re going to be multiple front rather than Kansas City sit in 3-4 no matter what, Cleveland sit in 3-4 no matter what. I don’t see us being that team. I see us being more of a multiple team.”

x Gailey said the scheme won't preculde the Bills from drafting a great player at No. 3 overall just because he may or may not fit.

x Gailey described the position of linebacker Aaron Maybin on the team as "tenuous."

x On safety Donte Whitner, set to become a free agent: "Tenuous would be another word you could use there. ... He’s a really good player, you’d love to have him on your football team but we’re in a business where that doesn’t happen every time."

x On the offensive tackles: "I thought Demetrius (Bell) had an OK year. I didn’t think he had a great year. And I know the injury, he couldn’t practice Wednesdays at all the whole year, and again I’m not trying to make excuses for anybody but I’m just stating facts, he didn’t practice on Wednesdays. I think a year of strength and core development I think will help him tremendously. He missed all of that last year because of the shoulder, he got no upper body work, he got no lower body work and he gutted out the season. He and Eric (Wood) gutted out the season for us and you’ve got to like that about a guy that will do that. But I think his upside is tremendous. The right tackle, I’ll be honest with you, I thought Erik Pears played as well as you could expect the last game and a half he played for us."

---Mark Gaughan

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