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Audio: Gailey discusses Bills' needs

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bills coach Chan Gailey spoke with me at the NFL Scouting Combine today about the team's needs heading into the draft. Here's part of that conversation:

--Mark Gaughan

How set are the Bills at OT?

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bills General Manager Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey have expressed confidence in left tackle Demetrius Bell, who started all 16 games last season. They also have talked about the promise they see in right tackle Erik Pears, a former starter from Denver who they added to the roster in December. Ed Wang, a fifth-round pick last year, is the only other tackle on the roster who saw action last year - not counting Cordaro Howard, who was shifted to guard.

So does Gailey see offensive tackle as a crying need for the Bills in the draft?

"It's not a crying need, but there's tears," the coach told The News Wednesday.

---Mark Gaughan

Gailey eyes defensive help

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bills coach Chan Gailey acknowledged defense is where the Bills have to focus a lot of their attention in filling out the roster this offseason.

"Defense is where we’re the thinnest," Gailey told The News in an interview. "We’ll address all of that here in the next couple months. We’ll make sure we take care of the needs going into the season."

Inside linebacker is a big need. "That's one of the priorities for us this offseason," Gailey said. The Bills' coach said the team definitely will try to retain inside linebacker Paul Posluszny, whose contract is up. Adding a defensive end, due to last week's release of veteran Marcus Stroud, is another need.

"It is very much so," Gailey said. "The other thing we kinda got … if we are hybrid, which I think we will be, it allows you to take (Chris) Kelsay and move (him) down, shift the 3-4 over and now Kelsay is a rush guy. Or (Shawne) Merriman is a rush guy. So you might not have to have as many (ends), depending on the situation as time goes on. We feel like we can massage that as we need to, getting the best football players on the field."

Gailey sees the Bills using both the 3-4 and the 4-3 fronts, as they did last season. "I hinted at this at the end of the season. I think we’re going to be a hybrid. Some 3-4 some four-man front. I think we’re going to be a little of both. A lot of teams are doing that now, using 3-4 in certain situations using four-man in certain situations. That still creates the problem for the defense as long as you have enough 3-4 to keep them honest. I think we will be multiple, hybrid, whatever term you want to use. You find the best players you can find then you work your defense around whoever the best football players are."

What does Gailey think about his team's pass-rush potential? "We’ve got to have better pass rush when we don’t blitz. We need to improve that with personnel. Now we may be able to get that in a second down situation with Merriman and Kelsay coming off each side if all goes well. You gotta stay healthy you’ve got to hang in there and be fortunate sometimes."

The BIlls also have two cornerbacks with contracts that are up - Drayton Florence and Ashton Youboty. What did Gailey think of the season turned in by Leodis McKelvin? "I felt like he left something on the table. And I had this conversation with him. There were times he was banged up a little bit but I think he has the capablilty to be an extremely good corner in this league. And I hope he’ll commit to what he needs to commit to in the offseason to get better."

And the Bills have a need at safety, where both Donte Whitner and George Wilson have contracts that are up. The Bills had former Colts star Bob Sanders in town for a visit last week.

---Mark Gaughan

Chan tightens QB vest

INDIANAPOLIS -- Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey did not offer any clues Thursday on his specific evaluations of the quarterbacks in the 2011 NFL Draft class during a briefing with reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Gailey offered some brief evaluations of quarterbacks Cam Newton of Auburn, Blaine Gabbert of Missouri and Christian Ponder of Florida State. But it was hard to draw any conclusions from his comments.

Asked if it will be hard to pass up a quarterback with the third overall pick if the BIlls decide a franchise guy is available, Gailey said: "I think you have to look at all scenarios. You’re trying to take care of immediate needs and at the same time take care of the long-term franchise good. As you look at it you have to consider all scenarios."

On the QB class in general, Gailey said: "It’s a different quarterback group. These guys have been in a lot of different types of offenses. It’s not just your cut and dried pro-style of quarterbacks in this draft. So you’re projecting a little bit more maybe than we have in years past on this group. There’s a few of them that have been in that. Just like in the last couple years, there’s guys that haven’t been under center very often. How are they going to react? How are they going to be able to handle that? You can handle it in shorts. But can you handle it when there’s big guys on the other side about two yards away coming at you?"

What does he think of Auburn's Newton? "I’m anxious to see him continue to work out. I’m anxious to see what he’s going to do here this week. But he obviously had a great year. I watched him several times on TV. I’ve not studied him to this point yet. I’ve looked at a little bit of tape but not studied him. He’s a big athlete that is in that wildcat mode but obviously has the ability maybe to go to the dropback passer mode."

Gailey said Newton's throwing motion is excellent. "His mechanics are fine. He has no mechanical flaws. He has all the physical attributes."

Gailey's view of Missouri's Gabbert: "Same thing. He can make all the throws. Arm strength, size, he's obviously not the runner. But they didn’t ask him to either. He’s not going to go run it 15 times a game like the other guy (Newton) will. But he had to read a lot more things in the pass game than Cam did. He had to see the whole field. They were in four wides, five wides quite a bit so he has to see the whole field and that’s an advantage he has."

Florida State's Ponder was recruited by Gailey at Georgia Tech out of high school. Ponder probably will be a second-round pick, not a first-rounder. "He was in more of a traditional pro offense than some of the other quarterbacks in the draft. So I think his transition will be a little easier. He was hurt a lot. That’s always a question and something you have to make sure you research extensively to be comfortable about a guy like that. But mentally and physically talentwise he’s fine. I think he’s got a chance to be very successful."

---Mark Gaughan

 

 

Sanders vs. Atogwe

As expected free agent safety Bob Sanders met with the Bills Tuesday. According to the team's website, the former Indianapolis Colts star had dinner with Bills defensive coordinator George Edwards.

The Bills' interest in Sanders is due to the lack of progress in re-signing Donte Whitner, who is set to become a free agent. Sanders isn't the only free agent safety on the Bills' radar.

Word is they have interest in O.J. Atogwe, who was released by the St. Louis Rams. Atogwe spent six seasons with the Rams, recording 22 career interceptions with 16 forced fumbles and five sacks.

Sanders and Atogwe are the same age. Although Sanders is the bigger name, Atogwe has been far more durable. He has started 75 of 76 games since 2006, his second year in the league.

Sanders plays strong safety, while Atogwe has spent his career at free safety. But the Bills' safety positions are interchangeable, so he wouldn't have trouble adjusting.

There is no word on whether Atogwe will come to Buffalo for a visit. The Bills' coaches and front office personnel will be in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine the rest of the week.

---Allen Wilson

 

Sanders visiting Bills

The Bills are entertaining former Indianapolis Colts star safety Bob Sanders today. He was released by the Colts last Friday. The Bills are the second visit on his free agent tour. He met with the Jacksonville Jaguars Monday.

Signing Sanders would be an interesting move and is a sign the Bills are ready to move on from free agent Donte Whitner. He wants a new contract that ranks among the highest-paid safeties in the NFL, but last season ended with he and the Bills far apart in negotiations. Backup safety George Wilson's contract is up as well, so the Bills could become very thin at the position if they lose him, too.

That's where Sanders might come in. He's a two-time Pro Bowler and the 2007 NFL defensive player of the year during his six years in Indianapolis. However, buyer beware with this guy.

To say Sanders has been injury prone is a gross understatement. He has played in just nine games over the past three seasons and was sidelined for every game except the opener in 2010. He also has missed more regular-season games (64) in his career than he's played (47). He has never played all 16 games in any season since entering the NFL because of various physical ailments.

But what he does when healthy makes him an intriguing possibility for the Bills. Sanders is a game-changer that makes impact plays. Former Colts coach Tony Dungy called him "The Eraser'' for his knack for erasing teammates mistakes.

Sanders is a physical player despite his 5-foot-8, 206-pound frame. But he has admitted in the past that his aggressive style has contributed to many of his injuries.

Given the state of the Bills, signing Sanders might represent a minimal risk. If he stays healthy, he could immediately impact the defense. If he gets hurt again, the Bills can simply discard him.

It's the same approach they're taking with outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was signed to a two-year deal after three unproductive and injury-plagued seasons in San Diego. No one knows if that move will work out either, but the Bills apparently think it's worth a shot because they've got nothing to lose.

---Allen Wilson

 

Stroud released

Marcus Stroud’s three-year run with the Buffalo Bills ended Wednesday when the team released the veteran defensive end.

This wasn't a big surprise. Stroud, 32, was part of a defensive line that contributed to the Bills finishing last in the NFL against the run. The fact that he’s a declining player and the Bills' desire to give more playing time to second-year defensive end Alex Carrington made Stroud expendable.  

Money was a factor as well. Stroud was due to make $4.5 million in base salary the upcoming season as part of a two-year, $16.5 million contract extension he signed in 2009. He was signed through 2012.

Stroud, 32, came to Buffalo in 2008 via a highly publicized trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he was a first-round draft pick in 2001 and a three-time Pro Bowl player. He started 45 of 46 games for the Bills and registered 7.5 sacks and 17 pass deflections.

---Allen Wilson

Bills 27th in special teams ranking

No one has a better system of ranking special teams than Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. His system (ranks teams in 22 categories and assigned points according to their standing) is widely accepted by NFL special teams coaches as the league standard.

Rick's annual NFL special teams rankings were just released and the Bills are ranked just 27th out of the league's 32 teams.

This is quite a fall for the Bills, who ranked in the top four in the NFL each of the previous six seasons and finished No. 1 overall in 2004, 2005 and 2008.

They ranked 11th covering kickoffs (21.1-yard average) and tied for 20th on punts (9.3) in 2010. The Bills were solid returning punts (10.5-yard average tied for 13th in the league). They averaged just 21.1 yards on kickoff returns, but that was due in part to the opponents not kicking the ball deep.

One thing the Bills did well was avoiding bad plays. They didn't give up a touchdown on kickoff returns and allowed only two punt returns of over 20 yards. They also did a good job of putting the defense in bad spots.

Still, Gosselin's low rating means Bruce DeHaven and his players have some work to do to regain their lofty special teams ranking the team enjoyed under Bobby April.

---Allen Wilson

2 LBs released

The Bills released backup linebackers Pierre Woods and Mike Balogun today.

Woods appeared in four games and made one tackle. Balogun appeared in two games. Woods, 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, was claimed off waivers from New England on Dec. 6. He had appeared in 50 games and made eight starts in five years with the Pats. Balogun, 6-feet, 250 pounds, joined the Bills on Nov. 10. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco.

---Mark Gaughan

Mayock on Cam Newton

Here's NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock on Heisman Trophy-winning QB Cam Newton of Auburn:

On Cam Newton's workout Thursday: "I really didn't need to see the workout, nor do I need to hear about the workout because I can tell you what that workout entails. I've watched five of his game tapes, he's got a classic over-hand delivery, he's got a big arm. You and I in gym shorts at the local high school can throw pretty accurately so I would guarantee you he would look great in a pair of gym shorts, he would throw with accuracy and arm strength. His mechanics are very good but I would also [offer] one cautionary note, and that is the best pro day for a quarterback I ever attended was JaMarcus Russell. That same day, even though I admitted it was the best pro day I ever saw, I also said I wouldn't take him in the first round. For me, it's not about him throwing in shorts; it's about a lot of other things."

On questions NFL teams will have about Cam Newton: "A choreographed day like today is fine, but the NFL is not really even allowed to be there so they're looking at the clips, the same that you and I are. They want to see him throw the ball at the Combine with the other quarterbacks, and then they want to see him at the Auburn pro day. And even then, that's really not going to tell the tale because he's going to throw the football beautifully in those controlled environments. To me, there are two issues with this kid. Issue number one is he came out of a shotgun [formation], and if you watch the tape it's basically a very simple offense. One read and either the ball was out or he was out. Can he adapt to, can he process and assimilate a very structured and complex pro offense against a complex pro defense? And secondly, and most importantly, when you get to a certain skill level in the NFL, which this kid certainly has, at the quarterback position what kind of kid is he? Is he going to be the first guy in the building? Is he a gym rat? Is he football smart? Is he a leader of men? All of those things to me are way more important than any workout in shorts."

 ---Mark Gaughan

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