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Bills release cornerback Florence

FLORENCE

It was apparent the selection of two cornerbacks in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft last weekend was going to be bad news for somebody on the Bills' roster of defensive backs.

That player is Drayton Florence, who was released today, the team announced. The Bills took South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore with the 10th overall pick in the draft, then selected Louisiana State's Ron Brooks in the fourth round.

"I want to thank Drayton for all he’s done for our team during his three years in Buffalo," said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix in a statement. "But we have some good, young talent at the cornerback position that has tremendous upside. They need to take as many of the reps at practice as they can to continue to develop that talent. Our defense has gone through a number of changes since the end of last season and we feel that it’s necessary to give these young corners the opportunity to be in the lineup."

Florence played about 97 percent of the defensive snaps last season. He started all 16 games each of the last two seasons. He had three interceptions each of the last two years. One of them was one of the highlight plays of the year last season, a pickoff of Tom Brady that he returned 27 yards for a touchdown to give Buffalo a 31-24 lead over New England. Buffalo won the game, 34-31.

However, Florence also was part of a secondary that ranked 19th in passing yards allowed and 25th in passing yards-per-attempt allowed. Florence will turn 32 in December. He was Buffalo's second lowest-rated cornerback in terms of pass coverage by Profootballfocus.com. Florence struggled in particular in the games at the Giants and at Dallas. He had three pass interference penalties and gave up a 60-yard completion against the Giants. The Bills' cornerbacks also were hindered by one of the worst pass rushes in the league. Florence has started 96 of 136 games in his career. He held a leadership role among Bills defensive backs in terms of his work habits and professionalism. He also brought a feisty attitude on the field to the secondary.

Florence had two years left on a contract that he re-negotiated in July. His release saves the Bills $4 million in base salary he was due to make.

Florence had this reaction on Twitter: "Business is Business no feelings move on and continue to grind Thanks for all the support"

--Mark Gaughan

(Photo: Drayton Florence celebrates his fourth-quarter interception, returned for a touchdown, that gave the Bills a 31-24 lead en route to a win over New England last season. John Hickey / Buffalo News)

Nix, Wannstedt on Junior Seau

Bills General Manager Buddy Nix and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt released statements on today's death of NFL great Junior Seau. Nix's first two seasons in San Diego (2001 and 2002) were Seau's last two seasons with the Chargers. Wannstedt was head coach for Miami for the first two of Seau's three seasons with the Dolphins, 2003 and 2004.

Said Nix: "I am deeply saddened to hear the news of the passing of Junior Seau. This is such a tragedy and his passing will be felt by many. Junior was a great player in this league for so many years and he embodied that competitive spirit that all the great linebackers possess. My deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences go out to his children and his entire family, his friends, the Spanos family and the Chargers organization.”

Said Wannstedt: “Hearing this news about Junior ... it’s just so tragic … it’s hard to believe. I still to this day remember the day that Junior joined our family at the Dolphins. He brought a sense of renewed energy and a spirit to the field, off the field, in the weight room, just everywhere that Junior went and everyone that Junior was associated with. He instilled a belief that we hadn’t reached our potential and that we could be better, and he would find a way to help make that happen. I just feel terrible but I know how much he loved his kids. I remember him coming to me and the first thing we talked about was what the offseason schedule would be and what was going to be our bye week schedule. Everything he was doing was centered around getting back to San Diego from Miami to be able to spend quality time with his kids. I don’t think there’s a better way a man could be remembered than in those terms."

 

 

Junior Seau in the pages of The News

Former linebacker for the Patriots, Dolphins and Chargers Junior Seau, who is dead at age 43 after apparently committing suicide today, was mentioned in a May 2011 piece written by News Sports Columnist Bucky Gleason about concussions taking a toll on athletes, causing confusion, pain and fear. An excerpt from the article:

"Experts said all irrational behavior cannot be blamed on CTE [Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy], but it also cannot be ruled out when it comes to athletes or others who have suffered multiple concussions. [Clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine Dr. Robert] Cantu wondered if former NFL linebacker Junior Seau, who last year drove his vehicle off a cliff after a domestic dispute, could be suffering from the disease. Nobody knows for sure. Doctors cannot diagnose CTE in living people, leaving many unanswered questions until their deaths."

Seau was also prominently featured in a piece written in January 2008 by News Sports Reporter Mark Gaughan shortly after the AFC Championship Game that year. Seau, then 39, played a key role in the Patriots' victory over the Chargers that improved the Pats to 18-0 before a loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl. An excerpt from that story:

"Seau was voted to the NFL's all-decade team for the 1990s. His streak of 12 straight Pro Bowls from 1991 to 2002 is tied for the third longest all time. He has played in 257 regular-season games, second most ever by a linebacker."

Gaughan also wrote about Seau prior to the linebacker's first game in Western New York in October 2000. Seau was then 31 and already a nine-time Pro Bowler. The Chargers would fall to 0-7 that day after losing to the Bills in overtime, after Doug Flutie replaced an injured Rob Johnson. An excerpt from that story, leading up to the game:

"This will be Seau's first game in Buffalo in his 11-year career. He has made the Pro Bowl nine straight years. He was on the NFL's all-decade team for the '90s. He is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and ranks up there with Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and Lawrence Taylor among the great linebackers to play the game."

Nix on Gilmore, Kuechly

Lots of Buffalo fans were pulling for the team to draft linebacker Luke Kuechly of Boston College with the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft. They never got the chance, because Carolina took him one spot ahaed of Buffalo, at No. 9. Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said in an interview on 97 Rock this morning the team would have taken cornerback Stephon Gilmore ahead of Kuechly anyway.

Said Nix: "Corners are hard to find. You can find linebackers. Kuechly is a great player. He’ll be an excellent player in this league for a long time. Everybody would like to have Kuechly on their team. But (linebackers) Nigel (Bradham) and Tank Carder, those two guys we got in middle rounds we think will be really good players. There’s very few unique cornerbacks that have got size and speed and got a body of work. We thought he was one of the top two corners in the draft."

Nix also said the Bills had about four wide receivers with speed targeted around the time they took North Carolina State's T.J. Graham in the third round and three of them had been taken. The Bills traded up two spots and drafted Graham at No. 69. "They were all rated about the same for us," Nix said. The Giants to LSU's Rueben Randle at No. 63. Houston drafted Ohio State's DeVier Posey at No. 68.

---Mark Gaughan

Vince Young to work out for Bills

The Buffalo Bills plan to bring veteran free-agent quarterback Vince Young to One Bills Drive Wednesday for a workout, The News has learned through a league source.

The move comes on the heels of last weekend’s NFL Draft, during which the Bills bolstered their depth at just about every position on the team that needed it. Quarterback was not one of those spots, although Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said he would have liked to have taken a QB if the right opportunity arose. The Bills reached a deal with undrafted rookie free agent quarterback Aaron Corp of Richmond on Sunday. He's a developmental player.

Now the Bills are looking to create some significant competition for the backup quarterback job behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Young, who turns 29 in May, spent last season as a backup to Michael Vick in Philadelphia. He played in seven games and started three. The Eagles opted not to bring him back after his one-year contract ran out. Philadelphia signed ex-Bill Trent Edwards in February.

Young’s experience and great mobility could be attractive to Bills coach Chan Gailey. The Bills’ incumbent backup is Tyler Thigpen, who hardly played last year. He saw only mop-up duty in a loss at San Diego, completing 2 of 6 passes.

Fitzpatrick is entrenched as the Bills' starter. If Young signed with Buffalo, he would become the favorite to beat out Thigpen for the No. 2 spot, based on his talent and experience.

Young is 31-19 as an NFL starter. He played his first five seasons in Tennessee after being drafted third overall in the 2006 draft. Young led the University of Texas to the national championship in 2005. He lost his job in Tennessee to Kerry Collins during the 2010 season. Young wound up going 4-4 as a Titans starter that year. He was 1-2 for the Eagles last season.

Young has a career completion percentage of 57.9, and his career passer rating is 74.4. He has thrown 46 touchdown passes and 51 interceptions. He also has rushed for 1,459 yards in his career with 12 rushing touchdowns.

---Mark Gaughan

Video: College coach speaks highly of Bills top pick

South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward spoke to Tim Graham and Jay Skurski during The News' live draft coverage Friday about Bills first round draft pick Stephon Gilmore whom he coached in college:

Mel Kiper on Glenn, Graham

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper did a conference call with reporters this afternoon. Kiper gave the Buffalo Bills a generally positive review for their draft. He put a B-minus grade on both the Bills and the Patriots. (The other two AFC East teams, the Jets and Dolphins, got a C grade). Kiper wrote "It was a pretty good weekend for Buddy Nix and the Bills."

However, Kiper does not see second-round pick Cordy Glenn of Georgia as an NFL left tackle. The Bills are adamant that it's his best position as a pro. I asked Kiper to expand on his views on Glenn and third-round pick T.J. Graham, the speed receiver from North Carolina State.

Kiper on Glenn: "I’m a big Cordy Glenn supporter. I have been. I’ve had him in my top 20, 25 all year. To get him at 41 is a great pick. I just said this on draft day. When you look at them and say he’s a guard, well, they’re OK at guard. They got (Erik) Pears at right tackle. Left tackle is (Chris) Hairston. That’s where they want him to challenge. I don’t think he can hold up at left tackle. We’ll see. That’s something you’ll have to see about. He did this year at Georgia. But I think the best scenario would be right tackle or guard. The great thing about this is even if he doesn’t get it done at left tackle, you can move him to right tackle or guard. … Either way, he’s going to find the field. So it’s a great pick for that reason. I just would have a different opinion on his ability to be a left tackle at the pro level on a game-to-game basis."

Kiper on Graham: "When you put his speed on the board he’d be one of the top guys, and that’s what what they were looking at. Right before the draft, I thought (the Bills would pick) Michael Floyd. But they wanted a speed guy. They wanted a complement to Stevie Johnson, a fast guy. Then you looked at the fastest guys, and T.J. Graham is right there. He ran a 4.35 at the combine. He could get a little stronger. He’s a good athlete, no question about that. Legitimate speed merchant. He’s got the ability in the return game, he showed that. But will he be consistent enough catching the ball? We’ll have to wait and see on that. I thought he could be a fourth, fifth receiver, be your primary return man. The key is going t be can he help a team as a receiving entity. He has a big average per-catch. … The guy has put up decent numbers overall. … When you have somebody that fast – and he’s got good size, he’s almost 190 pounds, almost 6 feet tall – I think T.J. Graham, for what they wanted, has shown flashes at the wide receiver position. He’s a return man. He’s got speed. I’m not going to argue with that. Was it a little earlier than I thought? Probably a round or two, but at the end of the day, they wanted a speed guy and they got one of the guys who could really stretch it."

---Mark Gaughan

SS Howell among Bills free-agent rookies

Stanford strong safety Delano Howell was among the more highly regarded undrafted rookies who have agreed to terms with the Buffalo Bills.

The Bills announced a list of 10 rookie free-agent acquisitions. They include Richmond quarterback Aaron Corp, who played the past two years at the Virginia school after transferring from the University of Southern California.

Howell was a first-team All-Pac 12 Conference pick at strong safety in 2011 despite missing three games with a hand injury. He made seven interceptions and was a three-year starter for the Cardinal, starting 33 games overall. Howell, 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, ran a 4.65-second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but improved the time to about 4.55 seconds at Stanford's pro day in March. He won the team’s the Jack Huston Award, given to the player who best exemplifies aggressiveness, exceptional performance and unheralded efforts. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper had Howell rated 11th among all safeties in the draft. "He plays faster than he times, and he has very good instincts," Kiper said.

Corp, 6-4 and 213, was beaten out at Southern Cal by Matt Barkley and then transferred to the Football Championship Series level. He started all 11 games last fall, completing 63.7 percent of his passes. He passed for 244 yards a game and had 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Richmond won its first three games, then finished the season with eight straight losses. Corp set an FCS single game completion percentage record by hitting 31 of 34 passes (91.2 percent) in a 31-28 loss to Towson.

Here's a roundup of the others who agreed to terms. (They are expected to sign contracts before the Bills' rookie minicamp on May 11):

P Shawn Powell, Florida State. 6-3 1-2, 245. A three-year starter and Florida State’s all-time punting leader. He led the NCAA with a 47.0-yard gross average in 2011. Of his 57 punts last season, 24 went for 50 or more yards. He had 23 punts inside the 20 and 14 inside the 10.

RB Chris Douglas, Missouri State. 5-9, 207. Ran 4.47. Rushed for 1,051 yards as a junior and 559 yards as a senior for a 2-9 team. He averaged 6.9 yards a carry his junior year.

C-G David Snow, Texas. 6-3, 294. Appeared in 52 games and made 32 starts in his Longhorns career. He started all 13 games at left guard as a senior and 12 games at center as a junior. He graduated with a degree in corporate communications. He was a second-team Associated Press All-Big 12 pick.

G Paul Madsen, Colorado State. 6-4, 312. Started 30 games in his career. Second-team All-Mountain West Conference as a senior. He’s 26. He delayed the start of his college career because he went on a two-year Morman mission. One of his older brothers, Mark Madsen, played nine years in the NBA, with the Lakers and Timberwolves.

S Nick Sukay, Penn State. 6-1, 209. He played in the first nine games of the season before suffering a torn pectoral muscle against Illinois. He missed the last four. He had started 19 straight games up until his injury and had three interceptions before the injury. He still made second-team All Big 10 in 2011.

CB Chris Hill, Virginia Tech. 5-11, 177. Played in 52 games over four years and started seven, five his senior year. He was a standout special-teamer for the Hokies.

LB Garrick Williams, Texas A&M, 6-2, 234. Started 33 games in his career. Started out as an outside linebacker but shifted inside as a junior with the team’s shift to a 3-4 scheme. Probably projects as an inside linebacker in a 4-3 defense.

SS Ian Wild, Mercyhurst. 6-0, 220. He’s a linebacker from Division III Mercyhurst who projects as a strong safety in training camp.

---Mark Gaughan

 

Rivers reunited with Starks in Green Bay

 

University at Buffalo wide receiver Marcus Rivers is excited about signing as a free agent with the Green Bay Packers after he was overlooked in the NFL Draft. The Lackawanna native will be reunited with former Bulls running back James Starks, who won a Super Bowl his rookie year.

"Being with James is going to make the process much easier," Rivers said this morning. "When I was at UB, James was always building me up and giving me confidence."

Rivers, who had 110 catches over his final two seasons as UB, will get an opportunity to compete for a job on a Green Bay team that did not select a wideout in the draft. The 6-5, 225-pounder has the size and athleticism to become a possession-type receiver in the NFL but might not have the breakaway speed to become a deep threat. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds.

Learning on the job with the Packers should only help Rivers. The Pack had a 15-1 record last season and an MVP quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. Veteran receivers Gregg Jennings and Jordy Nelson will be back again this season. Green Bay isn't sure if veteran receiver Donald Driver, their all-time leader, will return at age 37.

"I’m thinking about all the great receivers they have that I can learn from and critique my game," Rivers said. "It’s overwhelming. It’s unbelievable. I’m like, 'I’m going to play with Aaron Rodgers?' But it’s like my mom said, 'You can’t go in there as a fan; it’s about business.' "

--- Bucky Gleason

 

Post-draft Chat with Mark Gaughan

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