Reese vs. Prioleau to be an interesting battle

Izell Reese or Pierson Prioleau as the Bills' starting free safety? Whom do you prefer? Reese and Prioleau are pretty similar players actually.

Both are good tacklers, both like to hit, both have experience at the various defensive back positions. However, it appears that the 6'2", 190-pound Reese, who'll be 29 in May, has significantly better hands and better interception instincts than Prioleau. He had seven interceptions to Prioleau's one through 71 games played in Dallas and Denver.

Granted, Prioleau, 26, has only played in 50 NFL games with San Francisco and Buffalo.

And don't forget he did make what might have been a game-deciding play against the Jets in the opener, intercepting Vinny Testaverde with five minutes left in the game; Buffalo holding onto a 24-23 lead. But that unfortunately was nullified by an Eddie Robinson pass interference penalty against tight end Anthony Becht. On the next play, Testaverde hit Wayne Chrebet for an 18-yard touchdown. After a two-point conversion, New York had a 31-24 lead with four minutes, 47 seconds left.

If Prioleau's interception counted, Buffalo could conceivably have run out the clock, given how well the offense played the first half of the season. In fact, 2002 might have been a lot different. There probably wouldn't have been another Chad Morton kickoff return for a touchdown.

But what might have been, and what was, is nothing to concern ourselves with now as we head into what probably will be a very exciting 2003 season.

Reese is a better coverage player than Prioleau is. But neither are cornerback-capable coverage players. That's why they're safeties. It will be an interesting battle in training camp. In breaking into the league, each has seen plenty of action in multiple defensive back sets.

Reese is really upgrading Buffalo's defensive back position, particularly at safety, considering the loss of Billy Jenkins. Reese is certainly better than Jenkins, and he's also a much stronger special-teamer than Jenkins was.

Jenkins saw himself as an unquestionable NFL-caliber starting strong safety and never embraced special teams dirty work as a way to stay active with a team. He felt that was below him, which helped get him cut in Denver during the 2001 season.

I think Reese signifies an overall safety upgrade. Buffalo is moving toward an NFL trend that states there is no difference within a defense between a strong or free safety. The positions are interchangeable.

I know that second-year strong safety Coy Wire is working hard with Steve Jackson this off-season to improve his general safety skills. But if he struggles, then I don't think the Bills will hesitate to use Reese there.

Of course, I don't think Wire will struggle next year. I'm looking for him to be one of the most improved defensive players, as a matter of fact.

Now Prioleau certainly was a surprise at strong safety when he played there the last six games of the 2001 season, including two starts at the position the final two games. The major concern was how his 5'11", 190-pound frame would hold up to the pounding that strong safety demands in the Bills' defense.

He never thought that was an issue though, saying last off-season that he was confident he could have taken the pounding.

So the Bills have two safeties who could play strong safety if need be. Smart move.

One concern with Reese is that he had surgery on a herniated disk in his neck in 2000. We know that herniated disk surgery is not something to consider lightly, given that a herniated neck disk ultimately caused the retirement of one of Buffalo's most recent beloved players, linebacker Chris Spielman.

The thought was that any serious hit might result in paralysis.

Reese has seemingly gotten over that, having played 47 NFL games since then, and having started 26 of those contests. The Broncos said they wanted him back too – at the right price, which is similar to how they treated the Trey Teague situation last year. Teague was very much a surprise as Buffalo's starting center last season. The Bills are looking for that same kind of surprise with Reese.

Still, Reese's medical condition has to be a concern. Once a player faces such a career-threatening injury, it's hard to gauge how much that affects him in the long run.

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