Inside Bills Report

The Bills think veteran linebacker Jason Gildon can help them but the contract they gave him is something less than convincing. <BR><BR> His one-year deal valued at between $1 million and $1.25 million with incentives came with a signing bonus of no more than $500,000, making the Steelers' all-time sack leader a candidate to be cut with no significant salary cap impact if he fails to perform in training camp.

Gildon, who turns 32 when the Bills arrive for camp on July 31, was cut by Pittsburgh to save $3.65 million after a six-sack season. His sack numbers have dwindled every year since his career-high 13.5 in 2000 and he's not an every-down player.

Still, a player with his credentials was too good for the Bills to pass on and there were personal reasons at play for GM Tom Donahoe and coach Mike Mularkey, two ex-Steelers who have a lot of respect for Gildon.

He joins a Bills defense already laden with age in Sam Adams, Lawyer Milloy and Troy Vincent.

"I still feel that I have a lot of football to play," Gildon said. "I definitely feel that I'll be given the opportunity here to compete and that's all I'm after ... I definitely have something to offer."

If the 6-4, 250-pound Gildon can rekindle a spark, he does provide some options for the Bills in getting to the quarterback, either rushing from a standing position or putting his hand on the line as a left defensive end.

While he'll compete with Jeff Posey at strong-side linebacker, Posey is likely to retain the position since he's much better against the pass.

"Jason can play both linebacker and defensive end," Posey said. "No matter if he's starting or just adding depth, he's going to help this team."

The issue of switching from a 3-4 in Pittsburgh to a 4-3 in Buffalo is probably being overblown.

"Being in Pittsburgh for 10 years, (people) tend to have an idea, 'Well, maybe he can only play in a certain defense,' " Gildon said. "But as a linebacker, I feel like I can play in any defense given the right situation."

Gildon is the Steelers' all-time sack leader with 77 and the Bills are desperate to improve their pass rush and create turnovers - they have finished last in the NFL in that department two years running.

In the end, it required no fierce bidding to land the two-time Pro Bowler. Cincinnati backed off after giving defensive end Duane Clemons a contract extension and Green Bay was not willing to pay more than the NFL veteran minimum of $760,000.



NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--WR Josh Reed doesn't want to relinquish his starting job, but he's wide open to the idea of returning to the slot where he had more success as a rookie. In 2002, he caught 37 passes for 509 yards and 2 TDs - a 13.8 average. Playing on the outside last season, he caught 58 balls but for just 588 yards - a 10.1 average. From the slot, catching short balls over the middle, Reed can use his run-after-the-catch abilities more effectively. "The coaches have done a great job so far," he said. "They're going to put us in the positions that we need to be to make this team better. I'm just going out there and doing what they ask of me."

--QB coach Sam Wyche on QB Drew Bledsoe, heading into camp: "I looked at a lot of film on Drew and he has not hit the wall. He is not done. He hasn't lost a step. If you play as long as he has, you are going to have one year that isn't your year, and last year, his year was like that. The good news is that year is by him now."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Anytime a new coach comes in, obviously people have tons of optimism and get very excited. But that's how you have to look at. I tell you, I have a lot of confidence in the new head coach. He's a great guy who played the game for a lot of years and I think that's important. He knows what we're going through and he knows how to get us where we want to go. I have nothing but good things to say about him." - DT Justin Bannan speaking about Bills rookie head coach Mike Mularkey.



STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Bills are close to signing DT Tim Anderson, their third-round pick out of Ohio State, leaving only two picks unsigned heading into training camp. Those picks, unfortunately, are first-rounders Lee Evans and J.P. Losman, and as GM Tom Donahoe says, "Signing first-round picks is never easy."

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS



QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Drew Bledsoe. Backups -- Travis Brown, J.P. Losman, Greg Zolman.

The Bills drafted their quarterback of the future in Losman but their master plan is to have the ex-Tulane star groom for at least a year or two under the veteran Bledsoe, much like Chad Pennington did under Vinny Testaverde in New York. For the plan to work, Bledsoe - the NFL's 12th all-time passer who is coming off his worst season since his rookie year of 1993 - must prove he isn't washed up. He's an old 32 with virtually zero mobility or pocket presence. He's been sacked 103 times in his two seasons in Buffalo and last year committed 22 turnovers. QB gurus Tom Clements and Sam Wyche have their work cut out, hoping the decision to turn to Losman can be put off as long as possible. Brown, who has no NFL starts, would play in an emergency if Bledsoe were injured, but Losman will get most of the No. 2 repetitions. Considering Bledsoe's recent play and not bringing in a veteran behind him after cutting Alex Van Pelt (wrist injury), GM Tom Donahoe is taking a big gamble.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Travis Henry. Backups -- Willis McGahee, Joe Burns, Ken Simonton, Isaac Mitchell, Shaud Williams, Jonathan Smith, (FB) Daimon Shelton, (FB) Luke Lawton. All eyes will be on McGahee as he readies for his first contact since tearing apart his left knee in the 2003 NCAA title game but this is still Henry's show. Entering his fourth NFL season, he is already fourth on Buffalo's all-time rushing list with 3,523 yards. Last season's 1,356-yard output in 15 games earned him team MVP honors - he played the final 6 1/2 games with a hairline fracture in his leg. The 5-9 bowling ball is a punishing force who gets better with more work. And there's the rub. The coaching staff says having two quality backs is a pleasant problem but is taking away carries from Henry a good thing? Shelton replaces Sam Gash when a pure blocking fullback is called for in short-yardage situations but Gash's class and locker room presence will be sorely missed.

TIGHT END/H-BACK: Starter -- Mark Campbell. Backups -- Ryan Neufeld, Jason Peters, Tim Euhus, Rod Trafford.

The Bills checked out free agents like Roland Williams and Mark Bruener then stayed status quo, other than cutting Dave Moore. Campbell will now look for more involvement in the offense after emerging as a reliable starter in 2003 after a trade with Cleveland. He impressed coach Mike Mularkey, a former NFL tight end, in offseason drills. At 6-6, he's a great target. The 328-pound Peters, one of the more entertaining players in college football last fall, is an intriguing newcomer who will get a look at tight end but may wind up at tackle.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Eric Moulds, Josh Reed. Backups -- Lee Evans, Bobby Shaw, Clarence Coleman, Sam Aiken, Antonio Brown, Kevin Beard, Cedric Bonner, Drew Haddad, Jerel Myers.

With Moulds back at full strength and the addition of Evans, the Bills boast a deep and varied receiving corps that figures to play much better under Mularkey's simplified scheme. Moulds, hampered from Week 5 on with a severe groin injury, managed a team-best 64 catches but for just 780 yards and one TD. When healthy, he's among the elite, a combination of size, strength and speed who can make all the catches. Shaw, a key free agent signing a year ago, is a savvy, dependable mid-range target who makes big plays. Of his 56 catches last year, 24 came on third down and 37 resulted in first downs. Reed struggled replacing Peerless Price as the No. 2 man, and will return to the slot where he can get better separation to use his run-after-the-catch skills. Meanwhile Evans, the most polished of the receivers in the highly publicized 2004 draft class, is a better fit on the outside with his 4.3 speed. Stretching defenses could pay huge dividends. Aiken and Coleman will battle for the No. 5 job.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jonas Jennings, LG Ross Tucker, C Trey Teague, RG Chris Villarrial, RT Mike Williams. Backups -- C Dan Koons, G Mike Pucillo, G/T Marques Sullivan, G/T Ben Sobieski, T Marcus Price, T Dylan McFarland, D Lawrence Smith, T Jasen Esposito, T David Porter.

Former Chicago Bear Villarrial is the prominent newcomer on this unit, replacing Ruben Brown, but the most important offseason addition may be veteran coach Jim McNally. He was lauded for his most recent work with the New York Giants and arguably has a lot more talent to work with in Buffalo. Getting the most out of Williams, who has hardly been a dominant force worthy of the No. 4 overall pick in 2002, is Job 1. On the other side,

Jennings has been solid but injury prone and enters his contract year. Buffalo's struggles up front mainly have been on the interior and it will need better play at guard and center. Villarrial should provide better consistency and fewer penalties than Brown; the starting left guard job is up for grabs between Tucker, Pucillo and Sullivan. The chippy Tucker has the early edge. Price is a solid backup.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LDE Ryan Denney, LDT Sam Adams, RDT Pat Williams, RDE Aaron Schobel. Backups -- LDE Chris Kelsay, RDE Keith McKenzie, DE Michale Spicer, DE Constantin Ritzmann, LDT Lauvale Sape, RDT Justin Bannan, DT Ron Edwards, DT Oliver Gibson, DT Tim Anderson.

Buffalo's jump to No. 2 in total defense last season started up front and the unit returns intact. Adams was a quality free agent signing, and paired with Williams, another space eater, Buffalo jumped from 29th against the run to eighth, allowing nine fewer rushing TDs. No DT has been more active than Williams, who has 198 tackles the last two seasons. He will be a free agent in 2005 and the drafting of Anderson and signing of Gibson from the Bengals are viewed as preventative strikes against losing him. Edwards returns from a shoulder injury and also provides great inside depth. The pass rush remains a concern, however. Schobel, whose sack totals have improved from 6.5 to 8.5 to 11.5, is the club's only consistent threat. Denney and Kelsay, a pair of recent second-round draft picks, will battle again for the starting left end job won by Denney a year ago. The 6-7 Denney is good against the run but may never have the leverage needed to be a serious pass rusher. The veteran McKenzie was shorted on playing time last season but chose to re-sign.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Takeo Spikes, MLB London Fletcher, SLB Jeff Posey. Backups -- SLB Jason Gildon, SLB Josh Stamer, MLB Angelo Crowell, WLB Mario Haggan, WLB Dominique Stevenson, LB Asa Francis, LB Daryl Towns.

This is perhaps the team's greatest strength with Spikes, Fletcher and Posey combining for 366 tackles and 9.5 sacks a year ago, and now comes late addition of veteran Jason Gildon, the Steelers' all-time sack leader. Fletcher is an intense, fly-to-the-ball player whose 887 tackles over the past five years are second most in the NFL in that span (only Arizona's Ronald McKinnon has more with 897). With 144 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 pressures, 2 interceptions and 6 passes defended, Spikes, the former Bengal, proved to be worth every cent of his $32 million free agent deal. Posey, a rangy defender, chipped in 64 stops and 5.5 sacks and will look to increase his sack numbers after a year in coordinator Jerry Gray's system. Posey will be challenged for playing time by the addition of Gildon but should retain the starting job given the fact he's better against the pass. The 6-4, 250-pound Gildon will also be used rushing from the left side with his hand on the ground. Stevenson is a special teams star and a reliable backup. Stamer, Crowell and Haggan are young so the addition of Gildon is good insurance against an injury to one of the Big Three.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Troy Vincent, RCB Nate Clements, SS Lawyer Milloy, FS Izell Reese. Backups -- CB Terrence McGee, CB Kevin Thomas, CB Lawrence Richardson, CB Johnny Lamar, CB Gerald Dixon, CB Jabari Greer, CB Kahlil Carter, S Pierson Prioleau, S Coy Wire, S Mark Graham, S Rashad Baker.

The Bills have tied a team-record low with just 10 interceptions each of the past two seasons. A better pass rush and the addition of Vincent should stop that trend. While losing Antoine Winfield to the Vikings was a blow, the Bills rebounded nicely by landing the veteran Vincent, who for the short term may even be an upgrade. He has 42 career interceptions to Winfield's six and will be a nice complement to Clements, one of the game's young stars. Clements has had three consecutive strong seasons with 230 tackles, 12 interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), and 17 pass breakups. McGee, a fourth-round pick in 2003, is a playmaker who took over for Thomas at nickel back. The safety position is in a state of flux. Milloy, the four-time Pro Bowler who joined the Bills just days before last season's opener after being cut by New England, calmly anchored the strong safety spot. He finished with 120 tackles and three sacks but his presence retarded the growth of Wire, who will now get a shot at starting alongside Milloy by competing with Reese for the starting free safety job. He's got the smarts and toughness but must prove he's got the range and nose for the ball to play the position. Prioleau, the former starter at free, will shift over and back up Milloy.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Rian Lindell, P/H Brian Moorman, LS Jon Dorenbos, KR/PR Antonio Brown. Backups -- PK/P Mike Shafer.

The Bills have shown steady improvement over the past several years on special teams as their roster has solidified. Moorman, one of the top free agent signings in Bills history, is among the league's rising stars. In 2003, he broke Paul Maguire's team record for punting average in a season with 44.56 yards (Maguire averaged 44.50 in 1969) and he's constantly refining his craft playing in adverse conditions. Lindell became Buffalo's fourth place-kicker in a three-year span when he signed last season from Seattle but was a drop off from Mike Hollis, making 17 of 24 field goals with three misses figuring directly into two losses. Did a strong job on kickoffs as Bills ranked No. 3 in coverage. The speedy Brown was a major disappointment on punt returns and will need a huge camp to keep his job with Haddad and Smith brought in to push him.

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