Bledsoe helped salvage draft weekend

The Bills struck early in the draft, and hoped they didn't strike out later. They didn't trade down, but took offensive tackle Mike Williams with the fourth pick overall. In the second round, they got a player they considered a first-rounder, wide receiver Josh Reed, and another they regarded almost as highly, defensive end Ryan Denney.

That's where Buffalo's draft might have bogged down, were it not for acquiring Drew Bledsoe in a trade from the Patriots for next year's first-round pick.

"This trade is probably as exciting a one as we've ever made," said owner Ralph Wilson. "Mr. Wilson and I came to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do for the football team, the right thing to do for our fans, so we took the conditions off it," said team president Tom Donahoe.

"Last year was difficult for us, for the media, for our fans. We tried to do what we had to to improve ourselves. On paper, we've done that."

"We've improved it a lot of different ways," said head coach Gregg Williams, but this off-season is not over yet."

Regardless of whether Bledsoe makes the team successful on the field, the new, high-profile quarterback should work wonders for its marketing efforts.

The Bills seemed to rate Denney much higher than other teams did, yet they seemed concerned that someone else would take him. Thus, they traded up eight picks to take Denney.

And the remaining picks ranked very low on the radar screen below higher-flying prospects. Coy Wire, Justin Bannan, Kevin Thomas, Mike Pucillo, etc., are more "Who's he?" than Who's Who.

Head coach Gregg Williams, more subdued in his second season, would say only that players would "compete" for positions. But there's no way they'll begin play against the Jets Sept. 8 without Mike Williams in the starting lineup.

Reed should receive playing time in extra-receiver formations, and Denney and Bannan are likely to be at least situational players on the defensive line.

However, the team's greatest improvement is likely to come from new veterans -- Bledsoe and free-agent signings London Fletcher, Billy Jenkins, Dave Moore, Trey Teague, Eddie Robinson and Mike Hollis. They aren't all stars, and they might not all be really good, but all should be an improvement.

With Williams, that means eight new starters. And a new start for the Bills in 2002.

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