'Reaching' For The Perfect Fit

I'll be the first to confess that for a good 10 minutes after the Oakland Raiders selected Michael Huff seventh overall and the Buffalo Bills were on the board, I gave thought to the notion they should swing for the fences and grab USC quarterback Matt Leinart.

To use a baseball analogy that ESPN and acknowledged Bills fan Chris Berman used on draft day, the Bills threw a curve ball by selecting Ohio State safety Donte Whitner with the eighth overall pick.

Mel Kiper and most of the other draft connoisseurs proceeded to have a case of mock outrage after convincing themselves that their mock drafts should have really meant something to the Bills front office, general manager Marv Levy in particular.

They didn't.

Who really knows at this point if Whitner will move in to the strong safety position from day one and quickly make the Bills forget about Lawyer Milloy, who despite being highly respected around the league became a step slower and a total non-factor in too many games for the Bills over the past season?

But this is what I'm certain of, and the majority of football fans around the league probably don't realize. The Bills pass defense last season was appalling. In fact, the club allowed an astonishing 48 pass plays that went for at least 20 yards and they were dead last in the league on third down stops and inside the red zone.

While many factors can be attributed to these putrid rankings, the most prevalent was being burned through the air far too often. To put it mildly, quarterbacks had their way with the Bills secondary in 2005.

Making the secondary respectable swiftly became the main focus for Levy and his new head coach, Dick Jauron. Besides Whitner, the Bills later drafted cornerback Ashton Youboty and safety Ko Simpson. They also inked safety Matt Bowen and corner Kiwaukee Thomas to join incumbents Nate Clements, Terrence McGee and Troy Vincent. Clearly, grounding the air attack is the top priority for Buffalo.

photo As far as Leinart, while I think he may turn out to be a great quarterback in the Arizona desert, he would have likely been a despondent disaster in the cold Buffalo winter.

Leinart was named one of the 50 most beautiful faces on the planet by People magazine and he likes to hang out with sexy Los Angeles women. He's already on a first-name basis with half the stars in Hollywood. I just never saw that as a good fit in a blue collar town such like Buffalo.

To make matters worse, his only perceived weakness is his arm strength. If it wasn't bad enough for Leinart to not have his movie star friends hanging out with him in Buffalo, he'd have to throw the football into the heavy, swirling winds around Ralph Wilson Stadium once the wintry weather kicked in. If that wasn't a recipe for mediocrity, then I don't know what is.

A case could have been made that maybe the Bills should have taken Jay Cutler at No. 8 instead. Cutler is a big, strong-armed kid with a ridiculous amount of upside. Yes, he played for a very mediocre college team (Vandy) but still made a lot of plays and impressed the hell out of scouts at the NFL combine. The only problem with all of this is the Bills already have the same guy in J.P. Losman, who's had all of eight starts to try and prove himself.

Neither Leinart or Cutler would have done anything for the Bills for a minimum of two seasons, so on those grounds alone I'll side with Levy on this matter.

If the Bills can now fortify the offensive and defensive lines, which have both been addressed through free agency (as well as DT John McCargo being taken later in round one of the draft), they won't need a Pro Bowl QB to win.

This is a Jim Kelly kind of football town, and the attitude here is Donte Whitner won't find Buffalo all that different than his hometown of Cleveland. When you think about it, Buffalo is just another Cleveland without any of the glitz, no? Whitner's style of play will be embraced by the fans of Buffalo, once the shock wears off he was selected over some of the big names that were still obtainable.

And while many sum up Whitner as a reach at eight, the reality is had the Bills traded down on draft day, in all probability they don't get their guy. If Buffalo moves down to the 13th spot or below, the odds were heavy increased that either Miami, Minnesota or maybe even Dallas would have moved up for Whitner. Detroit GM Matt Millen acknowledged during his post-draft press conference the team thought very highly of him and the Lions selected just one spot after Buffalo.

If the Bills are going to progress on their lackluster 5-11 record of a year ago, it will come by stopping opposing offenses. Improving on a 29th ranked defense is of paramount importance, and with Whitner quarterbacking the secondary for the next several years, the club is off to a very good start.

(email: patmoran2006@aol.com)

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