Whitner takes McKelvin under wing

Bills safety Donte Whitner came into an unsettled situation in the secondary in 2006. Two years later, the third-year pro looks to help a fellow first round defensive back become acclimated to Buffalo's defensive scheme and life in the NFL.

When the Buffalo Bills selected Donte Whitner with the eighth overall pick in the 2006 draft, the Ohio State product became part of a secondary that was more unsettled than a theater crowd after the first showing of Passion of the Christ.

Thirty-three-year-old Lawyer Milloy had jumped ship to Atlanta while 35-year-old Troy Vincent, on his last legs to begin with, was seemingly more concerned with his responsibilities as players association president than shoring up Buffalo's pass defense. Cornerback Nate Clements was on the verge of entering his contract year. And Terrence McGee was still trying to establish himself as the team's second corner.

As individual priorities came to a front, leadership diminished. Suddenly, there was no veteran presence among the Bills' defensive backs.

An unknowing rookie trying to make it in today's dog-eat-dog NFL, Whitner had no where to turn for guidance, for someone to lend a helping hand. Fortunately for Bills fans, Whitner made it on his own. He became the rock of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's defense in just two years, justifying his selection over the likes of Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler in the process.

He's also taken it upon himself to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to Buffalo's newest defensive back, likewise a first round pick, cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Whitner has taken McKelvin under his wing, putting the former Troy standout up in his home with the intent of shortening the rookie's learning curve for the pro game.

"I'm having him stay with me until he finds a place of his own," Whitner said. "Each night I'm going to teach him a little bit more about the defensive scheme. It's hard as a rookie because you're going to make mistakes. So I'll try to slowly bring him up to speed on things and be a sounding board for him if he has any questions."

McKelvin, who impressed at Bills OTAs the last two weeks, happily accepted the invite, knowing Whitner could have made him learn the hard way … the way Whitner had to.

"He told me he was in the same position I was and he told me he wanted to get me more comfortable with the playbook and get me through the plays faster to get me on the field faster," McKelvin told Buffalobills.com. "He's trying to help me out."

Whitner understands the expectations that will be placed on McKelvin as he enters his first season in Orchard Park. He had them himself in 2006. The difference, though, is that Whitner wasn't on anyone's radar before Buffalo made him the surprise selection at No. 8. McKelvin, by nearly all accounts, was the top-rated corner in the draft, making the expectations that much larger. And that's where Whitner comes in.

"I feel I can help him make the transition," the third year strong safety said. "Everybody doesn't get that type of mentor around them to help them make that transition into being a pro. Just because you make it to the NFL doesn't mean you're a pro. You have to learn how to eat, practice and sleep. You have to learn how to be a pro. I feel I can teach him that."

With the additions of free agent CB Will James, plus two fellow rookie corners and a healthy Ashton Youboty, McKelvin knows the position will probably be the most competitive in camp this summer. And that's why he's thankful to be receiving Whitner's guidance.

"With him being on the field all the time the past two years and him knowing what he's got to do and helping me with my mistakes on the field, the fewer mistakes I'll make and the better I'll get as a player," McKelvin said.

"He makes all the calls so I listen to him whenever he's making a call anyway. With me and him working together personally I'm going to know exactly what I've got to do. It's a great benefit for me."

Even without any leadership, Whitner still managed to earn Defensive Rookie of the Month honors his first month on the job. He was also selected to the NFL.com All-Rookie Team and Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie Team. With a little direction from Whitner, McKelvin may just be in a position to do the same.

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