Lankster gives 'D' another playmaker

Seventh-round pick shines against Chicago, gives defense another playmaker in deep center....

Three times this decade, the Bills have tied a team record for fewest interceptions in a season.

The record low of 10 - first set in 1986 - was matched in 2002, 2003 and 2008. Needless to say, improving the pass rush and improving the secondary has been an lingering issue.

Saturday in a 27-20 preseason victory over Chicago, some of that labor began to bear fruit. The Bills defense collected four interceptions and had five takeaways overall.

The star of the evening was rookie Ellis Lankster, a seventh-round pick out of West Virginia, who intercepted two passes off third-string Chicago quarterback Brett Basanez. Lankster made strong returns on both to set up two short touchdown drives that broke the game open.

Playmaking comes natural to Lankster.

"I was just reading it right and reading my man," said Lankster, who has been turning heads since mini-camp. "He just threw the ball to my man and I just picked it off. I have just been working hard and praying and it's been coming to me."

If the Bills can add a late-round steal like Lankster to what on paper is a strong secondary...all the better. It's impossible to have too many ballhawks. Lankster could benefit with more time against a No.2, or even, a No. 1 offense.

The other issue is rushing the passer so that those interceptions materialize. The Bills ranked 26th in sacks a year ago with 24. Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel, who missed 11 games with a foot injury, is back but Aaron Maybin, the club's top pick, remains unsigned.

His absence has given more repetitions to players like Copeland Bryan and Chris Ellis. Against the Bears, Bryan had a sack/forced fumble that was recovered by Ellis to set up a field goal.

Also coming up with interceptions was starting cornerback Leodis McKelvin off new starting Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler and one late in the game by rookie free agent Lydell Sargeant. Cutler was just 5-of-10 for 64 yards against Buffalo's first and second units.

McKelvin, the Bills top pick a year ago, assumes a full-time starting gig this season and already has two interceptions in two preseason games. Maybe, this year, turnovers run rampant.

"We have been preaching to the defense to start early and start fast and try to get turnovers and basically to just do my job," he said. "They brought me in to make plays and that is what I am trying to do."

Coach Dick Jauron was quick to note how critical turnovers are. His defense may have snared five but Buffalo's offense coughed the ball up three times or the game would've been more lopsided.

"Another good example of a game where turnovers, both sides, turnovers lead to points, so the less you can do that, the better your chances are all the time," Jauron said. "A lot of good teaching opportunities from this game."

Battle of the week: Copeland Bryan vs. Chris Ellis at backup defensive end. With No. 1 pick Aaron Maybin still holding out, the young veterans are getting a lot of repetitions. Bryan had a sack/forced fumble against the Bears that Ellis recovered. Both are high-motor players who should make the final roster.

Player of the week: Trent Edwards, a third-year pro in his most extensive preseason action, was a perfect 10 for 10 for 79 yards in three series of work against Chicago. He ran the no-huddle effortlessly, distributing the ball quickly and finding the open man. He also converted a fourth-and-1 with a well-executed bootleg. A great way to end a very good week of practice.


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