SCOUTing the Bills

The Bills travel to Bank of America Stadium this weekend to take on the Panthers in what is both teams' preseason opener. Get the latest info on the Bills heading into the game.

First-round pick Donte Whitner is getting a crash course in Buffalo's new "Tampa Bay" defense after ending an eight-day holdout from training camp.

With a full week of practice, it's likely he'll see some playing time in Saturday's preseason opener at Carolina and with a full five weeks before the regular season opener September 10 at New England, there's more than enough time for him to earn the starting job at strong safety over veteran Matt Bowen.

During negotiations with Whitner, general manager Levy said repeatedly that the Ohio State standout was falling far behind and the team was moving ahead without him.

But this a 5-11 football team whose defense ranked 29th in the NFL. If Whitner can't crack the starting lineup, then it's generally felt he wasn't worth the eighth overall pick in the draft or getting paid about $13.5 million in guaranteed money over five years. The total package could be worth as much as $29 million, making it the second biggest for a rookie in Bills' history.

While he had plenty of leverage, Whitner said he respected what Levy had to say.

"When Marv speaks, you have to listen," Whitner said. "I feel I'm a quick learner and I know football. All concepts are the same, it's just a difference in terminology. I'm behind but once I get the ins and outs of this defense down, I'll be right in there with the rest of these guys."

Clearly Whitner's timing was good. Had he missed another week or two, he would've been in jeopardy of not starting. But coach Dick Jauron said Whitner will start competing for the job the moment he steps on the practice field Monday.

"We've got to believe he's in good shape," Jauron said. "He's a very dedicated athlete and focused on football. He's a serious payer. We believe he'll go right to work and start competing."

Whitner, a solidly built 5-10, 204 pounds, compiled 164 tackles and five interceptions at Ohio State. With the speed to cover wide receivers in the slot and the size to corral big tight ends, he brings a lot more versatility to Buffalo's defense than the aging Lawyer Milloy could supply.

At one point last week, Whitner's agents and the Bills were more than $1 million apart. The deal eventually fell in between strong safety Michael Huff's $15 million in guaranteed money from Oakland as the seventh pick and linebacker Ernie Sims' $12.1 million in guaranteed money from Detroit.

"We've been close for awhile," Whitner said. "I was confident it would take care of itself. It was typical of negotiations, and that's true with everybody in the draft. Matt Leinart is going through it now. It wasn't one side being greedy, it was a matter of meeting in the middle."

Whitner missed 14 practices but should be able to get enough field reps and classroom work to participate against the Panthers. A decision will be made later in the week.

"It'll be a good full week of practice, which will help, but there's a lot of assignments to learn and we don't want him to go into the game uncertain of himself and playing with any restrictions," Levy said. "We want him to be able to execute what he does."

Whitner said he didn't particularly enjoy the negotiating process. During his holdout, he phoned ex-Buckeyes teammate Ashton Youboty, a third-round pick of the Bills, to get daily updates.

"Everybody who wants to be the best at what they do, once you miss some time (in camp), you feel it inside," he said. "It wasn't anybody telling me I needed to be here, I was telling me I needed to be here. I felt that a little bit, but I also knew there was a business side to football and once I got in, I'd catch up and compete for that starting job."

CAMP CALENDAR: There are six more evening practices scheduled at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. No scrimmages against other teams are planned. Camp closes Aug. 24.

Bills Notes

--Bills GM Marv Levy, who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, had nowhere to hide when players and coaches surprised him with a cake on his 81st birthday on Aug. 3. Players sang happy birthday to the Pro Football Hall of Famer before a night practice in front of several thousand adoring fans. "Was I surprised? Yes," Levy said. "I honestly was trying to keep it quiet. It was a very nice gesture, but now everybody knows I'm a year older. I told (Coach) Dick Jauron I owe him one -- in the worst sense of the word. Seriously, the only thing that upset me was that there was no ice cream."

--Angelo Crowell, who started 13 games in place of an injured Takeo Spikes last season, is penciled in as the starter at strong-side linebacker over Jeff Posey, who still may wind up as a pass-rushing end. Posey (6-4, 241) has better size than Crowell (6-1, 2350), but Buffalo's new "Tampa-2" scheme puts an emphasis on speed. Said coach Dick Jauron: "We have a lot of respect for Jeff, but the scheme we run is clearly a bit different. Speed is really important to us. Size is not as important to us. Clearly, you've got to be big and strong to play the position in the NFL, but we think Angelo is poised to make a leap. We're penciling them in and they will compete."

--The Bills moved an originally scheduled evening practice from a synthetic turf field to their natural grass fields in order to cope with sweltering heat and humidity last Tuesday. The synthetic surface, made of rubberized material, can be 30 degrees hotter some days. Buffalo's grass fields, however, aren't lighted and the team wrapped up practice in near darkness, making some players wax nostalgic. "It's kind of like going back to high school days, sometimes you'd practice in the dark and some of the high school night games where it would be kind of dark," WR Lee Evans said. "It kind of took you back a little bit."

--Rookie DT John McCargo, a native of Virginia who played at N.C. State, never thought he'd be felled by dehydration in Rochester, N.Y. After a brief emergency room stay last weekend, McCargo made sure he pumped himself full of liquids and didn't miss a practice the rest of the week. He looked good, too. "You come in here as the bottom of the totem pole and you've got to work your way up," said the No. 26 overall pick in the draft. "I'm just a rookie, but my goal is to get in here, play hard, and stay around for awhile." And drink lots of water.

--In hopes of developing some offensive line depth, the Bills are moving people around. Tackles Aaron Gibson and Greg Jerman, two veteran tackles, have been moved to guard, allowing Dylan McFarland and Matt Morgan, two younger players to get more repetitions at tackle. Jerman is still likely to be the first backup off the bench if a starting tackle were injured, line coach Jim McNally indicated. "What we're doing is saying, 'The more you can do, the more positions you can play, the better,' " he said. "You always want guys who can play in different spots because it gives you more flexibility, which is something every team would like to have."

--The Bills wrapped up their first week with a 17-play controlled scrimmage involving rookies and newcomers. Ten of the plays involved carries by free agent running back Fred Jackson, who led NFL Europe in all-purpose yardage last season. He's a candidate for the backup job behind Willis McGahee.

--FS Troy Vincent, a five-time Pro Bowl cornerback who moved to free safety last season, has been working over the slot receiver in some defensive formations. "They used to call me the 'old man' now I'm the 'utility man,' " said Vincent, a 15-year veteran. "I'm doing little bit of everything. But I've been there before. At this point, I want to contribute where I can contribute. If coach feels that's where I'm best needed in some packages, I can do it. But I do like working the middle of the field now."

QUOTE: "The way my family talks and the way my friends talk to me, it's not really constructive. They're pretty vulgar with it. They try to embarrass me a little bit. I took a month and a half off out there and then came back to Buffalo. Here, I'm able to meet new people and clear my head." -- Quarterback J.P. Losman on going home to California after last season's 5-11 record when he was in and out of the lineup.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Bills signed FB Alan Ricard, the lead blocker for Jamal Lewis in Baltimore during his 2,066-yard rushing season in 2003, primarily to give veteran Daimon Shelton a nudge.

Shelton, like most everybody on Buffalo's 2005 roster, had an off year and new coach Dick Jauron is big on players having to compete for their jobs. Clearly, Ricard raises the bar for Shelton, who had no real threat behind him on the depth chart.

"He's a veteran at a position where we'd like to push our starter a little more," Jauron said. "There's no real experience behind (Shelton). We don't want to infer than Daimon was coasting. He's not a coaster but you can have a tendency to do that if you're not really pushed and we like to push our guys."

Ricard, 5-11, 237, was cut by the Ravens on July 18 after appearing in 55 games with 32 starts. He spoke with Cincinnati and Houston before signing with Buffalo. He played in just two games last season before going on IR with calf muscle problems.

--FB Alan Ricard, who appeared in 55 games with 32 starts for Baltimore before being released in mid-July, was signed to give incumbent Daimon Shelton some competition. Ricard appeared in just two games last year due to calf injuries.

--SS Donte Whitner, the No. 8 overall pick in the draft, ended an eight-day holdout and signed a five-year deal worth at least $13.5 million in guarantees. The Bills feel he could be ready to play in the preseason opener Saturday at Carolina, but won't rush him and set his progress back.

--P Josh Brazen, a free agent, was released to make room for SS Donte Whitner, the Bills top draft pick who signed his contract and arrived at camp. Brazen was signed to give Pro Bowler Brian Moorman's leg some rest in the first week of camp.

--FB Derrick Ming, a rookie free agent out of Missouri, was cut. He was a longshot for a backup position and was expendable after team had the chance to sign veteran Alan Ricard.

--OL Aaron Gibson is being tried at guard by the Bills after only playing tackle his six previous NFL seasons (he was out of football last season). The Bills want to develop more depth up and down their line and want to see if the massive Gibson can help in the interior of their line.

--QB Craig Nall, a free agent from Green Bay, is out two to three weeks with a hamstring pull that will seriously hamper his chances of winning the starting job.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: J.P. Losman vs. Kelly Holcomb for the starting quarterback job -- Losman has had the early upper hand in practices, looking very sharp, but there's been no pass rush and the guys in red shirts can't be tackled. That changes Saturday when the Bills open the preseason at Carolina. Losman and Holcomb will get the majority of the play with Craig Nall out with a hamstring pull.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: CB Jabari Greer vs. CB Eric King for the nickel job -- There are plenty of other names here, but these two are waging a strong battle. Greer was averaging an interception a day.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: SS Matt Bowen -- The rugged veteran free agent doesn't seem to have a bad practice. With first-round pick Donte Whitner missing the first week of camp in a contract holdout, Bowen made scores of plays including a leaping interception of a Kelly Holcomb pass in team drills. Although Whitner is expected to win the starting job, Bowen will make the decision a difficult one for the coaching staff and will be on the field a lot this season.

ROOKIE REPORT: SS Donte Whitner signed his contract after an eight-day holdout. He missed a total of 14 practices.

--DT John McCargo practiced well all week after being taken to the hospital last weekend for heat-related dehydration.

--CB Ashton Youboty has been slowed by a hamstring problem. He signed a four-year deal averaging $2 million the day before camp began.

--FS Ko Simpson is taking repetitions with the second and third units.

--DT Kyle Williams has done well in early individual drills and had a half-sack in a controlled rookie scrimmage.

--OT Brad Butler is getting reps with the third unit.

INJURY REPORT: LB Takeo Spikes (Achilles) hasn't missed a practice. He's been in full pads, taking part in all individual and 7-on-7 drills. He gradually will work into more team activities, but won't take part in the preseason opener Saturday at Carolina.

--WR Lee Evans is nursing a left shoulder injury. It isn't believed serious but he sat out several practices late in the week.

--OL Dylan McFarland is also nursing a mild shoulder injury.

--CB Ashton Youboty has been limited by a hamstring pull.

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