Scout NFL Q&A With Jim Leonhard

Buffalo Bills safety Jim Leonhard was thrust into the starters role unexpectedly in Week 1. All he's done since then is post 25 tackles and two interceptions heading into Week 4. He talked to Scout.com's Ed Thompson about his emergence as a starter and what's going on in Buffalo.

Ed Thompson:  Coming out of Wisconsin you had 21 career interceptions and you were the only undrafted free agent to make the Bills' 53-man roster in 2005. Why do you think you made it when so many others came up short?

Jim Leonhard: That's hard to say. I think I got into a great situation where the Bills didn't have a ton of safeties and I was able to come in and play well and get an opportunity to make the team that year.

ET:  In the opener against Denver, Ko Simpson is injured and you step in and make 13 tackles and your first NFL interception. What was going through your mind out there? 

JL: I was definitely ready for that moment. I feel like the last couple of years I've picked up on the game at this level and how to be successful. Unfortunately, Ko got hurt, but it was my opportunity to step up and show that I was ready.

ET:  Thirteen tackles in that opening performance. Were you concerned at all that you had set the bar pretty high for yourself?

JL:  No, I wasn't afraid that I set the bar too high, but I also wasn't happy that I had to make that many [laughs]. As a safety, it's not necessarily a bad thing that you've had that many tackles, but you'd like it to come in a winning effort. That was the only thing that was a little disappointing about that was that we just fell a bit short.

ET:  You got your first NFL interception against Denver, killing a drive. Tell us about the play as I'm sure it's still ingrained in your memory since it was your first one.

JL: It felt great. It's one of those plays where you look back at it and Jay Cutler made a mistake. He kind of overthrew a ball a bit and I was in the right place at the right time and I had an opportunity to get that first interception. I had a little bit of an opportunity to get out and run with it a little bit which always feels good.

ET:  You picked up your second career interception the following week against the Steelers -- talk a little big about that play.

JL: That's was a play where you realize that (QB Ben) Roethlisberger likes to take shots early in the game -- especially with Santonio Holmes, he's their big deep threat.  I diagnosed the play, and they tried clearing me out, but I made a play on the ball and got that second one. 

ET:  While the games haven't turned out the way you would have liked, how do you feel you're progressing?

JL:  I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable. Just being out there with Donte Whitner and all the rest of the guys on defense, the communication is getting better every week. You feel a lot more comfortable just knowing where guys are going to be. Unfortunately, we kind of have a revolving door on our defense right now with all the injuries we have, but I think guys are getting a lot more comfortable with each other the more we get to play.


Jim Leonhard teams up to make a tackle
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

ET:  The injury situation in Buffalo has not only been horrendous, it's also had to have been gut-wrenching at times for you guys with the number and severity of injuries you guys have had. How is the team handling it?

JL: You've got to stay focused, because you know there are still 13 games left. Obviously, the season hasn't started the way we want in the wins column or the injury column. It's a long season, and you never know what could happen. So we're just trying to get better every week and hopefully we can go out and get a win this week.

ET:  New England is obviously playing some great ball right now. What impressed you the most  about them after you got to see them up close in Week 3?

JL:  They really don't have that many weaknesses is the first thing that jumps out at you.  On top of that, they don't force a whole lot of things. They have all those great weapons, so they're willing to take what you're willing to give them. A lot of teams like that, when they have all that talent, if you make them dink-and-dunk their way down the field and make them sustain drives, they'll get impatient. But the Patriots don't do that, which is hard to defend.

ET: What are you seeing as some of the positive developments on this team despite the 0-3 start?  Because obviously there are still some good things happening in Buffalo.

JL: One good thing is that we're getting a lot of young guys some experience. And everyone that is stepping out onto that field is putting forth the effort that is needed to be successful in this league. That's the most positive thing. You're just kind of hoping that guys will eventually get healthy and we'll get on a roll. You can get some bounces that go your way and hopefully we'll get some of those in the coming weeks. 

ET:  At Wisconsin, you were an accomplished punt returner, the all-time punt returns yardage leader in the Big Ten until last year. But you haven't gotten many opportunities to do that at the pro level.

JL: I've had a few opportunities here, especially later in the season when the weather gets a little worse. We use two-returner sets in the punt returner game at that point, so I've had some opportunities that way. But we've got Roscoe Parrish, and he's a guy that we believe to be one of the top returners in the NFL. So I'm not too upset that I'm not back there too often.

ET:  It's one of those positions that takes a unique personality, knowing you're going to be looking up in the air while all those opposing players are flying down the field at you.

JL: I'll agree with that. I think you've got to be a little nuts to do that job. Not too many people are willing to put that much trust in the rest of the guys around them. That's the biggest thing with punt returning is that you've got to trust those ten guys in front of you who are blocking for you. And you've got to believe that you're going to make a play when you've got that ball in your hands.

ET: Anything you'd like to pass on to the Bills fans?

JL: Just stick with us. We're going through some hard times right now, and we're definitely going to get this thing turned around.  We believe we have some of the greatest fans and we know they're not going to turn on us, but we're definitely going through a rough time right now and hopefully we're going to turn that around this week.

Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and are syndicated through FOXSports.com's NFL team pages. You can contact him by email through this link.


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