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Bills' decision to load up on DBs curious

11/19/2009

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- For the record, the Buffalo Bills drafted four defensive backs and zero tackles.

I'm not passing judgment here. I merely want to lay out the numbers.

The Bills went into the draft in apparent need of a tackle. After all, they'd traded two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters eight days prior to the draft.

But heading into the weekend they seemed relatively set in their secondary.

Terrence McGee was back as the starting left cornerback. Last year's 11th overall pick, Leodis McKelvin, should be ready to handle the right cornerback spot. The Bills signed free-agent veteran Drayton Florence in case. Cornerbacks Reggie Corner and Ashton Youboty also are on the roster.

Strong safety Donte Whitner, the eighth overall selection in 2006, returns. Free safeties Ko Simpson and Bryan Scott are back. Scott wants to know what's up because he started four games at free safety and three games at strong safety.

Buffalo ranked 13th in pass defense last year.

So what should we make of Buffalo dedicating half of its eight draft picks to defensive backs? Granted, they plan on moving Oklahoma safety Nic Harris to linebacker, but that still doesn't help protect Trent Edwards' blind side.

Bills coach Dick Jauron claimed the reason the Bills spent so many picks on their secondary was the belief you can never have enough pass coverage in today's NFL.

"It's been that way for a while," said Jauron, a Pro Bowl safety for the Detroit Lions in the 1970s. "The three-receiver sets have been going for a while now.

"As a matter a fact, I can't remember a time where it wasn't said at some point 'You can never have enough corners.' I guess you'd say it about the whole secondary now, but you've certainly seen a lot of three-wideout sets. You've seen four-wideout sets, and you see a lot of empty sets in the National Football League.

"We had traditionally gone to camp with anywhere from 14 to 15 defensive backs on the rosters, usually six inside, eight outside in terms of your corners to safeties. But it can vary. It varies somewhat, depending on the talent of the group."

That's all fine and dandy, but while the Bills indulged their defensive backfield fetish, they ignored one of the more critical positions on their roster.

They did add Oregon State guard Andy Levitre in the second round, their fourth pick of the draft. But several other teams had tackles rated in that immediate vicinity.

Within the next nine picks the Minnesota Vikings took Oklahoma tackle Phil Loadholt, the New England Patriots drafted Houston tackle Sebastian Vollmer and the New York Giants chose Connecticut tackle Will Beatty.

I asked Jauron what he intends to do at tackle.

"We went into the draft having discussed that after the trade of Jason, saying 'Do we feel like we have to have a tackle?' And I think we all agreed ... we're not going to stray far from our grades just to take a tackle.

"We felt like we have guys that can play there. So there's no sense in passing up a guy we think is significantly better at another position just to feel like we've plugged a number in. We weren't going to do that."

Right tackle Langston Walker is coming back, as is reserve Kirk Chambers. Sophomore Demetrius Bell is a project, but it's hard to envision a player going from a 16-game healthy scratch to everyday starter.

Maybe the Bills will strike up conversations with the Cincinnati Bengals for left tackle Levi Jones, who became expendable when they selected Alabama tackle Andre Smith sixth overall. Then again, the Bills might wait to see if the Bengals cut Jones.

Even if that's what the Bills were counting on, it's a risky way to address one of the most crucial positions on the field.