Niagara Gazette


September 12, 2008

SCHMITT: Bills finally beyond counting on rookies

At 6-foot-5 and a smidge over 200 pounds, James Hardy comes at you all knees and elbows, a gangly kid that looks more giraffe than grizzly.

The Bills didn’t draft him to block.

Yet that’s exactly what the Indiana product did in about half of the handful of plays he saw during the Bills’ 34-10 opening day victory over Seattle. Hardy had trouble getting on the field, even though he hauled in a touchdown during his first-ever preseason game. And the few times he did get to stick his nose in the huddle it was to give someone a spell while Marshawn Lynch ate some clock.

Hardy is raw. From all his teammates’ accounts, there’s no problem with his work ethic and his talent is unmistakable. But like many other newbies, Hardy is still adjusting to life as a pro — meaning he can’t beat NFL corners by simply running faster or jumping higher.

Leodis McKelvin was another who saw very little action in Sunday’s win. In fact, his presence was less obvious than Hardy’s. Terrence McGee returned to his familiar post as kick returner and Ashton Youboty filled in admirably when called on in nickel packages. No need to get No. 28 in the game just yet.

And while the contributions of Hardy and McKelvin were disappointing, they’re more the by-product of a roster that’s adequately stocked then an indictment on their NFL readiness.

Let’s face it — the Bills heaved rookies into duty the past few seasons largely because they were the only ones with cleats on. Remember Terrence Pennington? The seventh-round draft choice from New Mexico went from a bubble roster decision to starting nine games.

Not one. Nine.

He’s now a free agent.

The only Bills’ selection below Pennington in that class, Aaron Merz, also saw action in seven games that season. He was the 248th pick in the draft. Pennington was taken at 216.

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