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HE'S NO NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
VETERAN FULLBACK SHELTON PAVING PATHS FOR BILLS' OFFENSE

For most NFL players, scoring that first touchdown is so special they want to hold on to the football as a treasured memento.

Buffalo Bills running back Willis McGahee had other ideas.

After scoring the first of his two touchdowns last Sunday, McGahee handed the ball to fullback Daimon Shelton. It was McGahee's way of rewarding Shelton for providing a key block that sprung McGahee for the 5-yard TD.

"That definitely showed class on Willis' part," Shelton said. "It didn't dawn on me until after the game that it was his first NFL touchdown. To give me the ball was something special. I was very appreciative of it."

The Bills also appreciate what Shelton contributes to the team.

Shelton doesn't play a position where 100-yard games, touchdowns and fame go hand in hand. He doesn't have a carry this season and has just 39 career attempts (30 in 1998).

But just about every good tailback needs a tough fullback. Shelton has supplied some huge blocks in the running game for McGahee and Travis Henry. He has stood out as a blocker on special teams. He has even impressed as a receiver, catching nine passes for 61 yards.

"I'd like to know if there's a fullback playing better in the league," Bills coach Mike Mularkey said. "I mean that. Throughout all these games, he has by far been our most consistent player on our offense. He is a load coming through there and he will put the lick on you. And he's catching the ball and he has some run-after-the-catch ability. If there's a better fullback in the league right now, I haven't seen him."

Fullbacks are guys who get hit on every play. Their job is to blow up defenders and drive them into the turf before they get a hand on the ball carrier.

The 6-foot, 262-pound Shelton is the ideal lead blocker with the size, power and leverage to dominate at the point of attack.

There aren't many people who would want to be involved in so many violent collisions. But it's a job Shelton takes pride in.

"Through the years I've been blessed to be able to go out and do what I do," the seventh-year veteran said. "It's definitely something that doesn't come easy. You have to have great technique. You have to be a strong-minded and strong-hearted player to do this. A lot of the guys look to me to be that physical player and get things revved up because I believe it starts with the run game. We try to come out and let the other team know that we're going to come out and set a physical tone for the game."

Shelton, 32, has been everything the Bills hoped he would be after signing him as a free agent last January.

How did Shelton become available? He spent last season out of football after being released by the Chicago Bears during the preseason. He said it was difficult sitting at home watching games on Sundays when he knew he was good enough to be on the field. But the time away from the game fueled his hunger to return.

The Bills needed a high-quality fullback after losing Sam Gash, one of the NFL's best blocking fullbacks ever, to free agency. Gash was often frustrated with the Bills' offense last year because he wasn't used much as a lead blocker.

But Mularkey brought in an offense that emphasized the running game, and saw the fullback as an integral part of the attack.

That certainly appealed to Shelton, who excelled as a lead blocker in four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars and two with the Bears.

"Coming to a team that wanted to establish the running game really sparked my interest and I wanted to be a part of it," said Shelton, who in 2000 helped paved the way for Jaguars running back Fred Taylor to gain 1,399 yards, including nine straight 100-yard games.

"Being out of football last year, I didn't want to make any mistakes or be a step slower or be timid," he said. "I just came in with the positive attitude that I could be effective. I'm glad the Bills gave me this opportunity. I'm happy to be here."

And the Bills are happy to have him.

"Daimon has been a great addition to this team," Mularkey said. "He's a very solid football player."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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