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BILLS BANKING ON OFFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT

By Tom Donahoe standards, it was a fairly uneventful draft. He did not trade Travis Henry. He didn't make a trade, period. He didn't have a first-round pick. After all the speculation about drafting big to compensate for the loss of Jonas Jennings and Pat Williams, he didn't draft an offensive or defensive tackle.

So what do we make of this two-day exercise? One, Donahoe was determined to give his new quarterback, J.P. Losman, more weapons in the passing game. Two, he's putting a lot of faith in his offensive line coach, Jim McNally. And three, the Bills are gambling on Tim Anderson, their unproven second-year defensive tackle, being an impact player.

Donahoe isn't building for the future. He's entering Year Five as the Bills' president and general manager. He wants to win now. When the team released Drew Bledsoe and handed the quarterback job to Losman, Donahoe and coach Mike Mularkey conceded that the offense wasn't nearly good enough. This draft showed how serious they were.

The Bills picked offensive players with their first three picks and five of six overall -- same as a year ago. By adding a speedy wideout (Roscoe Parrish) and tight end (Kevin Everett) in the second and third rounds, they made it clear that Losman will be given every chance to succeed as the starter. They didn't draft those two to sit around.

"We said the offense needed to get better," Donahoe said. "If you watched us in free agency and the draft, that's what we've been attempting to do. We feel like we're headed in the direction we want to be going in, which is to be a more productive offense."

Donahoe came to Buffalo with a reputation for old-style football, emphasizing defense and a power running game. But the last two drafts suggest a shift in philosophy -- an acknowledgment that to win in today's NFL, you need to attack defenses with a swift, creative passing game. Mularkey's stamp is all over the two drafts.

Mularkey is an offensive coach by trade, a former coordinator who was known for his inventive schemes in Pittsburgh. I don't buy the notion that he'll have Losman handing off and making safe throws. Sure, Willis McGahee will be the focus of the offense. But Mularkey felt inhibited with Bledsoe at quarterback. If anything, he'll be more creative with Losman and his expanded receiving corps.

"I think we'll have the ability to do some different things," Mularkey said, "but we have to be smart about how we do it."

The key, as always, is the offensive line. The O-line was more than adequate in the second half last year, giving Bledsoe the best protection of his three years in Buffalo. But Jennings is gone, and the line could take a step backward. Donahoe is counting on McNally to work magic.

Donahoe said Losman is in a good situation, surrounded by the NFL's second-ranked defense and top-rated special teams. If those units again perform at an elite level, the Bills can challenge for a playoff spot. But Donahoe might be taking his defense a little bit for granted. It will be difficult to replace Williams, who was a solid, run-stopping defender.

The Bills haven't drafted a defensive tackle in the first two rounds under Donahoe. They're confident that Anderson, a third-round pick last year, will fill the void. But Anderson barely played as a rookie, and teams are sure to exploit him.

"We have confidence in Tim," Donahoe said. "We have confidence in Ron Edwards and in Justin Bannan. Obviously, somebody is going to have to step up. We feel confident they will."

Maybe, but it's more likely the defense will fall off a bit and allow more yards and points. An improved offense will have to score more to compensate, which might be exactly what they have in mind.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com