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PRESTON'S PROUD OF HIS NFL BLOODLINES

Carrying the same name as a successful former NFL player might seem daunting to some people.

But not Illinois center Raymond "Duke" Preston III. He's proud to follow in the footsteps of his father, Raymond Preston II, an All-American linebacker at Syracuse who went on to a successful nine-year NFL career with the San Diego Chargers.

"With my father playing, I feel I have a good perspective on the business of the NFL and just the expectations of what playing at that level entails," said the younger Preston, drafted in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. "Seeing him and knowing that bloodline was in me, I believed I could do big things as well."

The Bills expect big things from Preston, a three-year starter with the Fighting Illini. The 6-foot-5, 311-pounder is a smart, technically sound player.

He is a physical run blocker and was outstanding as a pass protector at Illinois. He allowed only one sack in his last two college seasons, which should make Bills quarterback J.P. Losman happy.

"To us, he was a very athletic center," said Doug Majeski, the Bills' coordinator of college scouting. "He has good feet and good movement. He can pass block, and his ability to move and pull in some of our blocking schemes I think was a big factor for us."

Preston played in a pro-style offense under former Illini head coach Ron Turner and was well schooled in NFL-style fundamentals and techniques.

But no one has had a bigger influence on Preston's career than his father.

"I think more than anything he instilled in me a work ethic and knowing how to apply yourself and give things up and be disciplined," Preston said.

The Bills have never been afraid of small cornerbacks. Antoine Winfield (5-9, 180 pounds) was a first-round draft pick. Terrence McGee (5-9, 195) played well as a first-year starter last season and Jabari Greer (5-11, 169) was a revelation as an undrafted rookie.

Next in line is 5-8 1/2 , 185-pound Eric King, the Bills' fifth-round draft pick out of Wake Forest.

Like Winfield, McGee and Greer, King is tough, aggressive and willing to throw his body around. A four-year starter, King played with a confidence that was vital against the top receivers in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"The things we liked about him are that he has been a leader for (Wake Forest) and has been very productive," Bills regional scout Joe Haering said.

King said playing in a power conference has prepared him for the NFL. He added that he uses his lack of size as motivation when going against big receivers.

"I think I play with a chip on my shoulder," King said. "I always compete to the best of my ability. All my life I've been told what I can't do. I just go out there and prove the naysayers wrong and be all that I can be.

"One of the things about playing in the ACC, I got to see a lot of speed and played against a lot of top-notch receivers. Just playing top Division I football is going to help me and carry me a long way during my future career in Buffalo."

The Bills hit a home run the last time they drafted an offensive lineman from Vanderbilt. They hope they have connected again with sixth-round pick Justin Geisinger.

Some scouts rate Geisinger as the second-best offensive lineman in Vanderbilt history behind Will Wolford, the second of the Bills' two first-round picks in 1986, who went on to become a perennial Pro Bowler.

"It's incredible to even be mentioned with that guy's name," Geisinger said. "Will Wolford was just an amazing player and played with the Bills for many years. It's great to come out as one of the first offensive linemen since he's been at Vanderbilt to be drafted out of there."

Louisville running back Lionel Gates is joining a Bills backfield in which he'll see limited touches on game day. But he's used to that.

The Bills' seventh-round pick shared carries with Eric Shelton and Michael Bush. Shelton was a second-round choice by Tennessee, while Bush just completed his sophomore season.

"I've been in that situation before, and I won't have a problem being in it again," Gates said. "Willis (McGahee) is a great running back, and he's going to do his job. I plan to come in and compete very hard, and when it's time for me to step in and do my job I will.

"I appreciate the opportunity that they gave me, and I'm going to do the best that I can whether it's at fullback, running back, special teams or wherever."

The University of Miami has become the place to be for NFL scouts in the offseason because of all the impressive prospects on their roster. For Haering, Miami is one of his favorite spots.

"If you ever go down there on a Pro Day in the spring it's unbelievable," Haering said. "They also use it as a recruiting tool when they bring in their high school recruits. They've got the reputation now of producing NFL players. Obviously, they're in Florida with the richness of talent in that state. Even though they're going to compete against Florida and Florida State, they get the guys who can play."

"We love the competitive nature of their program. They're always working hard against each other," added Bills Assistant General Manager Tom Modrak.
e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com