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Wilson passes chem test New Bills safety improves run support

The previous starter is fully healthy and back from an injury for the Buffalo Bills this week, but he's not getting his job back.

No, this is not another story about the quarterback position.

It's about free safety, where underdog, former third-stringer George Wilson remains with the starters.

Wilson will make his fifth straight start against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, even though Jim Leonhard is back from a calf injury.

"We just felt like the chemistry was good," said Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. "George has been performing well. There's no reason to upset the chemistry when we've had three straight wins."

Wilson is one of the surprise stories on the Bills. He switched to defense in March after spending the first three seasons of his NFL career at receiver. He had perhaps his best game in Sunday's win over Cincinnati because he showed he can be a force in run support.

"They ran the lead at George about six times," Fewell said. "George came down and made the tackle, one on one, each time on the running back. That was a big step, not only for George Wilson but for us defensively. Because that's something we've asked him to do, get in the box. He has become multi-dimensional for us."

"I saw what they were giving us every time they saw me down [near the line], which was run to my side," Wilson said. "Angelo [Crowell] did a great job on every one of those leads. He forced the ball to me. It was right there for me to make the play."

Getting more comfortable closer to the line is a big step. As a free safety, Wilson's first consideration is to avoid giving up an easy long pass. In his first start against Dallas, Wilson played deep -- warning-track deep, to borrow a baseball term.

"Initially he was really deep," Fewell admitted. "That was one of the challenges we had to throw out at him. 'George, you can not sit that deep. You have to be more involved. You have to be more aggressive. You have to be able to play the run also.' "

"But he studies, and he takes his job real serious," Fewell said. "He communicates well with the corners and Donte [Whitner]."

It is surprising that the Bills have not given up any 40-yard post patterns over with a safety as inexperienced as Wilson. Two of Wilson's starts have come against poor deep-passing teams (the New York Jets and Baltimore). But two have come against good deep passing teams (Dallas and Cincinnati).

"We know at some point some quarterback is going to drop back and take a shot down the field," Wilson said. "It's my job and Donte's job to do exactly what our position calls for -- play safety, save the day. I think we haven't seen as much because we've been sound in our technique and disciplined. We haven't had a lot of blown assignments or mental errors. So we've done a good job of keeping everything in front of us."

Wilson has had two interceptions, one he took back for a touchdown against Dallas and one on the last play of the game in New York. He almost had another against the Bengals, when he recognized an over-the-middle pass for T.J. Houshmandzadeh and nearly caught a deflection from linebacker Keith Ellison.

"George has shown he can be somewhat of a ballhawk," Fewell said.

Plenty of big challenges loom. Miami's passing game is not imposing since the Dolphins traded star receiver Chris Chambers. But Randy Moss and New England visit next week. Washington deep threat Santana Moss and Cleveland's suddenly formidable pass offense await later in the season.

"Being new to the position, you'd expect me to come out and be not as aggressive as an all-pro safety would be," Wilson said. "But like anything, the more you see it, the more comfortable you get and the better you can do. I just want to show them they can trust me to get the job done.

"I'm not going to say I've done enough, but I've done my job to the point where they feel comfortable with me in there. If it's not broke, don't fix it."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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