Buffalo Bills right tackle Langston Walker went to Cal for the education as much as the football and six years into his NFL career his thirst for knowledge persists.
Walker reads voraciously, nonfiction mostly, although he's partial to novelist Bret Easton Ellis, author of "American Psycho." Walker's currently buried in the pages of "Confessions of an Economic Hitman," the former New York Times bestseller steeped in international intrigue and manipulation.
His critics will get a chuckle out of that one. "Confessions of an Economic Hitman"? Shouldn't that be the title of Walker's autobiography?
Eyes rolled throughout Northern California when Walker entered a burgeoning market for offensive linemen last offseason and signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the Bills. Skeptics identified him as the prevailing reason the Raiders allowed a league-high 72 sacks last season while scoring a humiliating 12 offensive touchdowns. Behind the scenes they were calling him The Human Turnstile.
But here we are, better than halfway through the current campaign, and portrayals of Walker as the next Mike Williams ring hyperbolic and misguided. The Bills have been tidy in pass protection, allowing just 18 sacks, seven of those coming in the losses to the Steelers and the Cowboys. Improvement is evident in the running game, although the injury that likely will sideline Marshawn Lynch this week presents a new challenge.
True, the Bills probably overspent in securing Walker during the offseason, with $10 million of the deal guaranteed. Their approach rivaled the one oft encouraged during the old Channel 17 auction -- bid once, bid high. But the notions that the Bills flat out missed the mark, or that Walker warranted sole responsibility for the travails of the Raiders, don't wash. Woebegone Oakland has yielded 27 sacks in his absence, a total that affords Walker a measure of vindication.
"I take it as it was -- a team in a bad situation and the job of the media is sort of to figure out why bad things happen," Walker said. "I guess I was singled out because I left for here and for a pretty sizable contract and unfortunately a lot of people don't [understand]. The sack is probably the most overrated stat that they have. You can get a sack from a quarterback scrambling out and getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage. All it is is a tackle for loss and it just happens to be the quarterback."
While the Raiders remain one of the league's more dysfunctional franchises the Bills are on the rise. Walker last experienced such promise during his rookie season of 2002, which culminated with a berth in the Super Bowl.
"It feels good," Walker said. "It's a feeling I haven't had since my first year in Oakland and my first year it was sort of a different situation. We had so many great older players that still were able to get out there and do it: Lincoln Kennedy, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Trace Armstrong, Rod Woodson. All those guys were out there doing it. I was able to take sort of a secondary role as a new guy and come in and back up and started in seven or eight games and contributed in every one. We got to the [Super Bowl against Tampa Bay], and unfortunately we lost it, and after that it just seemed to go downhill."
Walker's back on the upswing, attracting little notice, which typically amounts to a stamp of approval for an offensive lineman.
"I think I've proven myself so far," he said. "Nothing happened between the years. I'm not on HGH. I didn't just have an epiphany. I'm still the same person and we run pretty much the same scheme."