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Kelsay excited for change; Return to 4-3, rotation reasons for optimism

Chris Kelsay's been around long enough to know that fans in every NFL city like their team in June.

Free agency and the draft bring in a new crop of players, planting seeds of optimism for the coming season.

Like might not be a strong enough word for what Bills fans are feeling about their team's offseason, though. The addition of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson along with a highly thought of draft have Western New Yorkers hopeful that the streak of a dozen seasons without a playoff berth will finally meets its end.

"I think that's the only way you can approach a season is optimistic," Kelsay said. "But it is different. The atmosphere around town, in the facility, everybody's feeling it -- there are high expectations."

Kelsay's been with the Bills for nine years, so he knows nothing's proven until September. But the moves that have been made give him hope.

"[The front office] has done a tremendous job of putting talent here," he said. "Now it's just a matter of us taking what looks good on paper to the field and making it happen."

Kelsay will have a new position -- at least in name -- when the season starts. He spent the last two years under since-fired defensive coordinator George Edwards listed as an outside linebacker. It's worth noting, however, that he lined up at outside linebacker -- with three other linebackers on the field -- on just 10.5 percent of his plays, according to When the Bills played a nickel defense -- which was about 50 percent of the time -- he had his hand on the ground as part of a four-man defensive line.

That's where he'll stay under new coordinator Dave Wannstedt.

"I'm super excited to get back to the 4-3. That's what I played my first seven years in the league, that's what I played throughout college, even in high school," Kelsay said. "When we were running a 3-4 and I was at outside linebacker, there's a lot of thinking that goes into it, there's a little bit of a learning curve having only played it a couple years. It was tough."

In the 12 games he played last year, Kelsay was on the field for 86 percent of the team's defensive snaps. After the team spent big money on defensive ends Williams and Anderson, it's inevitable Kelsay's playing time will decrease. He sounds as if he won't object.

"I want to win. I'm at the point in my career, I don't know how many more years there's going to be and I've yet to step in the postseason," said the 32-year-old, who's signed through the 2014 season.

That professional approach is admired by his new coordinator.

"There's nobody that wants to win more than him and [he] practices that way, shows that in meetings, shows it in walk throughs," Wannstedt said. "[It's] kind of how he lives his life and that's why he's been such a good player for so long."

During a practice open to the media this week, Kelsay was with the first defensive unit. With his sound technique and ability to set the edge against the run, Kelsay's likely to be on the field a lot when the Bills face a balanced team such as the Jets, for example. Against, a pass-heavy team such as the Patriots, Anderson and Shawne Merriman may be counted on more.

"When you look at good defensive lines, there's a rotation," Kelsay said. "Even back when we were playing effective up front, my first few years in the league when we had Pat [Williams] and Sam [Adams] up front, we had Aaron Schobel and myself and Ryan Denney. We had a three-man, four-man rotation all the time, keeping guys healthy, keeping guys fresh. If you're playing 80, 90 snaps a game, you can't play all-out every single play. You're going to try, but you're going to get gassed and you're going to be ineffective on plays."

Kelsay finished 2011 with five sacks in his 12 games, which was just a half off his personal best of 5.5 in 2006. He's looking forward to more production in spite of less playing time.

"He's a good football player. That's the bottom line for Kelsay," coach Chan Gailey said. "There's going to be a three- or a four-man rotation in that group all year long, hopefully. Hopefully everybody stays healthy and we've got a great rotation going there. In my mind they're almost all starters."