Creating more turnovers was the goal of Buffalo Bills rookie safety Kenny Ladler entering his senior year at Vanderbilt University last fall.
On the advice of Vanderbilt alumnus and former NFL safety Corey Chavous, Ladler spent last summer watching video of Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman. He’s the NFL’s active leader for forced fumbles among defensive backs.
“I just took that info and started watching him on film,” Ladler said. “I noticed every time he was around the ball, he was punching at the offensive player. That’s kind of how he has made his name.”
The studying worked. Ladler forced a school-record five fumbles and added five interceptions as a senior to earn first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors.
Ladler arguably was the most prominent undrafted rookie signed by the Bills this month. He’s a 6-foot-0, 207-pounder with 39 career starts. He potentially has the versatility to play either free safety or strong safety.
The Bills might be in need of more depth at safety, since Jairus Byrd left for New Orleans. Aaron Williams is the starter at free safety. Third-year man Da’Norris Searcy and second-year man Duke Williams could wind up fighting it out at strong safety. Second-year man Jonathan Meeks is a backup free safety.
“Based upon the best opportunity that was given, I felt Buffalo was the best spot for me, especially after talking it over with my agent,” Ladler said. “We had a good 30-minute talk about where I should go. Buffalo was definitely the most interested, so it was a no-brainer.”
Ladler expected to get drafted. Numerous draftniks ranked him as a fifth- or sixth-round prospect. However, he ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.70 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine, slowest among safeties. First-round picks Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix both ran 4.58.
“I really think the only reason I probably got passed over was my 40 time at the combine,” Ladler said. “They’re big on that in the NFL.”
Ladler ran better at his pro day on the Vanderbilt campus, posting somewhere between 4.55 and 4.62, depending on the scouts’ watch.
All of his other pre-draft tests were good. Among safeties, he had the best bench press (24 lifts of 225 pounds), the best broad jump (10 feet, 7 inches) and tied for the third best vertical jump (36.5 inches).
Bills coach Doug Marrone had a good read on Ladler because he’s acquaintances with former Vandy defensive coordinator and safeties coach Bob Shoop.
“I’ve been around that program quite a bit in the offseason,” Marrone said. “I was happy we got him. I didn’t know why he didn’t get drafted by other teams. Maybe it wasn’t a need. I was impressed with his foot speed. Obviously, we’re going to keep an eye on all of them, but I think he’s someone that had a good showing in these last couple days.”
Ladler was a good tackler in college. He was the first defensive back in SEC history to lead his team in tackles two consecutive years. Three of his five forced fumbles his senior year were Tillman-style punch-outs of the ball from the hands of the offensive player.
Ladler could be used underneath, the way the Bills have used Searcy, or in the deep third of the field. Just how much range he has in the back end will be something to watch in training camp.
Vanderbilt is a quality academic school, and Ladler earned his degree in human organization development.
He was proud of the way he finished his career. “I felt like it was a tremendous challenge for us coming to a program you wanted to turn around,” he said. “I came in at 2-10 and finished 9-4 back-to-back years my final two seasons. I like how I grew at Vanderbilt. Each season I got better and the production was better. That’s what I’m big on – production. I felt I left Vanderbilt giving all I had.”
Caleb Holley, a 6-4, 200-pound receiver from East Central University in Oklahoma was added to the Bills’ 90-man roster Tuesday.
Holley participated in the Bills’ three-day rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. Holley caught 55 passes for a school-rcord 970 yards and nine TDs last season. Holley is a native of Anchorage, Alaska, and spent two years in junior college before going to the Oklahoma school. East Central is a Division II program that competes in the Great American Conference with colleges such as Arkansas Tech, Harding and Ouachita Baptist.