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BRANDENBURG OPENS GATE TO SUCCESS

Dan Brandenburg can run as fast as Cornelius Bennett. He can jump higher than most NFL receivers and cornerbacks.

Now if he can learn the finer points of playing outside linebacker, the Buffalo Bills could have another of their diamond-in-the-rough discoveries on their hands.

Brandenburg has made great progress since his rookie season with the Bills last year. He's having a good camp as the backup strong-side linebacker behind Bryce Paup, and he has an excellent chance to make the team.

"He's probably one of the most improved players so far in camp," said linebackers coach Ted Cottrell. "And he's one of the best athletes on the team."

Brandenburg, however, has had a long way to come since being drafted in the seventh round out of Division I-AA Indiana State. He was a pass-rushing defensive end in college.

"He's gone from green to raw," joked defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. "But he's doing well. He's very tough on himself, which most good players are, and that's a good thing. He's learning how to use all his speed now."

Speed is part of what makes Brandenburg so intriguing. He ran 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine and was timed at 4.43 seconds in personal workouts. That's in Bennett's all-NFL class.

And he also has a vertical jump of 39 inches, very rare for a linebacker. He was a 6-foot-9 high-jumper in high school and was a finalist in the Indiana State basketball slam-dunk contest.

"I think that's one thing I have going for me, my speed and quickness," Brandenburg said. "There's still a lot of techniques I need to work on, but I feel a lot more comfortable at the position."

Brandenburg had a sack and hurried a throw on another pass-rushing assignment in the preseason game Saturday in Denver. It was his first game action since last preseason. He was activated off the Bills' practice squad last November but was inactive for every game afterward.

"It took a series or so for me to get comfortable," he said. "Denver's offense wasn't that complicated. We actually have a pretty complicated offense to work against in practice, so after I got settled in I was OK."

As strong-side linebacker, Brandenburg lines up over the tight end. It's a position Paup handles so well in part because he dominates virtually every tight end he faces.

"I definitely have the strength to do it," said the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder. "But a lot of it is technique. I have to get my techniques down, use my leverage, stay low, all the good stuff the coaches tell me.

"For me, repetition is important," he said. "Pass-run keys are a tough thing to read. And I wasn't used to dropping into coverage."

Brandenburg covers backs in one-on-one drills about as well as any of the Bills linebackers. But given his inexperience in different coverages and with NFL offenses, he's not a threat at this point to challenge Marlo Perry or Chris Spielman as the Bills' coverage backer.

Brandenburg played quarterback in high school and didn't get recruited by any big colleges. He went to Indiana State on a half-scholarship and shuffled around a few positions before settling at defensive end. He set school records at Indiana State (Larry Bird's alma mater) for sacks in a season (13) and a career (32).

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