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A DOZEN YOUNGSTERS PUT BILLS IN MIDDLE OF AGE BRACKET

The Buffalo Bills are in the upper middle of the NFL pack when it comes to youth.

The average age of the 53 players on the Bills' active roster is 26.4 years, which is tied for 12th youngest in the 32-team league.

The Bills have 12 rookie or first-year players on the team, tied for sixth most in the league at the start of the season. They have 11 players age 30 and over, which tied for 12th most.

Chicago has the youngest roster, at an average of 25.26 years. Indianapolis is second at 25.64. The Bears have only two players 30 and over. The Colts have only three.

The oldest team in the league is Tampa Bay, with a 27.81 average and 16 30-and-over players. Oakland is the oldest in the AFC at 27.36. New England is the sixth oldest, at 27.31. Of course, New England's best player, quarterback Tom Brady, is only 27.

Bills right tackle Mike Williams practiced Thursday, an encouraging sign for his availability against the Patriots on Sunday night. He's still listed as questionable with a very sore neck after taking a big blow against the Jets.

Cornerback Troy Vincent, recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, did not practice and said he does not expect to face the Patriots. Terrence McGee is expected to make his sixth straight start in Vincent's place.

"It's been the same the last week, not getting any better, not getting any worse," Vincent said. "There's nothing I can do. It's just not ready to go. . . . It's frustrating."

Regarding the expectation he will line up at free safety when he returns, Vincent was noncommittal.

"Right now I'm a corner until I get back on the field and we see how the team is playing secondary-wise, corners, safeties," he said.

Pats reserve receiver Deion Branch (knee) is questionable and has not practiced this week.

Pats coach Bill Belichick was complimentary and critical of Lawyer Milloy in the recently released book, "Patriot Reign." The Pats' front office questioned aspects of Milloy's leadership during the 2002 season, according to the book. Belichick had nothing but high praise for the Buffalo strong safety this week.

Said Belichick: "I think he makes them a lot better. The guy is a terrific football player that they haven't had that they've added on to an already good defense. Lawyer is a good tackler, a strong blitzer, very experienced player, makes a lot of good decisions. You can see him quarterbacking the secondary out there. Whereas before Lawyer was there, it was (Izell) Reese doing it. Now there's more communication. You can see him on the tape directing people, making calls and making decisions. So I'm sure there are a lot of intangibles there, and the energy he brings to the team."

Milloy did not play in the first meeting with the Pats due to his broken arm. Brady, who talked to Milloy earlier this week, said Milloy makes a big difference in the Bills' defense.

"You definitely have to be aware of him," Brady said. "He knows our personnel and he knows our play-calling better than just about anybody. He is going to have his input in what they are going to try to do. He had a great game against us last year when we played them there. Whenever there is a good player on the other side of the ball, you always have to account for them."

With both starting cornerbacks out, receiver Troy Brown likely will see time in the secondary for New England. Drew Bledsoe threw more than 200 passes to Brown in nine seasons with the Pats and joked that he will need to avoid the temptation to pass it to New England's No. 80.

"That's going to be interesting," Bledsoe said. "I'm going to have be careful when I drop back and throw. I threw a lot of balls to him when I was with New England."

Every week, Pats offensive coordinator Charlie Weis sits down with Brady and has the quarterback rate every play in the game plan according to how much he likes it. Brady gives each a 1, 5 or 10, with 10 being the high score.

Do they arm-wrestle over the ones Brady doesn't like?

"There's some of that," Brady said. "It depends on how much he likes the play. If he likes it and I don't like it, he does everything he can to convince me I should like it. Usually, he wins."
e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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