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Bills' gap with Pats has widened

At the end of an NFL draft, I conduct two simple rituals. One, I run screaming into the parking lot, ecstatic that I won't have to go through this interminable exercise for another year. Two, I stop and ask myself if the Bills have gained any ground on the Patriots.

The answer, I'm sad to report, is a resounding "No." If anything, the gap between the Bills and their hated AFC East rivals has gotten larger since January, when New England came within an eyelash of making the Super Bowl for the fourth time in six years.

The Bills had another decent draft. They filled two of their three greatest needs by nabbing running back Marshawn Lynch and linebacker Paul Posluszny. They made some interesting, if curious, additions Sunday.
"We're on the move," owner Ralph Wilson said. "We can't fill all the spots that have been neglected for years in one or two years, but we're moving up."
They're making progress, as Wilson suggests. The question is, how long will it take to get to their goal? It's hard for any objective person to conclude that the Bills are better now than they were at the end of 2006.
In the short run, they're likely worse. In time, Lynch could be a more complete back than Willis McGahee. But he's still a rookie and will need time to adjust. Lynch will be running behind a refurbished offensive line, and he should be more of a factor in the passing game.
They lost three veteran starters (Nate Clements, London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes) from a mediocre defense. Posluszny has the potential to be a star inside linebacker in the NFL, but you can't expect him to step right in and be Fletcher's equal as a playmaker and leader.
The defense has talent, but it's awfully young. The Bills could have seven defensive regulars (counting the rotating defensive tackles) who are rookies or second-year players. That includes John McCargo and Ashton Youboty, who are raw after missing most of last season.
The Bills didn't draft a cornerback, so they're clearly expecting Youboty to emerge. It's puzzling that they chose a backup quarterback and running back, while failing to address their more urgent needs at corner and wide receiver.

They desperately need a better No. 2 receiver to go along with Lee Evans. Peerless Price, the nominal No 2, averaged just 8.2 yards a catch last year. During the last four seasons, that's the lowest average per catch of any NFL wideout with 40 catches. But the Bills have done nothing to upgrade the position.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have made dramatic improvements to their wide receiver corps, which was a major weakness a year ago. They signed Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and Kelley Washington as free agents, and Sunday they traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Raiders for disgruntled star Randy Moss.
Do you think Tom Brady might be a tad more productive with that group of wideouts at his disposal?
The Bills are taking a more conservative approach. By refusing to spend over the cap, they're putting a premium on drafting and developing players. The veterans bristled at the notion last year, but they really were rebuilding. It's evident that Marv Levy and Dick Jauron feel no urgency to win right away, and that they're building with young players.

It's not necessarily a bad thing. At least they're not creating a false sense of hope by bringing in fading, big-name veterans, the way Tom Donahoe did toward the end. Their objective, I suspect, is to put together a few strong drafts and hope the team matures into a legitimate contender a year or so from now.

That might not be what long-suffering Bills fans want to hear, but at least the team has a semblance of a plan. Maybe by the time this young roster is ready to make a run, the Pats will have fallen into disarray. You can only hope.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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