For better or worse, the Bills' immediate future is largely in the hands of their most inexperienced players from today in their home opener and onward.
Management is convinced it drafted well and the galling near miss against the Patriots last Monday night provided some evidence that it is more than wishful thinking. None of the draftees had a Rookie-of-the-Year debut, but there was wholesale evidence of helpful contributions.
The contributions arrived mostly in bits and pieces, but they came from the team's first six selections in the draft. The Bills would not have borne the look of winners for 58 minutes without them.
The most impressive contributions came from the two starting guards, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. They weren't flawless but they have advanced nicely since being shoved into the lineup in the first preseason game. Levitre is a different player than the freshman who was cleaned and jerked by the Packers' monster defensive lineman, Johnny Jolly, a month ago.
Tight end Shawn Nelson looked like the fourth-round steal many scouts said he was, making a fine play to produce Buffalo's first touchdown of the season. With Terrell Owens and Lee Evans expected to be smothered by multiple coverages for most of the remaining schedule, the tight ends become more essential to the passing game, just as running back Fred Jackson was against the Patriots.
Defensive end Aaron Maybin, the first-round selection, had a few moments and now more will be expected of him.
Linebacker Nic Harris made an important, heads-up play on a Buffalo fumble and now his role may be expanded because of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny's broken arm. Jairus Byrd, making the shift from college cornerback to pro safety, made a cameo appearance.
And now there will be roles of increased importance for three virtual rookies, Demetrius Bell, Marcus Buggs and Xavier Omon. Bell continues his baptism under fire as the new offensive left tackle, Buggs replaces Posluszny at middle linebacker and Omon is expected to provide relief for Jackson, who can't be overworked.
That seems like a heavy load for what is assuming the identity of a football version of a children's crusade. Bell, for instance, will be facing a defense that has been known for its sophistication in the past. So will Omon in pass-protection situations.
Those were Monte Kiffin's defenses and he's now at the University of Tennessee, where his son, Lane, is head coach. The Bucs' new defensive coordinator is Jim Bates, who has nearly 40 years of experience. He knows how to make use of veterans such as cornerback Ronde Barber, who long ago made the corner blitz his signature play, and pass rusher Gaines Adams, who may be about to break out.
It seems the Bills have made their decision for 2009. Youth will be served, hopefully not on a platter.
Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.