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Defensive overhaul continues

The Buffalo Bills added more talent to their defense Friday by selecting University of Texas cornerback Aaron Williams and Louisiana State linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.

Williams should give the Bills some needed security in the defensive backfield and represented just about the best player available on the Bills' draft board with the 34th overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Sheppard, taken at No. 68 overall early in the third round, fills the Bills' need for a physical inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. He's a "thumper," at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. He was a standout for the South squad in the Senior Bowl, which was coached by the Bills' staff. It seemed apparent since January the Bills had their eye on him.

The picks came on the heels of the selection of defensive end Marcell Dareus in the first round. As promised the Bills showed a commitment to helping their defense, which allowed the fifth most points in the league last year.

"It's obvious we're not where we wanted to be defensively, and we're trying to fix that," said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix.

Williams is a 6-foot, 204-pounder who's leaving college a year early. He's not a speedster in the class of Bills veteran Leodis McKelvin, but he's an outstanding athlete and a tough tackler.

"Everything goes in cycles in football," Nix said. "It's gotten now that you've got big receivers, you need big corners. They're hard to find, and this guy's talented. He's really a good athlete. He's got some versatility. He can play corner, obviously. He can play in the slot in nickel, and we think he can play safety."

The Bills have incumbent starters at cornerback in Terrence McGee and McKelvin. McGee, an eight-year veteran, missed seven games last year and five the year before due to injury. The Bills have a solid third corner in Reggie Corner. But Drayton Florence, who started 16 games last year, is a free agent, and there's a decent chance he won't return. The Bills also let backup Ashton Youboty go.

So there was a need for another cornerback. In addition, Williams is considered physical enough to play safety, and Bills veteran Donte Whitner is a free agent. Nix said Williams will start out his career at cornerback.

"We think we start him at corner," Nix said. "If we decide to move him inside, it'll be a lot easier going in that direction."

Williams ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds at the NFL Combine in February. Nix said Williams ran 4.42 at Texas' pro-day workout.

"Somewhere in between that, reality lies," Nix said. "So he's got good speed. He's got very good quickness and short-area burst. He's a good tackler, he's a tough guy, smart. But now if you put him on an elite receiver every time, and they get 30, 40 yards down the field, you'll see some separation probably."

Williams was thrilled to be drafted at the top of the second round.

"My emotions right now are going crazy," Williams said from his home in Texas. "I'm excited and really emotional. My family is here, my friends are here and we're all here celebrating. The Bills are a great organization, great team and they have Marcell [Dareus] there, and we're going to try to bring as many wins as possible."

Williams was rated 31st overall in the draft ratings by both Dallas Morning News analyst Rick Gosselin and ESPN analyst Mel Kiper. There were only two higher-rated prospects on the board when Buffalo picked. They were Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers and North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin, both rated in the mid-20s. Bowers has major concerns about a knee injury and lasted until No. 51. The Bills had no need for a defensive tackle.

Nix acknowledged that the Bills' phone was ringing with offers to move back from the 34th pick.

"Yes, it was," Nix said. "We had numerous calls today, and even seconds before the pick. I think you have to decide if you want to go down and take a chance on maybe getting more guys but lesser quality, or go ahead and take that pick that you think is going to fit and help you."

Nix did not consider the depth very good at cornerback this year.

The Bills' inside linebacker situation is tenuous because both starters from last year, Paul Posluszny and Akin Ayodele, are free agents. Ayodele won't be back. The Bills would like Posluszny back, but it's uncertain whether he will be free to shop his services to any team.

Sheppard wasn't widely viewed as a third-round prospect during the college season, even though he started the last two and a half seasons and ranked third in the Southeastern Conference in tackles as a senior. He was a team leader for LSU and was known for his fiery pregame speeches.

Sheppard showed the Bills' coaches during Senior Bowl week that he had better mobility than many realized.

Here's what Gailey said about him at the Senior Bowl: "He has really taken charge of the defense, making all the calls for us on the defensive side. He's done a great job of finding the football. He can come take on the run, and he's fast enough and aware enough to go cover up some pass situations. I've seen his instincts maybe as good as anybody's on the football field. He has great instincts. He's a big, strong guy out of LSU. I've been very impressed."

Gailey said Friday the all-star game showing sold the Bills.

"We felt he was a 250-pound linebacker who can move and help us play the run," Gailey said. "He played sideline to sideline actually better in the Senior Bowl than he did sometimes on tape. We were able to see his speed there.

"We'd heard there were some limitations on him running sideline to sideline, and we saw just the opposite. We saw a guy that could make plays all over the field, and that was an eye-opener for us."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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