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Bills show signs 2011 wasn't more of the same

It's been a football eon since Bills' fans have been satisfied with the end of a season, and today's game should offer nothing more despite the happy outcome against Denver on Christmas Eve. There have been too many disappointments to prevent disgusted utterances of "it's more of the same old, same old."

Still, tell that to Tim Tebow. For that matter, tell that to the editors of Sports Illustrated's "Year in Sports."

SI decided that the young quarterback's half-dozen glitzy performances were worthy of as many glitzy words: "amazing, incredible, phenomenal, mind-blowing, incomprehensible, unbelievable." Then the Broncos-Bills game began in The Ralph and words meant little. Tebow was mortal once again.

What does one game, an upset at that, mean to the Bills' future? Maybe more than you think.

Careful with the glum predictions. Youth may come back to surprise you. Speedy running back C.J. Spiller, a disappointment for virtually two full seasons, exploded in December. That suggests an interesting duet with the return of injured teammate Fred Jackson next season.

Young players will still be a major factor on the Bills' roster. There are too many aging powerhouses in the AFC not to think of building for the future as well as for the moment. Once the Bills get by the aging Patriots and Steelers, the future field looks fairly even, and the upcoming draft could provide just what the Bills need.

That includes pass rushing. North Carolina alone has three of the nation's foremost pass rushers, ends Quinton Coples and Donte Paige-Moss, along with linebacker Zach Brown. Their Atlantic Coast Conference also boasts one of the best pass-rush linebackers in Luke Kuechly of Boston College.

The Bills already have promising talent on hand. Rookie cornerback Aaron Williams, the team's second-round draft choice, didn't make his full debut until December. The same went for defensive back/kick returner Justin Rogers. The third-round pick, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, didn't break into the lineup until mid-season.

Wide receiver Marcus Easley, a fourth-round pick two years ago, didn't get to play at all for a second straight year as a result of heart trouble. Nevertheless, the brass seems so heartened by his recovery that they are talking as if Easley has starting possibilities.

He isn't the only young possibility either.

A Nov. 22 headline in The News read "Jones may be done for rest of season." That was Donald Jones, who had won a starting job as a wide receiver only to lose it to injury.

He'll be back.

Injuries were a huge factor in the Bills falling out of the race in the AFC East. Beyond Jackson, an MVP candidate before his injury, there was superb nose tackle Kyle Williams, center and Pro Bowl possibility Eric Wood, wide receiver Roscoe Parrish and reliable place kicker Ryan Lindell.

The injured young players themselves constitute a small comeback squad, especially if the Achilles tendon problem of linebacker Shawne Merriman allows him to return to the field.

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Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.