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Bills need to take step, but won't reach

Buffalo Bills General Manager Buddy Nix says he will not reach to fill a need in the NFL Draft. That stance clearly puts offensive tackle closer to the Bills' cross-hairs with the 10th overall draft pick.

Nix also says the Bills will be "aggressive" in free agency.

After watching his club go 4-12 and 6-10 in his first two seasons running the football operation, Nix says it's time for the Bills to make a bigger leap forward.

"I think if we can fill a couple of spots in free agency and then have another good draft, get our injured guys back," Nix said, ticking off challenges to improving the team. "now that's a lot of ifs, but really those things should happen. All of our (injured) guys are on schedule or even ahead of schedule as far as rehab goes."

"We need to take a big step," Nix said during a break in player testing at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I've said since Day One and it's a philosophy that I think is one that works, that you build through the draft. But you also got to be alert if you've got a couple of holes you think you need to fill. And if they're available in free agency, I think you go get 'em. That's going to be our approach. We'll be aggressive."

Exactly what Nix means by aggressive will be revealed starting March 13, when the NFL's free-agency shopping season begins.

Just like coach Chan Gailey, Nix acknowledges the team's need for more pass rush.

"We need pass rushers, a guy who can set the edge as a defensive end," Nix said. "I want to make this clear -- we can't reach for a defensive end because we need him."

Pass rush options on the free-agent market figure to be limited. Houston Pro Bowler Mario Williams may command $15 million a year, almost surely too rich for the Bills' tastes. Detroit's Cliff Avril will command a huge price, but he could get the franchise tag. Indianapolis' Robert Mathis, 31, could be a good fit for Buffalo, if he doesn't get a franchise tag and if the Bills are willing to pay for a higher-end player. Jacksonville's Jeremy Mincey, 28, and New England's Andre Carter, 33, are among others on the free-agent list.

Conventional wisdom among draft analysts puts North Carolina's Quinton Coples, Alabama's Courtney Upshaw and South Carolina's Melvin Ingram atop the list of rush end prospects. None of them, however, is as strong a prospect as last year's top rush end, Von Miller, who went to Denver.

Coples, 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, had 10 sacks in 2010 but was not consistent in 2011 and finished with 7.5 sacks. His physical skills may get him picked in the top nine.

"How consistent and how productive can he be? You just don't know," Nix said. "It's part of what makes this a hard business. The guy if he plays up to his potential, he'll be a great player for a long time. If he doesn't he's another big bust. He's got great talent. The knock on Quinton is how hard he plays all the time."

Upshaw and Ingram don't have prototypical height, both at 6-foot-1, and both have less than ideal arm length, at 31.5 and 31 inches, respectively.

"He's a good football player," Nix said of Upshaw. "He's a power rusher. He's a bull rusher. And in this league, it's hard to run over guys."

While it's not a great year for edge rushers in the top 15 of the draft, Nix says there are some defensive ends to be found.

"I think from the second round to the fifth, there's probably a lot of potentially good players," he said. "But you've got to get the right one."

Noteworthy edge rushers who could go in the second round and be attractive to the Bills include Marshall's Vinny Curry and Syracuse's Chandler Jones. Farther down the list are longer-range prospects like Virginia's Cam Johnson and Miami of Florida's Olivier Vernon.

Drafting a left offensive tackle would strengthen an already strong unit and solidify a position that does not have an entrenched starter.

Nix on the offensive tackle class: "I think it's pretty good. I think there's some guys at small schools who've got the potential. It may take 'em a little bit longer but they can be left tackles in this league."

The top left tackle, Southern Cal's Matt Kalil, is expected to be a top-five pick. Iowa's Riley Reiff has a slight chance to last to No. 10. After him, Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Ohio State's Mike Adams, are considered potential top-15 picks.

Nix on Reiff: "He's very athletic. He's not a power guy, but he can anchor when he has good technique."

Nix on Martin: "Good player, a very good player."

Nix on Adams: "No question, he's a huge man. If they just have to run around him, you should get the ball thrown. He's just that big. But he's athletic enough, too."

Quarterback prospects Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are expected to participate in some of Sunday's workouts during the combine. Both met with scouts Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to his report.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com