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Bills have taken steps forward; Nix and Co. assembled a bunch of tough kids who will fight for positions in camp

Fans want answers. OK, so how did they do? Did the Bills get the right wide receiver? Can Cordy Glenn really play left tackle? Was Stephon Gilmore their guy, or did they really want Luke Kuechly? Why didn't they take a quarterback? What I want to know is, what the heck is "good bubble?"

That was this year's chic phrase among the NFL scouting community. Bubble. It was mentioned on a couple of the handouts about the Bills' draft picks. They also talked about "knotted calves," so I'm guessing it has to do with butt muscles.

I was a good soldier this year. I spent nearly a full week in draft mode, preparing for the Annual Selection Meeting, sifting through information on tackles and guards, pondering the prospects' pad level and loose hips and mirroring ability.

But at some point, it got to me. Maybe it was around the time the Knicks game began, when I glanced up at the TV set in the media room and saw footage of some guy broad-jumping at the Combine.

I'm sorry, but after three days of this I felt like tossing Mel Kiper into a wood-chipper. By the time the Bills took Mark Asper in the sixth round, I had hit the wall. It's a good thing I don't have much of what the scouts like to call "straight-line speed."

It's hard to keep up with the deluge of information. This year, they published 10-yard dash times. When did that start? Every year, they mix in new stats and jargon, as if trying to convince gullible fans that the science of judging football talent has evolved to a whole new level. It hasn't.

Five years after the draft, half the student-athletes who possessed such astonishing length, wingspan and pad level are selling insurance or coaching in junior high school.

You learn to be wary, especially if you've suffered through this dreary period in Bills history. We're going on 13 years without a playoff game, so we've overreacted to a draft or two along the way.

But after all that, I am optimistic. Wary, yes, but impressed enough to think the Bills will be at least a .500 team next season. If they stay healthy, and some of these draft picks hit big, they can challenge for the playoffs.

You have to consider the entire offseason, which has been a success. They signed Mario Williams, the best defensive player on the market. They got another good pass rusher in Mark Anderson. They're not done, either. There are undrafted free agents out there, and maybe some veterans, too.

You can never be sure, but this looks like a solid draft. Buddy Nix methodically addressed his team's biggest needs. He got the second-best cornerback in Gilmore. Glenn, who should start at left tackle as a rookie, fell to him in the second.

People wondered why Nix would spend a seventh-round pick to move up two spots for wide receiver T.J. Graham. I liked the move. Have you looked at a list of seventh-round picks through the years?

It's encouraging to know they wanted Graham that badly. He wasn't rated as highly as some other wideouts. But it seemed because he wasn't tall enough. The hot receivers this year all seemed to be 6-foot-3, 216 pounds. We learned from the James Hardy failure that it takes more than sheer size to play in the league.

If Graham can stretch defenses, it'll create space underneath for Chan Gailey's spread attack, which suffered late last season when defenses cheated up and took away the short areas, forcing Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them down the field.

I can't sit here and tell you Saturday's late-round picks are going to be difference-makers. History shows that most of them don't make it big. But overall, it seems Nix and Co. assembled a bunch of tough, competitive kids who will fight for positions in camp.

This draft class had a distinctive southern flavor. A lot of the draft picks played 50 or more games at major schools. At the risk of dredging up bitter memories, they appear to have targeted players with character and intelligence.

In recent years, the Bills didn't have the depth to hold up in games or withstand major injuries. They're building depth into the roster and creating some keen competition for jobs in training camp.

There will be veterans fighting for their jobs this summer. It would not be a shock if there were some fights on the field at St. John Fisher, as well.

The battle for spots on the defensive line could be especially fierce, especially if Torell Troup and Alex Carrington emerge as viable NFL players.

They'll have two rookie linebackers, Nigel Bradham and Tank Carder, battling for playing time. I imagine the beleaguered speed receivers will be eager to show Graham that he can't just walk on the field and take a starting job.

The Bills have strong internal leadership, led by mature veterans like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, Chris Kelsay, George Wilson and the Williamses, Mario and Kyle Williams. They're serious, competitive men who believe their time has come.

It's a group that will invite a healthy sense of competition from a young, promising and eager draft class. The vets want the kids to make them better. They'll demand it of them. If this draft class is for real, it'll be an interesting season.

The Bills have a lot to prove. But they have a chance to be good for the first time in a long while. Let's just say they're on the bubble.