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McGee's focus: staying in the game

Sweat poured from Terrence McGee's face last week as he talked about his future in the NFL.

The Buffalo Bills' veteran cornerback had just completed a workout during the team's first day of offseason conditioning, another step on the road to another comeback.

"Actually, man, it felt way better than I thought it would, coming out here doing some of these drills," McGee said of the surgically repaired patella tendon in his knee that cost him the final six games of last season. "I'm definitely nowhere near where I need to be, as far as straight-line running, but as far as some of these cuts and ladder drills and things like that, I feel all right.

"I'm hoping sometime during these offseason workouts, definitely before we leave here next month [that I'll be fully cleared]."

The easy question is why?

Why would McGee, who along with kicker Rian Lindell and defensive end Chris Kelsay is the team's longest-tenured player behind punter Brian Moorman, put himself through another grueling offseason?

After all, he's got nine seasons under his belt. He's played in 115 games, made a Pro Bowl and been one of the Bills' few memorable players over a decade to forget.

Why subject himself to the rigors of another training camp, to compete with players 10 years younger than he is for a job?

Because he's determined to prove his NFL career is not over.

"I wouldn't be able to live with myself, knowing I left hurt," he said. "That's how you left your career, how you left the NFL, was known as a guy that was hurt all the time?

"If I'm going to leave it's going to be on a healthy season, or kind of like [running back] Fred [Jackson], he was having a great season last year, then he got hurt. I at least want to have that great season."

McGee, 31, has missed 17 games over the past two years. In addition to the patella tendon injury, he hurt his hamstring in the season opener of 2011 and missed four games. In 2010, a knee injury cost him seven games.

"Sometimes I wonder if somebody's telling me not to play football anymore," McGee said. "Every time I get on the field, something happens. All I can do is try to get healthy and go back out there to give it another shot, until I can't do it no more."

McGee is not promised anything. Competition for a cornerback job increased after the team selected South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore in the first round of the draft last week. He's a lock to make the team, as is 2011 second-round pick Aaron Williams. That leaves veterans Drayton Florence, Leodis McKelvin, second-year man Justin Rogers and rookie fourth-round pick Ron Brooks as McGee's primary competition for what will be three or four jobs.

"I'm not looking at our depth," McGee said. "The first thing I have to do before I look at all that is get healthy. If I'm not healthy, there's nothing I can do. That's my main thing, then just go out there and compete for a job."

The Bills protected themselves in the event McGee is not able to do that, restructuring the final two years of his contract in February. His base salary, which was scheduled to be $3.6 million, has been reduced for the coming year. However, he can earn back the base salary he was scheduled to make if he hits incentives for playing time and being on the active roster.

It was a move McGee understood was necessary.

"They could have easily said, 'He's done. Let's get rid of him.' They gave me the opportunity to reconstruct it and a chance to go out there and play," he said. "I've been hurt, but I was still getting a paycheck. They've got to protect themselves. This is a business and you definitely understand it. It's an opportunity for me and them."

McGee also thinks his 10th season could finally be the one that continues past Week 17 into the playoffs.

"We are building," he said. "We're spending money, bringing good guys in. It's definitely the right steps toward a good year."

That's all the motivation he needs. But it never hurts to have a little more.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to prove it to people who think I'm done," he said, "but mostly, I need to do it for myself. I feel like if I'm healthy, I can go out there and contribute to the team."

email: jskurski@buffnews.com