Buffalo Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin made four pass breakups during Monday's organized team activity practice.
The Bills can only hope it was a sign of production to come.
McKelvin is entering the fifth and final year of the contract he signed in 2008, when the Bills made him the 11th overall pick in the NFL Draft.
"The expectations were of me being able to come in and start right away and being able to contribute, but things haven't gone that way," McKelvin said after practice. "I'm still young. The health issue's not there. I'm not injured or battered down. I've still got a long career ahead of me."
"You've got a lot of other great guys who start off slow but they end up great," McKelvin said. "That's what I'm looking forward to."
Hopes were high entering training camp last year that McKelvin would entrench himself as a quality starter. He had missed most of his second season to injury in 2009 but came back and started all of 2010.
However, McKelvin was beaten out in training camp by veteran Drayton Florence. Then, when pressed into service with the first team for the first six games due to an early injury to Terrence McGee, McKelvin didn't play well. When McGee went down again with an injury in Week 10, the Bills put rookie Aaron Williams into the starting lineup instead of McKelvin. Over the last three games, McKelvin didn't play a down on defense.
On a lot of the most high-profile plays McKelvin gave up last year, he was in relatively decent position. They included long receptions by Cincinnati's A.J. Green, a deep pass interference against the Jets' Santonio Holmes and a long ball to Dallas' Dez Bryant.
McKelvin says his confidence is unshaken.
"The plays are going to be there, I've just got to make 'em," he said.
What does he need to do differently this year?
"The same things I did last year," he said. "I just lost jump balls. It wasn't like I wasn't there. My talent is there. It's just to go out there and finish the plays that come toward me."
"Last year I was always trying to go for the big play," McKelvin said. "They just tell me maybe knock 'em down. Interceptions are going to come. Just go out there, see the ball, knock the ball down. I'll get the interception when it's available."
If everyone stays healthy, McKelvin will have to play very well to get on the field with the defense. The Bills drafted Stephon Gilmore in the first round. He's the favorite to start opposite McGee. Williams is ahead of McKelvin on the depth chart. Second-year man Justin Rogers played well on slot receivers late last season.
With McGee rehabilitating a knee injury, McKelvin has been rotating with Rogers and Williams on the first unit. On Monday, McKelvin spent most of his time with the starters playing on the slot receivers. That's a new role for him. McKelvin was used strictly on outside receivers the last four years. He welcomes it.
"It's an opportunity for me to get inside, to play," he said. "We've got a lot of young guys coming along (increasing) the competition level. If anything happens on the back end as far me not winning a starting job on the outside, I also could play on the inside."
"Last year I didn't play the nickel," he said. "I feel like I should be on the field. I know I can play on the field in the nickel situations."
McKelvin says he's not concerned about the fact his contract is up after this season.
"My talent will take care of itself," he said. "I'll just go out there and play. Contract year, whatever happens, happens. I'm just going to keep playing my hardest and God will take care of the rest."
He also says he's eager to return punts, a job that's up for grabs since Roscoe Parrish left the team. McKelvin scored on an 80-yard punt return last season versus Denver. He had a kickoff return score as a rookie, and he had a punt return TD against Detroit called back on a dubious holding call in 2010.
"What year that I've been here haven't I scored a touchdown, besides when I was hurt?" he said. "You go back to the one they called back in the Lions game. I always score. That's just the bottom line. Once the ball's in my hands I'm going to get it in the end zone."
Monday's practice was the Bills' seventh voluntary session of the spring. The best offensive play of the day was a pretty deep touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to rookie T.J. Graham down the sideline. It was a great throw about 30 yards downfield, and Graham bolted past the secondary. Aaron Williams had to leave the field midway through practice due to a sore knee. Coach Chan Gailey called it minor and said Williams likely will sit out a few days. NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith visited the team and watched practice. Stevie Johnson, recovering from groin surgery on May 1, was in uniform and did some work with receivers in position drills. Johnson said he might try to participate fully next week. "I'm very pleased with it," he said. "I'm way ahead of schedule."