It’s been since the Super Bowl years since a Buffalo Bills defense has been shown this much love by the national media before the start of training camp. With Rex Ryan as head coach, it’s easy and in vogue to jump on the Bills defensive bandwagon. The defensive line alone is arguably the most star-studded since Bruce Smith mowed quarterbacks down at The Ralph on a regular basis.
It’s also easy to get overlooked by the glare coming off a defensive line that had three of it’s four starters playing in the Pro Bowl last season. However, I find players categorized as ‘under the radar’ far more intriguing, because I believe it is precisely these players that can flourish in an understated role. My favorite gentleman on the Bills roster currently filling this role over the last few seasons is Leodis McKelvin.
There are several players on this Bills roster that are intriguing regarding their potential to play a critical role in helping this team get back to playing meaningful football in January. As we lead up to training camp, I’ll highlight my beliefs about several players I believe will make a crucial contribution to whatever the Bills are able to accomplish this season.
If you’ve been suffering through this blog over the last couple of years, you know that it’s my passion to look beyond the stats and the obvious things that make certain players stand out. When I go to training camp, I prefer to spend my time watching how players interact with one another, the media, the coaches, and especially fans.
Let’s face it, it gets boring (at least for me) to listen to the canned media responses given by most players to the same mundane questions asked year after mind-numbing year. So when I have an opportunity to watch a group of players, I’m more interested in watching their interactions with each other than their performance running cone drills.
The first player that comes to mind when I think about intriguing players is Leodis McKelvin. I’ve now had the honor of watching Mr. McKelvin at training camp twice, and once even had the pleasure of meeting him in person at a birthday party a couple of years ago for (then) teammate Da’Norris Searcy.
My admiration for Leodis began early in his career with the Bills. It wasn’t his status as the 11th overall pick (and first cornerback taken) in the 2008 draft that caught my attention though. It was the grace he displayed during a tough period in Bills history after losing a last minute heart breaker to the Patriots* during the 2009 season.
After a couple of fools vandalized his lawn with hateful and racist remarks, he responded by refusing to press charges against them. He demonstrated that love and understanding trumps hate and racism every time. For those who would like to read more about Leodis McKelvin including all his stats and accomplishments on the field, his Wikipedia page can be found here: .
However, as those of you that suffer though this blog on a regular basis know, it’s not only what Leodis has done on the field (despite new defensive coaches and schemes every year) that intrigues me. It is his understated personality and loyalty to a team that is now introducing him to his sixth defensive coordinator.
No one can accuse Leodis of not being flexible as far as learning new schemes, that’s for sure. Despite the instability with coaching staffs, Leodis has managed to find his way, even after being bounced around in various schemes. He’s pretty much “been there, done that” as far as adapting.
Championship teams need players like Leodis McKelvin. He not only stuck with the Bills through multiple “rebuilds”, he refused to enter free agency in 2013 and signed a very reasonable contract to remain with the only professional team he has ever played for. It’s precisely players like Leodis that enable successful teams to overpay at other positions to secure the right talent to be successful in the NFL over time. It’s a formula that has worked well for the Patriots* since 2000. Tom Brady has repeatedly restructured his contract to retain key players.
However, it’s the ‘intangible’ stuff I find most fascinating about players like Leodis McKelvin. Last year at training camp, I was able to shake hands with Leodis after practice. We spoke briefly for a few minutes, and his smile and engaging personality was immediately evident.
The man does not have a pretentious bone in his body. He is soft spoken, and has become careful and more measured in his words. Leodis struggled talking with the media during his early years with the Bills. Some chose to make fun of his obvious discomfort talking in front of a camera. He always took it in stride.
Now days he is clearly more comfortable in his role as a veteran journeyman. John Murphy has stated many times on his radio show that Leodis is one of his favorite players, and I can see why. It was his grace and genuine humility that stuck out at me the two times I was fortunate to spend a few moments with him.
Those of us blessed to have witnessed players during the Super Bowl era of the 90s remember and appreciate guys like Phil Hansen. Introverted, lunch bucket guys loaded with talent, but never needing, nor necessarily appreciating the spotlight. These types of players seem to sense that it’s tough to create team chemistry if the team is composed only of players that want/demand to be the center of attention.
If Leodis is able to stay healthy, the best may very well be yet to come from him. After a turnstile of defensive schemes/coordinators/position coaches, Leodis has found his bliss with Donnie Henderson. It’s a testimony to Rex Ryan that he hung on to Henderson, a gifted position coach that has helped Leodis vastly improve his ability to track the ball in the air.
Going into his seventh season, Leodis now has the opportunity to put it all together, and I believe that is exactly what he will do. While many fans will be focused on whether or not Stephon Gilmore steps into the ‘elite’ category, or how fast Ronald Darby will progress during his rookie season, I will once again be quietly watching Leodis McKelvin flourish in a defense tailor made for his type of talent.
It’s easy to get blinded by all the star power on this Bills defense. However, if you really want to take a good look at the prototype of a ‘team player’, look no further than Leodis McKelvin.
If I were ever lucky enough to choose a player to sit down and visit with sometime, hands down it would be Leodis McKelvin. Don’t sleep on the quiet ones, Bills fans. Look no further than guys like Phil Hansen to understand the important role and function of “background” players.