In the midst of a five-game losing streak head coach Chan Gailey was asked if he felt his team was still moving in the right direction and better than they were in 2010. Buffalo's sideline boss answered without hesitation.
"I think we're a better football team than we were last year," he siad. "I think we are. I think that we have a lot of bright spots, but it's hard to see them because we're not winning."
A lot of those bright spots are members of Buffalo's 2011 draft class, which has taken on a far greater role on the field as veteran players have been sidelined by injuries, in many cases for the season.
"Our rookie class I think we've done okay coming in and helping out," said top pick Marcell Dareus. "You can really see the potential in our rookies."
Below we provide an update on just where each of the nine rookies drafted this past spring currently sit with an eye toward what their role might be come 2012.
DL Marcell DareusStats –12 games, 11 starts. 10th on the team in tackles (30), second in tackles for loss (6), leads the team in sacks (3.5).
Role –A starter on Buffalo's defensive line since the opener Dareus spent most of his time at left defensive end, but has moved to defensive tackle as the team has gravitated to more 4-3 fronts of late. He had a breakout game against Washington. Playing more than one position doesn't faze Dareus one bit.
"That's something we did in college," he said. "We just kept rotating at multiple positions. The more positions you can play, the more ready you are up front. That's what we did, and it wasn't that hard. So it was just about staying at it and keep chopping that wood."
Future –Dareus is expected to be a fixture on Buffalo's defensive line for the better part of the next decade, and with Kyle Williams coming back healthy next season figures to be part of a pretty imposing duo up front.
CB Aaron Williams Stats –6 games, 3 starts. Fourth among cornerbacks in tackles, 2 pass breakups.
Role –Thrust into a boundary cornerback role just one series into his rookie season due to injury, Williams was also an injury casualty. Separating his sterno-clavicular joint in Week 3, Williams missed the next six games. Again pressed into a starting role due again in part to injury Williams is making noticeable progress and plays on the ball.
"It's still coming along," he said. "I won't be 100 percent any time this season, but it's that part of the season where you've just got to grind and fight through your pains and do whatever you can do to contribute."
Future –Williams stands an excellent chance of landing a starting role at cornerback in 2012 and offers the ability to move into the slot in nickel situations.
ILB Kelvin Sheppard
Stats –12 games, 6 starts. Tied for seventh on the team in tackles (33), one safety.
Role –Serving primarily on special teams early in the season, Sheppard was sprinkled in more and more at inside linebacker. He was later given the starting role next to veteran Nick Barnett in Week 8 vs. Washington, and has made his share of plays.
"I'm a lot more comfortable in terms of run versus pass, and I feel like my teammates are more comfortable with me out there," Sheppard said. "Now I just have to master everything with respect to pre-snap communication."
Future –Sheppard is expected to lock down the starting role at inside linebacker alongside Barnett for the next several seasons.
S Da'Norris Searcy
Stats –12 games, 3 starts. 12th on the team in tackles (28), one interception.
Role –Another special teams player that was thrust into a starting assignment at strong safety due to inury. Searcy has performed admirably in his first three career starts and appears to be one of the surest tacklers in the secondary.
"I was just eager to get in there and play," said Searcy. "Just having a great teacher in George Wilson has helped. I sit by him every week and we go over all the plays together and anything the coaches say I write it down. If I have any questions I ask him or he'll come to me to see if I have any questions or if I need to discuss anything."
Future –Searcy's progress figures to make him George Wilson's most significant competition for the starting strong safety role in 2012.
OT Chris Hairston
Stats –9 games, 4 starts.
Role –He began the season at the team's swing tackle, but took on the starting left tackle role due to inury in Week 5. Sidelined for three weeks with a high-ankle sprain, Hairston has returned to start the last three games at left tackle.
"I come in fresh out of college, getting thrown into the fire, no OTAs, no anything, so I really had to come up to speed quickly," said Hairston. "I feel like the coaches feel I've done that enough for them to trust me over there in a very important spot on this offense."
Future –How Hairston performs over these last four weeks could make him the top candidate to man the left tackle position come the 2012 season with a strong training camp and preseason.
RB Johnny White
Stats –8 games, no starts. 11 carries, 31 yards (3.1 avg.), one reception, seventh in special teams tackles
Role –A steady special teams contributor, White has seen some late game duty on offense, but opportunities have been few and far between.
"I just try to go as hard as I can and just try to earn a role and practice hard," he said. "And I'll say the different aspects I learned about different positions in college are helping me out now at running back."
Future –With game breaking talents like Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller ahead of him on the depth chart, it'll prove difficult for White to land a significant role in the offensive backfield, but his versatility could land him more time on offense in 2012.
LB Chris White
Stats –7 games, no starts. Second on the team in special teams tackles.
Role –A special teams standout from the start of the season, White still stands second in special teams tackles despite the fact that his season was cut short by an ACL knee injury suffered in Week 10.
Future –White's first order of business will be to get healthy in time for training camp next summer. With Nick Barnett and Kelvin Sheppard ahead of him on the depth chart for 2012, White needs to play himself into a reserve role behind those two starters.
CB Justin Rogers
Stats –8 games, no starts. Six tackles and a pass breakup.
Role –Mainly a special teams contributor this season, Rogers was elevated to the nickel corner role starting in Week 11 at Miami and has manned that spot in the two games that followed. The instinctive corner has been around the ball when challenged by opposing quarterbacks.
"When I first got here I was trying to grasp the whole playbook, but even when I knew what I was doing I was still thinking out there because I wasn't 100 percent comfortable with it," said Rogers. "Now it's like second nature and I know the call, my assignment and I'm just reacting instead of thinking."
Future –Rogers is expected to been a prime candidate for the nickel corner role in 2012.
OL Mike Jasper
Role –Jasper has been a season long fixture on Buffalo's practice squad as offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris tries to properly harness all of the prospects physical abilities. Jasper has worked mainly at guard, the same position he played in his last two collegiate seasons.
Future –With a year of seasoning in the NFL practice setting and the proper offseason regimen, Jasper could challenge for a roster spot in 2012.