He missed all of the spring workouts due to a late college graduation at Stanford. Bills safety Delano Howell was barely getting reps when training camp opened three and a half weeks ago. But in a very short period of time, Howell has shown he's a quick study. Even more important he's putting that football intelligence to work on the field.
For the second straight preseason game Howell got time at safety with the second team defense. Against Washington it wasn't right away, but in the game against Minnesota he was paired with Da'Norris Searcy from the start. The undrafted rookie is making a move up the Bills depth chart and is staking a claim to the fourth safety job.
"I'll tell you what he's done some good things," said head coach Chan Gailey. "I told him on the sideline before the game that he's really picked it up and done a good job. He's making a real run at this thing. He's been impressive the last three weeks."
In Buffalo's first preseason game against the Redskins he contributed three tackles and a pair of pass breakups. He followed that up Friday night in Minnesota tied for the team lead in tackles with four including one for loss and a fumble recovery.
In fact the first snap that he was on the field, Howell dropped Vikings running back Lex Hilliard for a one-yard loss. Just five plays later a pass to Hilliard in the flat on a critical 3rd-and-3 at the Bills 30-yard line was stopped by Howell for just a one-yard gain forcing Minnesota to settle for a long field goal.
"As a safety you have to be a sure tackler and that's something I try to do," he said. "So watching some of the veteran safeties do it I'm learning how to be a more consistent tackler."
On the Vikings next possession after Leodis McKelvin stripped Stephen Burton of a reception on a 26-yard pass play, Howell recovered the fumble at the Bills' 33-yard line.
"I'm just taking advantage of whatever playing time they give me," said Howell. "If they're going to throw me in there earlier then that's great. Whenever they put me in there I'm going to do my absolute best to make the most out of it."
Bills Assistant GM Doug Whaley, who scouted Howell at Stanford last fall, knew the safety had the mental makeup. He's just been impressed with how in a very short period of time he's taken his assignments from the playbook to the field knowing Howell missed OTAs and minicamp.
"Obviously coming from Stanford the intelligence part was not an issue, but missing time it's always different seeing it on the field live than on the board," Whaley told Buffalobills.com. "He's proven that it's not affected him, because he's done nothing but make plays and he's always around the ball. So he's not only shown he's intelligent and can pick up the scheme, but that he has instincts as well."
And those instincts are moving him up Buffalo's depth as he's now in prime position to land the fourth safety role behind Jairus Byrd, Da'Norris Searcy and George Wilson, three veterans he's credited with getting him up to speed.
"It's a great team atmosphere and everybody is helping you," said Howell. "Talking to George (Wilson) and (Da'Norris) Searcy I have a lot of questions for them and they'll answer them for me and then I get in the playbook and study. So it wasn't too difficult catching up with all the help from the veterans."
Howell takes the time to watch Byrd and Wilson closely when they're on the field taking reps in the practice setting or the game. He believes there's a lot to be learned in observing how a veteran anticipates and executes.
"With George and Jairus in there doing their thing I just like to watch what they do and learn from them and then try to make the most of my opportunities," he said.
And in doing so he's moved up the depth chart placed himself in prime position to have a role most didn't see him landing as the team's fourth safety.
"Every time he's out there he's making plays," said Whaley. "If you make plays you're going to move up."