Bills head coach Chan Gailey made no secret about the edge he felt coaching the Senior Bowl gave his coaching staff in preparation for the 2011 NFL draft. He called it a "tremendous advantage," and Buffalo capitalized on the additional information acquired by being around more than 100 of the best seniors in college football for a week, drafting three of them last weekend.
Buffalo took two prospects from their South Team Senior Bowl roster in LSU's Kelvin Sheppard, Mississippi State's Chris White and from the North Team, North Carolina Da'Norris Searcy.
Sheppard appeared to strike an immediate rapport with the Bills defensive staff. Entrusted with running the defense, by Wednesday of the practice week defensive coordinator George Edwards was calling the Bills eventual third-round pick 'Shep' for short.
"Shep was a pretty good force inside down there," said Gailey of Sheppard's week in Mobile. "He really took charge of the defense. He made all the calls for us on the defensive side. He did a really good job of finding the football. He showed he could take on the run and was fast enough and aware enough to go cover up some pass situations. I think his instincts may have been as good as anybody on that football field. I was very impressed."
Though Sheppard knew nothing was guaranteed in the draft his week with the Buffalo coaching staff left him with a good feeling.
"I kind of had a feeling that down there that it was a good vibe with the coaching staff and everything was clicking right and just the way the plays went that coach George (Edwards) installed."
Lining up at outside linebacker alongside Sheppard for that South Team defense was Mississippi State's Chris White, who this past weekend became Buffalo's sixth-round pick.
"They definitely worked us hard down there," White recalled. "I got to meet the linebackers coach. Chan Gailey seems like a real cool head coach. Like I said, they definitely have a work hard first (mentality) and want to win."
White, who will play inside linebacker for the Bills, said he didn't get a whole lot of feedback from Buffalo's coaching staff during his week at the Senior Bowl, but there was enough for him to go on.
"It was kind of a fast week," he said. "They said to play as hard as you can and talked about special teams a lot and that whenever I come into the NFL and I might have to play that just to make a roster."
Based on the events of draft weekend it was clear that White made an impression.
"He's not the biggest guy, he's not the fastest guy, but he makes plays," said Gailey. "He's around the ball all the time. He's a smart player and he's around the football and he understands the game and seems to have a really good head on his shoulders."
Buffalo's fourth-round pick Da'Norris Searcy played safety for the North Team at the Senior Bowl, and did not have as much exposure to the Bills coaching staff as Sheppard and White. His team was run by the Cincinnati Bengals staff and head coach Marvin Lewis.
The two staffs however, made sure to provide some measure of time during the practice week with the other team's roster of seniors in the team meeting rooms. It allowed the coaching staffs to get to know the other 52 prospects at the Senior Bowl better.
Such was the case with Searcy, an athletic and aggressive safety that showed his versatility through the course of the practice week. Those meetings however, got to the heart of what Buffalo's coaching staff was after with those players that were not on their roster.
"What you're trying to learn are the intangibles," said Gailey. "That's what you're trying to find out. We all watch them run, jump, change direction, ball skills. We all get to see that, but there's been a bunch of guys that have the right kind of work ethic and preparation and football instincts to go be a player when the run, jump, speed statistics say they shouldn't. And there are also some guys out there that have the ability and because they won't do those things that come in the intangible category they don't make it. So by the end of the week we had a great idea about the intangibles."
And those intangibles were a factor in making Sheppard, Searcy and White a part of Buffalo's 2011 draft class.