In the NFL leadership is shown in many different ways. There are those players that lead by example. Others stand up and make sure they are heard in the locker room. Some leaders are most effective on the field, while others do their best work away from the action.
Bills strong safety Donte Whitner, who already established himself as a leader in 2007, and is just entering his third NFL season, has taken his leadership to another level. Beginning this week, Whitner will be putting Bills top pick Leodis McKelvin up at his home with the intent of shortening the rookie's learning curve for the pro game.
"I'm having him stay with me until he finds a place of his own," said Whitner. "Each night I'm going to teach him a little bit more about the defensive scheme. It's hard as a rookie because you're going to make mistakes. So I'll try to slowly bring him up to speed on things and be a sounding board for him if he has any questions."
McKelvin was a bit floored by the offer extended to him by Whitner, but happily accepted the invite.
"He told me he was in the same position I was and he told me he wanted to get me more comfortable with the playbook and get me through the plays faster to get me on the field faster," McKelvin told Buffalobills.com. "He's trying to help me out."
Whitner can relate to McKelvin's situation. He too was a top pick of the Bills taken eighth overall in 2006. He knows what kind of expectations are out there that McKelvin has to live up to as a rookie and plans to help the cornerback fulfill them.
"I feel I can help him make the transition," said Whitner. "Everybody doesn't get that type of mentor around them to help them make that transition into being a pro. Just because you make it to the NFL doesn't mean you're a pro. You have to learn how to eat, practice and sleep. You have to learn how to be a pro. I feel like I can teach him that."
With a home theater just installed in the basement of his home, Whitner has the perfect environment to school McKelvin on film study and review practice tape.
"I have all of the film at my house. I have the same tools that the coaches use to show us the film and the things that we need to know I have at my house," said Whitner. "So he and I have time to go one-on-one and I get the practice film from practice and show him what he did wrong in practice and how he can improve. We'll have the playbooks and anything else that he needs."
"With him being on the field all the time the past two years and him knowing what he's got to do and helping me with my mistakes on the field, the fewer mistakes I'll make and the better I'll get as a player," said McKelvin.
Cornerback was a thin position for the Bills until they signed veteran Will James in free agency and then drafted McKelvin as well as cornerbacks Reggie Corner and Kennard Cox. Now expected to be one of the more competitive positions in training camp this summer, Whitner realized that it would be best if he provided McKelvin with what he needs to know at his position.
"Any time you come into a situation whether it's your teammates or anybody you have guys that want to compete so they might be a little reluctant to share information that can help you in fear that you might take their spot," said Whitner. "And that's natural with every team and every individual at every position. Me being a safety and him being a corner I naturally have to talk to him on the field anyway and get him lined up and tell him what's going on, so I feel the relationship will work better that way instead of another corner taking him in and helping him."
"He makes all the calls so I listen to him whenever he's making a call anyway," said McKelvin. "With me and him working together personally I'm going to know exactly what I've got to do. It's a great benefit for me."
Not playing the same position it's easier for Whitner to recognize the likelihood that the Bills at some point this fall will need to rely on McKelvin's talents. So Whitner believes if he can reduce the rookie's learning curve it will improve McKelvin's chances at making an impact in year one.
"If you're going to be realistic about it, we drafted him that high because we needed somebody at that position," Whitner said. "I'm not knocking anybody else, but we need somebody at that position. He has all the physical tools. He runs hard to the football and he's not out there dogging the workouts and he really wants to learn. When you talk he listens. You don't meet a lot of guys like that and that's why I think he could be a great addition to our team and to this league. He's going to help us this year so it's never too early to try to get him ready."
And knowing how rare it is to be presented with the offer he received from Whitner, McKelvin is looking to make good on his new teammate's expectations as well as everyone else's in Western New York.
"It feels real good that he's put himself out there to help me with the playbook," said McKelvin. "You don't see that every day. I just have to learn from him and learn what he tells me and take it from there."