PITTSFORD - The Buffalo Bills are entertaining former New York Jets starting safety Jim Leonhard.
Leonhard, coming back from a knee injury suffered in December, was on the sidelines at St. John Fisher College on Thursday watching Bills practice. No signing was believed to be imminent. However, Leonhard's visit with the Bills was to continue into Friday. Leonhard had not yet taken a physical with Bills doctors as of Thursday evening.
The Bills could use more depth at safety. The only player with experience behind starters Jairus Byrd and George Wilson is second-year man Da'Norris Searcy. Most teams keep four safeties on the roster.
Leonhard started his career in Buffalo in 2006 as an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin. He played in 38 games, starting seven, under coach Dick Jauron. The Bills decided not to re-sign him 2008 because they had a young draftee, Ko Simpson, ahead of him on the depth chart. That was a decision Bills fans have lamented ever since.
In 2008, Leonhard went on to start 16 games, counting playoffs, for the Ravens. He moved to the Jets in 2009 and started 43 games for New York, counting playoffs, over the next three seasons. Leonhard suffered a torn patellar tendon in his knee last Dec. 11. Given his offseason rehabilitation, the Jets decided not to bring him back and opted instead to sign other safeties in free agency. The patellar tendon is the same one that Bills corner Terrence McGee tore last December.
The Bills signed rookie running back Zach Brown and released rookie back Chris Douglas, who was injured on Tuesday. Brown spent his first three college seasons at Wisconsin, rushing for 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he was stuck behind star back Montee Ball. Because he graduated after his junior season, he was able to transfer without sitting out a year. He played for Pitt in 2011, rushing for 357 yards, but showed his receiving skills, catching 25 passes.
"I'd like to think I'm a well-balanced back and I was able to show that, Brown said. "I love the University of Wisconsin but it was time to see what else I could do and it worked out. It was pretty much just getting on the field. I played with a lot of good backs at Wisconsin and I felt if I made the transfer I'd be on the field a little bit more."
Under new league rules, Brown is not allowed to participate in contact drills his first three days of practice.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the NFL has found no evidence that bounty programs existed while Gregg Williams was coaching in Buffalo or in Washington. Williams, who coached the Bills from 2001-03, is under indefinite suspension from the NFL for his role in the bounty scandal in New Orleans. The NFL has not released any statement on the investigation's status.
A crowd of about 600 watched Thursday's practice. The offensive highlights were two deep posts completed by Ryan Fitzpatrick early in the 11-on-11 session. The first traveled 50 yards in the air to Derek Hagan, who made a catch just behind Wilson. The second, about 40 yards, went to Stevie Johnson, who got just behind Leodis McKelvin. Overall the defense had plenty of good moments. Mario Williams blew up a play. Linebacker Nigel Bradham had a would-be sack of Fitzpatrick on a blitz. Shawne Merriman had a would-be sack on the next play, getting around Chris Hairston. The Bills did a good amount of running for a third straight day.
"Dave [Wannstedt] and I were talking after practice," coach Chan Gailey said, referring to his defensive coordinator. "Even if it's not your good day, you can't give up the big plays. They may have some creases here and there. But you've got to make sure you keep pushing and don't give up the big play."
After suffering a fractured tibia during the 2010 season, followed by having major knee surgery last year; I believe it's safe to say that the Jets have seen the very best of little Jim Leonhard who's now 29 years old.