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PITTSFORD - It'll be a feel-good story no matter who wins the Buffalo Bills' backup middle linebacker job.
That's because both candidates - second-year pros Chris White and Scott McKillop - are fighting to come back from serious knee injuries.
White's recovery has been ahead of schedule. He tore the ACL in his right knee during a loss to the Dallas Cowboys in November of his rookie year, then had surgery a week later. That puts him just eight months into his rehabilitation for an injury that can take a year to be fully recovered from.
"I'm feeling good. My confidence is getting back," White said. "It takes a long time, but I'm definitely feeling a lot better."
White did his rehab at home in Biloxi, Miss. under the direction of physical therapist Teresa Smith.
"We worked it out hard," White said.
McKillop's rehab has been a considerably different process. He says he's finally recovered from a devastating left knee injury that occurred almost exactly two years ago.
"I said 100 percent last year and sometimes players fib a little bit when it comes to that, but I'm 100 percent finally and it's a big hurdle that I finally cleared for myself," he said.
McKillop suffered a torn petallar tendon and torn ACL in his left knee during a training camp practice with the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 4, 2010, preparing for what would have been his second year in the NFL.
He admittedly tried to come back too soon from the injury, which required two surgeries, and was waived by the 49ers last August.
He spent the rest of last year rehabbing, and picked the Bills over other interested teams as a free agent.
"It was a calculated risk that I made and things didn't work out," he said about coming back too quickly from surgery, "but I'm here now and I'm blessed. I couldn't ask for anything more."
In signing with Buffalo, McKillop reunited with his college head coach, Dave Wannstedt, now the Bills' defensive coordinator.
"You always like to be familiar, but [Wannstedt] stressed to me there's no favorites here. The best player's going to play," McKillop said. "Whoever can provide the most depth, whoever's the most versatile with special teams, anything."
That's where McKillop made his mark as a rookie in 2009 with San Francisco. He led the 49ers in special teams tackles, excelling as the "gunner," the player who races down the field first to cover kickoffs and punts.
"Coach [Chan] Gailey and all the coaches are stressing how important special teams are," McKillop said. "I'm glad they're placing a great emphasis on it, because you can win or lose a game on it on a couple plays."
In switching to a 4-3 defense under Wannstedt, the Bills likely won't keep as many linebackers on the final 53-man roster as they have the past couple seasons (plus some players who were outside linebackers last year are now listed as defensive ends in the new scheme).
White and McKillop are rotating with the second unit behind starter Kelvin Sheppard at the middle linebacker - or "mike" - position.
"The OTAs and stuff, I couldn't practice. It's hard to watch my teammates," White said. "I'm definitely having fun, trying to make the best out of every moment."
The switch to the 4-3 is a return to the scheme White played at Mississippi State, which has helped with the transition.
"That's a good fit for me," he said. "I'm definitely comfortable."
McKillop played in a 3-4 with the 49ers, but said for him, it's not as much about scheme as it is "knocking the rust off" and getting back into the flow of football.
The same, of course, is true for White, and the player who is able to do that better over the next month will likely have a happy ending to his comeback story.
PITTSFORD - It...
There is a guy I am most curious about for the NFL. He is the fasted LB I have ever seen at State. The NFL love speed, so I figure he'll do good. He didn't blow up the combine with this speed. He was shockingly slow like Dex McCluster - but both of them no doubt have "football speed".
I don't remember what kind of size he has. Anybody remember? Seems like prototypical size is almost always an issue in the NFL.
So many times it looked like the opposition had a change to break a play for a big gain, but then I'd see #50 chasing and I could relax. 50's closing speed was phenomenal.
I am hearing Matt Wells might be that guy in the future. Heard he has been showing out with his speed lately.
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