PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) -Three weeks into cornerback Leodis McKelvin's first NFL training camp, the Buffalo Bills' first-round pick has experienced the familiar waves of highs and lows that come with competing for a starting job.
High point: Reading quarterback J.P. Losman's eyes during practice, McKelvin perfectly timed his burst to intercept a pass and return it up the left sideline as his teammates cheered.
Low point: A few days earlier, with his teammates and reporters within earshot, McKelvin was chewed out by defensive coordinator Perry Fewell in a profanity-laced tirade for not knowing what play was called during a 7-on-7 drill.
``Did I tell him to go to the freaking huddle?'' Fewell asked with a laugh on Tuesday, when reminded of what had happened. ``Every now and then, I have to coach him up and get his sense of urgency going.''
For all McKelvin's electrifying speed and potential, the eleventh player and first defensive back selected in the draft is taking small steps in his development. The Troy University product is currently fourth on the Bills' depth chart, behind starters Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer, and veteran William James.
None of this, though, means that Fewell and the Bills are disappointed in McKelvin so far.
``He still has more improvement and a ways to go,'' Fewell said, noting McKelvin needs to work on his press coverage and learn to anticipate what receivers can do at the NFL level. ``But he is progressing very nicely for us.''
And it doesn't mean that McKelvin has failed to make an immediate impact in other areas, particularly special teams. The player who tied the NCAA Division I-A career record by returning eight kicks (seven punts and one kickoff) for touchdowns, is already showing a knack for making big plays at the NFL level.
After returning a punt for 45 yards and a kickoff for 37 in the Bills preseason-opener against Washington, McKelvin upped the ante by scoring on a 95-yard kickoff return to help seal a 24-21 win over Pittsburgh last week. Breaking up the middle, McKelvin got a key block from Darian Barnes and turned it up the right hashmarks, beating a diving defender and bursting past kicker Paul Ernster on his way to the end zone.
``It felt great, my first NFL touchdown. But it's preseason,'' said McKelvin, who was still kicking himself for not scoring one against Washington. ``Last week, they were telling me to trust my speed because I made a cutback when I didn't have to.''
If he keeps this up, McKelvin could displace McGee or Roscoe Parrish for one of the return jobs. That would be no small feat, considering McGee holds the franchise record with five career kickoff returns for touchdowns, while Parrish has returned two punts for touchdowns and, last year, led the NFL by averaging 16.3 yards per punt return.
``Yeah, we've got a good situation,'' special teams coordinator Bobby April said. ``Obviously, the kid's explosive. He makes a lot of plays. It can be hard to keep him from being in there.''
Both April and coach Dick Jauron, however, cautioned that's it too early to award the return job to McKelvin.
McKelvin is eager to win a return spot, but also mindful that the Bills didn't select him in the first round to merely play special teams.
``I'm just trying to give it my all,'' McKelvin said. ``I'm trying to win a starting job and trying to go out there and help the defense the best way I can.''
He's been in for about 70 plays during the first two preseason games and credited with five tackles. McKelvin was beaten only once against Washington, and was out of position to make a tackle against Pittsburgh.
Fewell remains patient with McKelvin, in part knowing that he doesn't have to rush the player into a starting position.
``That takes the pressure off of (McKelvin), and it takes the pressure off of us,'' Fewell said. ``He can go out there and play the game without feeling, `I've got to be the guy.'''
Not yet.
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