The Post-Journal

Conlan Having Pro Bowl Year

ORCHARD PARK -- Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett grab the most quarterbacks and, consequently, the most headlines on the Buffalo Bills' defensive unit these days.

That isn't news.

But there's an inside linebacker who is playing just as impressively in his own right.

"When you've got an athlete like Shane Conlan who can run as well as he can, he's going to make a lot of plays and do a lot of things," said Ray Bentley, the Bills' other starting inside linebacker.

The statistics prove Bentley's point.

Through 10 games, Conlan, last year's consensus Defensive Rookie of the Year, leads the team in tackles with 69, three more than Bennett. He also has 11/2 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

"I think my overall game is a lot better," Conlan said after a workout Thursday afternoon in preparation for Monday night's game at Miami. "I think the difference between this year and last year is the tackles. But we've only been playing... 45 plays for the defense. You're not going to have the big 10, 12, 15 tackles when there's only 45 plays."

But Conlan, who led the Bills in tackles last season with 114, has been making his chances count, according to Defensive Coordinator Walt Corey.

"If you look, you'll probably see great plays out of him every game," he said.

Last Sunday was an example.

Twice Conlan made big league hits, the first coming on Seattle running back Curt Warner in the second quarter.

"They ran a sweep and there were three big guys in front like a wall," Bentley recalled. "I thought, "Oh, no, here we go." And all of a sudden they didn't take Shane from the backside, he slipped through a crack and nailed (Warner) for a gain of one. That was a veteran, savvy play that showed he's come a long way."

The second shot came in the third quarter on rookie wide receiver Brian Blades, who was leveled by Conlan as he attempted to pull down a high pass from quarterback Kelly Stouffer. Conlan's five-tackle performance was impressive enough so that he was named the Player of the Game after a vote by the Bills' coaching staff.

"I think that one with Blades was probably my hardest hit (of the season)," said Conlan, whose shot to stardom has been rapid, despite a position change midway through last season.

"Last year was a whole new learning experience for him," Corey said. "Now, he's been playing (inside) quite a bit. Last year, he relied on some of the other players like Ray (Bentley) and Scott (Radecic) to give him tips. Next year, he'll really be something."

In the eyes of his teammates, Conlan is already in peak form. Ask nose tackle Fred Smerlas, who affectionately calls Conlan "Hammer" because of the Frewsburg native's large head.

"He likes to drive that big, giant helmet around and stick it into anything he can find," Smerlas said. "He'll hit you, he'll hit them and he'll hit the referee."

Only the latter appears safe.

"Shane is such a bring-your-lunch-bucket-to-work guy, who goes to work and doesn't say much," Coach Marv Levy said. "What he does, he does quietly makes a lot of tackles, gets up, lines up and gets ready for the next one. It's a funny thing to say about a guy everybody acknowledges is a good football player. He's underrated. Shane Conlan is underrated."

"I don't care if I get the big media attention like Bruce or Biscuit (Bennett), Conlan said. "That's OK as long as the other team respects me. I think they know what kind of player I am."

They most certainly do. After last season, Conlan was an alternate to the Pro Bowl. Smerlas, somewhat of an authority on Pro Bowls, having played in four himself, believes Conlan belongs there.

"I think so and I think most people in the league think so," Smerlas said. "He gets to the plays, even if he takes the wrong step, he'll be in on the play."

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