The Post-Journal

Quiet Off-Season Makes Conlan A Happy Camper

Shane Conlan is a happy man these days - in body, mind and spirit.

The off-season distractions - namely questions about his health and contract disputes - that have followed him the last few years, like a pesky mosquito on a summer night, aren't a concern anymore.

"I'm happy with the situation now," the Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl inside linebacker said last week after a mini-camp workout at the Rich Stadium practice field.

And who wouldn't be?

He's currently in the first year of a contract extension that he signed prior to last season, he's bought a house in Orchard Park and he plans to be married next month.

"It's scary," he said with a laugh.

Opponents might be saying the same thing about Conlan this coming season.

"I've worked out more this off-season than I ever have," he said. "I'm up here (at Rich Stadium) a lot now. I bought a home up here and I've been coming in and working out and playing raquetball."

The extra conditioning has lowered Conlan's weight almost 10 pounds - he's down to 228 - but upon first glance he appears bigger than ever.

"I think I might play better (with the lighter weight)," he said. "I'll just experiment a little bit."

In the four years he's been in Buffalo, Conlan has been one of the cornerstones of a defense that features the likes of Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett. But early last year he admittedly struggled after missing the entire preseason because of a contract dispute. The holdout was a difficult one for Conlan, who was the subject of heavy criticism locally for his desire to be paid commensurate with Miami linebacker John Offerdahl.

Still, Conlan said he didn't let the fact that he was a "big fish" in an otherwise small pond bother him.

"I think people realize I'm just one of them, too," he said. "I've made it. It's not luck. I've been blessed with some gifts that other people don't have.

"I'm just going to play the same way I've been playing and hopefully just keep doing my best. I still don't think I've reached my top level yet. I think I'm getting there. My knowledge of the game has helped me a lot. I learned a lot last year where I could make some calls and do some things."

Conlan finished fifth on the team in tackles last year with 93, had one quarterback sack and made his third straight trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. He did all that despite not playing in obvious passing situations when the Bills went to their dime (six defensive backs/one linebacker) alignment. Talley was the one linebacker who remained on the field.

"Darryl has been playing real well," Conlan said. "Unless we go to a nickel or something happens to Darryl, I would think he would be the man unless he messes up, which I don't expect. Darryl's a great player."

Conlan acknowledged that the Bills' defense experienced an adjustment period when long-time nose tackle Fred Smerlas was left unprotected after the 1989 season.

"Not that Jeff Wright wasn't doing the same things, but Jeff's been learning, too," Conlan said. "Last year was his first year as a starter and he played extremely well. But it's just getting used to people. I think we have that chemistry now. Maybe we lacked it a little bit at the beginning, just because of different guys at different positions. I think we'll get it back this year."

Conlan said members of the Bills' defense, maligned in the Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants for their failure to stop the run, have already talked about making a return to "The Show."

"The disappointment is how we played defensively," he said. "That's the big thing. Obviously, we were happy to be there, but I think it could have worked out better for us defensively. We played probably one of our poorest games. We had some great play and we had some terrible plays.

We know how it is to get there. But in a couple of years nobody will remember we were even there. We want to go to win and, hopefully, this year we'll do it."

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