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George Wilson was asked this week whether he thinks back much on his days as a wide receiver.

"It's been so long ago. I do remember them, but I'd have to sit down and really think back, because I've been playing defense for so long," he said. "I was on the practice squad. I would look forward to coming in and practicing on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays because I could go against the best guys on our team."

These days, the roles are reversed. Wilson is the established veteran, a leader not just in the locker room but on the field.

"You can never understate what he means to your football team," coach Chan Gailey said. "He's such a great leader and he's become a really good player."

Time has somewhat numbed the magnitude of Wilson's switch. It's easy to forget he struggled to get a foothold in the NFL at receiver, bouncing between the practice squad and active roster between 2004-06, playing in just three games and failing to record a reception.

Since switching to safety prior to the 2007 season, he's made 41 starts and appeared in 64 games.

"It helped to shorten the learning curve," he said of his background as a receiver. "I could apply my offensive background and my offensive knowledge to the position. Being able to read wide receiver splits, read the body language of the wide receivers and tight ends when they're running their routes, the drop of the quarterback. ... All those things really helped to play a huge part in me being able to make some great strides and come into my own."

Wilson has certainly done that. For the first time this season, he was voted a defensive captain. It's the fifth consecutive year he's been a team captain, the previous four of which were on special teams.

"Any time your peers, your teammates, vote you into a leadership role, whether it's as team captain, or myself, Moorman and Kelsay being our reps , those positions come with a great deal of responsibility," Wilson said. "My mind-set going into that is just making sure I'm leading by example. I think far too often many people who are in a position of leadership do a lot of talking, but don't necessarily put the action behind the words.

"In order to be an effective leader, it has to be the other way around. Where you do it, then speak it. That way your words have merit."

And speak he does. The man they call "The Senator" for his oratory skills off the field is also vocal on it. He's consistently calling out instructions for his defensive teammates, trying to stay one step ahead of the offense.

"Once we break the huddle, I try to alert guys based on the down and distance, the formation and the personnel they have in. I try to digest all that information and figure out where they're going to try to attack us at," Wilson said. "That's when I try to yell different alerts out to different guys based on their position on the field. As far as making the huddle calls, I leave that up to the 'backers. I just try to reassure them that if they take care of the front seven, I'll take care of the back four."

That guidance is key in a secondary that starts two players with just three combined years of experience in Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore. Both young cornerbacks have leaned on Wilson for advice.

If fellow safety Jairus Byrd's playing time is limited Sunday - he's questionable because of an ankle injury - Wilson will have another young player next to him in second-year man Da'Norris Searcy. In that case, Searcy would play free safety, while Wilson would stay at his usual strong position.

"In our defense, both safeties are interchangeable," Wilson said. "It depends on what the offense gives us. They could give us some type of shift or motion that could change what position we're both in.

"Really, all of the safeties are knowledgeable enough in the defense to be able to handle any adjustment that the offense gives us."

The Bills' ability to have their safeties stay put and not shift based on the offense's movement allows them to better disguise their coverage.

"It depends on the scheme that we're playing. In some games, the free safety could be down in the box more than the strong safety depending on what formations or personnel groupings they're giving us," Wilson said. "You never know how you're going to have to align or if you're going to be back deep more or if you're going to be down in the box in more."

It's a good bet Wilson will be prepared either way. He's meticulous when it comes to film study, reviewing it sometimes an hour after the end of a game.

"You've never arrived or mastered everything you can in this game," he said. "You're always striving to get better at something."





email: jskurski@buffnews.com