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McGee an underrated presence in Bills' secondary

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McGee likely questionable for Sunday vs Chargers (buffalobills.com)

"He's too short."  "He's no Antoine Winfield or Nate Clements."  "He doesn't match up well with great wide receivers."  "He's not a number one cornerback."

These are all criticisms that Buffalo Bills cornerback Terrence McGee has played with in his three seasons as a starter in Buffalo, specifically the last two as the team's top cornerback.  Most of them are open to interpretation and opinion; it's likely that every Bills fan reading this believes one or more of those statements to be true.

But we've seen first-hand what McGee's absence can mean for this Bills defense.  Cardinals QB Kurt Warner had a field day picking apart the Bills' secondary sans McGee.  You may not like him; you may think he's one of the team's best defenders.  No matter the opinion, one thing is hard to debate: McGee is Buffalo's best defensive back, and is a model of consistency.

Measurables and Production
Most of the problems that Bills fans have with McGee and his status as the team's top cornerback is the fact that he stands just 5'9" and weighs in at 198 pounds.  He's also been top dog in a Bills passing defense that - let's face it - hasn't been too good over the past three seasons.  But to blame McGee for this production, specifically for his physical shortcomings, is a mistake.

McGee is, quite simply, Buffalo's most consistent defensive performer.  Drafted in the fourth round in 2004 out of Northwestern State, McGee was the team's nickel back by 2004 and is now in his fifth season (of six in the league) as a major contributor in the defensive backfield.  He's missed just 4 of 69 Bills games during that tenure, and his statistical output has been remarkably efficient.  He's registered between 73 and 78 tackles in each of the last three seasons.  His career high is 92.  He's registered 15 career interceptions, 3 sacks, and has scored defensive touchdowns three times in his career.

What's even more impressive is the 67 pass break-ups he's registered in the five years he's seen the most playing time.  That's roughly one break-up per game; that's tough to do in the NFL.  Consider, for example, that over 147 games of Champ Bailey's career, he's registered 154 pass break-ups.  Chalk McGee's success up to his technique, which he's perfected within the last two seasons; McGee is one of the most technically sound cornerbacks to play in Buffalo in quite some time.  His footwork is often a thing of beauty.

Work load and toughness
McGee's consistency is remarkable within itself; it's even more impressive considering the fact that the Bills, up until early in the 2008 season, ran their best cornerback into the ground.  No longer the team's top kick returner, McGee can now focus solely on defense; that wasn't true as little as a month ago.

The toughness of McGee is perhaps his most underrated characteristic.  McGee has dogged it for two years, pulling double duty as the team's shut-down corner and one of the NFL's most dangerous kick returners.  That's easy to do at the outset of a career when you're the nickel back; it's more difficult to pull off when you're the top corner, even if you're in your prime.  As a result, McGee has been dinged up for most of the past three seasons; still, he's only missed 3 games in 3 seasons.  He's tough as tripe.

Keeping it recent
McGee missed the Bills' 41-17 loss to Arizona in Week 5, and - perhaps not as a direct result, but it certainly didn't hurt - Warner completed 78 percent of his passes in the rout.  Prior to that loss, Buffalo's pass defense had been mostly terrific in a 4-0 start, and McGee - with 12 tackles, 5 pass break-ups and two interceptions - had been leading the charge.

At Monday's practice, McGee was on the sideline as he continues to nurse his dinged left knee back to health.  He's likely to be listed as questionable, and there's a strong feeling among the team that McGee will fight through yet another injury to take the field against the potent aerial attack of the San Diego Chargers.  Considering his abilities and the fact that rookie cornerback Leodis McKelvin was torched by Warner in Arizona, it's quite clear that Buffalo needs its most consistent and most underrated defender back as soon as possible.