Brandon his own man

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

Toronto sports fans may recognize him as the man bringing real, live NFL football to the Rogers Centre for the next five seasons.

Team owner Ralph Wilson has long pegged him as a rising star in Buffalo Bills management.

Tomorrow, Russ Brandon's life in football changes in profile and production. No longer is Brandon responsible only for expanding the appeal of one of the NFL's smallest of small-market franchises.

As the chief operating officer and effectively the team's general manager, it is Brandon who will make the final call each of the 10 times the team is on the clock at this weekend's NFL entry draft.

Marv Levy he is not. Nor is he Bill Polian or the late John Butler, football lifers whose innate eye for talent made the Bills regular playoff contenders.

But the big reason Brandon has a shot at succeeding is he isn't trying to be any of those men.

"We've always had a consensus-type atmosphere in the (draft) room," Brandon said at the team's recent pre-draft media briefing. "We sit and debate and we go through the process. And we make a decision that's in the best interest of the organization."

While Brandon has had his credentials questioned by some among impatient Bills fans, it's not as if he's just wandering over from the executive suite to the war room. He has been involved in the past several drafts, learning how to evaluate talent from the experts. And he isn't pretending to be someone he is not.

"I approach it like I've approached everything in my time here -- as a team concept," Brandon said. "We want debate, we want discussion, we want cohesiveness and that's what we'll have.

"Ultimately it will be my responsibility, but I'm looking forward to it."

Though he has learned and is continuing to learn the ins and outs of scouting, Brandon is bright enough to recognize the organizational strengths. In Tom Modrak, vice-president of college scouting, Brandon has a pure personnel man with the requisite football smarts.

Owner Wilson will chime in as will other scouts and coach Dick Jauron. If the past is any gauge, Brandon believes decisions will sort themselves out.

The future is not quite so gloomy as it has been in recent years for the Bills, despite missing the playoffs for eight seasons and counting, the longest run of ineptitude in team history.

Last year's draft, in particular, was good and in time may be seen as great. The first round (12th overall) yielded running back Marshawn Lynch, who showed enough as a rookie that he could be a stud at that position.

In the second, the Bills selected linebacker Paul Posluszny who started three games before being breaking an arm.

And in the third round, the team took a shot on quarterback Trent Edwards who by mid-season had bumped J.P. Losman, mercifully bringing his underachieving era as starter to an end.

Brandon didn't waste time making an imprint on his new role, either with an off-season that already has had some notable success. Grabbing lineman Marcus Stroud in a deal with Jacksonville and signing free agent linebacker Kawika Mitchell, ex of the Eagles, has helped shore up the defence.

As well, he has handled disgruntled Losman diplomatically, refusing to deal him. And now comes the spotlight of draft weekend starting with their first pick at the potentially awkward No. 11 spot.

If they are drafting for need, wide receiver is at the top of the list which is why Michigan State product Devin Thomas -- a 6-foot-2 physical player -- is getting much play in the world of mock drafts. The flaw in that speculation is that some experts feel Thomas isn't good enough to go that high and that the Bills would be better served to wait for their second pick to grab a receiver.

Proving that he already has learned the most significant GM skill, Brandon isn't tipping his hand.

"If you see what we've done the past few years, we've had plenty of guys come in and contribute early," Brandon said. "It's a day and age in pro football where kids need to come in and play young and we're hoping to have the success we've had over the past few years."


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