Chris Kelsay has heard the critics. Now he's hearing the footsteps.
The Bills hard-working-but-sack-challenged veteran defensive end has collected a mere 4.5 sacks in the two seasons since signing a four-year, $23 million contract. He has just 17 sacks in his six-year NFL career, an average of fewer than 3.0 per season.
That inability to get to the quarterback and complement No. 1 pass rusher Aaron Schobel was the big reason the Bills used their first pick in April's draft on Penn State star Aaron Maybin. Buffalo had just 24 sacks last season, fifth-fewest in the league.
Kelsay finds himself fighting for not just his starting job but his roster spot as the Bills get set to open training camp on July 25 in Rochester, N.Y.
While all eyes will be on Maybin, the new kid on the block, the blue-collar Kelsay is ready to roll up his sleeves and quietly get back to work.
"It'll play out however it plays out," Kelsay said during spring drills. "Just give it your all and do everything to the best of your ability. That's all you can control anyway."
Kelsay, who has averaged 82 tackles the past three seasons, had a chance to silence those critical of his lack of sacks last season after Schobel went down in Week 5 with a foot injury. Kelsay wound up with just two sacks for the season and seven pressures.
He said it's reasonable that fans would want more out of him giving his big contract and status as a second-round draft pick back in 2003. But sacks aren't the be all and end all when it comes to playing football, he noted.
"There is more to being a defensive end in the National Football League than sacks," Kelsay said. "Schobel's a sack guy and even he says that. But at the same time, sacks are very important because a lot of times they change momentum and cause turnovers. And at the defensive end position, a lot of emphasis is on us getting to the quarterback."
The Bills reportedly had Kelsay on the trading block this offseason. Knowing he's hit a crossroads, Kelsay worked hard with new line coach Bob Sanders on his rush technique and adding new moves.
Sanders developed some of the best pass rushers in the game and Kelsay is eager to show what he's learned so far.
"I'm not satisfied personally with my sack numbers," he said. "Just because I've said in the past that I'm not a sack guy doesn't mean I'm not working to become one. I definitely believe I can increase my production there, and I need to increase production there."
CAMP CALENDAR: Camp opens Saturday, July 25 at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., and breaks on Wednesday, Aug. 19. Team will be away Aug. 7-9 to take part in Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for owner Ralph Wilson in Canton, Ohio and play the Tennessee Titans in Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 9.