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Bills like cornerback depth

Posted Jun 25, 2013


Leodis McKelvin did not participate in the team portion of any spring practice coming off groin surgery and Aaron Williams is making a promising transition to safety. So where does that leave Buffalo’s situation at cornerback, especially out on the boundary? In just the right place as Buffalo’s brass sees it.

Bills GM Doug Whaley is confident the group will round into a reliable coverage contingent.

“First of all I think if you look at Gilmore and you’ve been around the practices this spring he’s made a leap from year one to year two. Anytime you see a rookie going into his second year make that transition and not have a sophomore slump and make improvement that’s always a positive,” said Whaley. “Leodis has been here and we’re expecting good things from him.”

Some might have a measure of concern knowing beyond McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore there is limited experience at cornerback. Third-year corner Justin Rogers is the most experienced after the projected starting duo as he had about half the snaps (547) that Gilmore (1,082) did in 2012 on defense as the primary nickel corner.

Beyond him Ron Brooks appeared in seven games, but had just 162 snaps on defense last season. Crezdon Butler, on the practice squad for most of last season, logged 17 defensive snaps. T.J. Heath was on the practice squad in 2012.

Whaley sees Rogers and Brooks, who are on the smaller side, fighting for the slot corner job more than he sees them competing on the boundary.
 
“Brooks and Rogers those guys are going to compete for that nickel role and then we’ve got some young guys coming in,” Whaley told Buffalobills.com. “Nickell Robey, for example.”

Robey certainly showed some flashes of ability and was competitive for the football rivaling Aaron Williams for the interception lead during spring practices. Despite being an undrafted rookie he had the opportunity to get reps with the starting defense in a few practices.

“Yes, I come out here and I want to show everybody that I’m worthy to play and be a Buffalo Bill and make the team. So I just strive every day to get to that point,” said Robey. “It’s good to play out there with the ones just to see where your skill level is and see how good you are and how good you fit in with the players and how you work with them.”

At 5’8” and 165 pounds however, Robey may also be best suited for an inside role as well.

When it comes to depth behind Gilmore and McKelvin, Buffalo is pulling for the aforementioned Butler and Heath. Both stand six-feet tall and have been on an NFL field before. Butler has appeared in 13 games over the past three seasons. Heath appeared in five as a rookie in 2011 with Jacksonville.

“I love this opportunity I’m getting with the new coaches coming in it’s like a start over for me with the new coaches,” said Butler.

Butler and Heath ran mainly with the second team defense in the spring. Behind them are undrafted rookies. Knowing how quickly a team can run short of corners due to the high-impact demands of the position which can lead to injury, it might create some concern for a defensive coordinator. That is not the case with Mike Pettine, thanks mainly to the work of his assistants.

 “I just think we’re pleased with where we are on the back end,” said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.  “I think (secondary coach) Donnie Henderson and (defensive assistant) Samson Brown have done a real nice job this spring with limited meeting time and limited field time to get those guys up to speed and into what we’re doing schematically.”

“I’m learning this scheme faster than I did last year,” said Butler, who likened some of Buffalo’s scheme to what he did in Pittsburgh earlier in his career. “It’s all in the reps so I’m glad I’m getting my reps.”   

The depth may not be overly experienced, but there is still another option to turn to should injury strike the starting lineup at cornerback. Aaron Williams is transitioning to safety, but could always move back outside if the situation called for it.

“Being there the last two years, I’m comfortable there,” said Williams of lining up at cornerback. “So whatever time coach needs a corner there I’m the first one to jump up. Just because I moved to safety doesn’t mean I can’t play corner.”

Still, less shuffling would be necessary in the event of injury if the Bills chose to add a veteran free agent. The problem is the market is a bit thin at this stage of the game. There are veterans available, but many are available for a reason. Either declining skills, an injury history or poor play from a season ago have them drifting out in the marketplace.

For now it appears Buffalo’s personnel department and coaching staff believe that giving more reps to the younger players on the way up is the most effective way to have depth at the ready should it be needed.

“I believe that when you have at least three or four guys (chances are) you’re going to need them,” said Whaley. “Hopefully you don’t need to use all four, but if you have four in the pipeline you have a good chance to compete especially in this division.”