Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We'll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 27th and the Sept. 10th opener at New Era Field against the New York Jets.
With the Buffalo Bills set to report to training camp on July 27th, there are plenty of position competitions to keep an eye on. One in particular will be the battle for the nickel cornerback. With NFL defenses in subpackages almost two-thirds of the time, the position is a critical one in Buffalo's lineup.
Looking at Buffalo's cornerback depth chart, it's a good bet to believe that third-year player, Ronald Darby, and 2017 first-round pick, Tre'Davious White, will be the two starters outside at the position. New head coach, Sean McDermott, however, has made it clear that no starting job will be given and that everything must be earned.
If Darby and White prove to be the starters outside, it's highly likely that Bills CB Kevon Seymour will garner heavy consideration for the nickel position. Seymour was the Bills sixth-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft and he carved out a role for himself last season. Throughout his rookie season, the cornerback played in 15 games while making 22 tackles and also had three pass deflections.
It's important that while Seymour made an impact during his rookie year, it was under former head coach Rex Ryan's scheme. With Sean McDermott bringing in different schemes and ideologies things might be different for the young prospect and he understands that.
"The concepts are similar, but it is a little different as far as technique," Seymour said of Buffalo's new defense. "They want you to read the quarterback, so you've got to have a bit more zone eyes in our coverages. So I'm getting used to that. Last year we ran zone and ran man, but I've just got to get used to having more zone eyes. Get to my drop and then breaking on the quarterback more rather than getting into my plant and drive."
Another cornerback that figures to be in the mix is Leonard Johnson, formerly of the Carolina Panthers in 2016. Since going undrafted in 2012, Johnson has been a journeyman in the NFL. But, having played with the Panthers in 2016, he comes with experience in Sean McDermott's scheme. That provides value that some of the other candidates do not possess.
"The thing that I love about Leonard is how tough he is. He's like a little Tyson in terms of just the way he approaches the game and he gives us an edge on defense, which is important," said McDermott. "His familiarity with the system certainly helps in terms of his comfort level, and then also helping teach the players around him at times when coaches aren't around – or on the field, to correct within a drive, that's important, that ability to do that.
"I remember the thing that sticks out about Leonard was last year, his first game that he played for us, he had a sack or two and you saw the energy and the juice, the toughness – there's no substitute for that mental and physical toughness that he brings to the table."
With training camp less than two weeks away, the nickel cornerback will be a competition to follow. Both players have time in the league under their belt, and though their performance will mean the most in what looks like a two-man competition, it could prove to be one of the toughest calls for the defensive staff.