It was a hotly contested position last summer and the situation figures to be no different later this month at St. John Fisher. On a roster blessed with cornerback depth, Buffalo's coaching staff will have a good dilemma when it comes to deciding the player best fit for the team's nickel corner role.
"It's good to have depth at that position," said defensive backs coach George Catavolos. "Last year, we went through three."
Ashton Youboty won the nickel corner job after a strong preseason last year, but was lost for the season after just five games due to plantar fasciitis in both feet, which required surgery.
Not feeling completely comfortable playing rookies Leodis McKelvin or Reggie Corner so early in the season, the defensive staff began putting Donte Whitner on the slot receiver in nickel packages.
Whitner would shift back and forth between safety and nickel corner until he suffered a shoulder injury and missed time as well. Enter Reggie Corner. The former fourth-round pick saw extensive playing time in the nickel role over the final quarter of the season and performed admirably.
With Youboty, Whitner, Corner and veteran free agent Drayton Florence all with time on the job, Catavolos likes that he has options.
"It's a tough position because it's demanding," Catavolos said. "There's some line backer assignments as well as corner assignments. We have four individuals that have experience in playing that position so hopefully we can be more productive there."
Whitner is not expected to be part of the competition for the job as his focus will be more on safety. Corner, Florence and Youboty will be the ones battling for the position, and with no true incumbent the competition will be wide open.
Most impressive in the spring camps was Corner. The Akron product has made a noticeable jump in his play from year one to year two. His improved anticipation led to more plays on the ball including a handful of interceptions during OTAs and minicamp. Entering training camp he's considered the frontrunner.
"You learn the system more, get more experience and you feel a lot better on the field and you're not thinking as much," said Corner. "So definitely it's going to be a better year for me I feel."
"He really was amazing out there," said Terrence McGee. "You kind of look forward to see how he's going to do during the season and hopefully he can make the same plays."
Bills head coach Dick Jauron couldn't help but notice Corner's play in the spring, but isn't ready to play favorites before the pads go on.
"When you watch a game, you can see players that look like they want to get there and make the play and he's one of those players," said Jauron of Corner. "He wants to make the play and he's going to try to make every play. He's a year advanced in our scheme, so he's more comfortable in that regard, too. We have a lot of confidence in him, but it's a very competitive spot."
Youboty is still a viable candidate for the job, but his offseason work was severely limited as he participated fully in just four practices all spring. Still recovering from plantar fasciitis Youboty intends to hit the ground running come training camp.
"That's my plan," said Youboty. "Once we get to camp I'll be in shape and there are no worries about taking a step back. I've just got to get out there and make plays and prove I can be a starter out there. That's my goal to be a starter, but nickel back is cool too. We've got a lot of decent corners, guys making plays and they'll put the best guys out there."
"It's just getting back into the swing of things," said Catavolos of Youboty. "It will take some time in there, but again, when you're out there on the football field playing a certain technique on defense we expect him to do well."
The newcomer to the competition is Drayton Florence. The seven-year vet had to spend the spring getting acclimated to Buffalo's defensive terminology and the players around him in the secondary, but he's been around the block a few times.
"He has experience, he studies the game, studies plays, and uses his past as an advantage," Catavolos said.
Florence made some plays here and there in the spring, but with a better grasp of the defensive scheme entering camp the veteran corner should prove to be a legitimate contender for the job.
The battle for the nickel corner role figures to be one of the more intense in training camp, but the candidates to a man are more focused on pushing each other than they are on who will land the job.
"Everybody's in competition with everybody," said Florence. "As long as everybody's got the same attitude as far as coming out here and winning, it really doesn't matter (who gets the position)."
"Every play counts in that DB room," said Corner. "We're all competitors and we're all competing against each other. At the same time it's to motivate one another to get better."
"I think the coaches have the challenge," said Youboty. "We'll have guys out here making plays every day. They have to make the decision who they think can do that consistently. I have no worries, just come out here and do my best and make plays. We all know at the end of the day we don't make the decisions so we root for each other."