Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. This year we want your opinion on what the most likely answers to these questions will be. After reading each daily installment as the Bills get set for Year 1 under head coach Doug Marrone, go to the Bills daily fan poll leading up to report day at training camp and vote. You could be eligible to win tickets to night practice. Here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and the Sept. 8th home opener.
The energetic, competitive atmosphere at One Bills Drive has been well documented this offseason. Though they are a young group with limited experience, the Bills secondary seems to have benefited greatly from the charged atmosphere, having been one of the most exciting and competitive units. With Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin as the likely starting duo, one of the tightest competitions is taking place at nickel corner, and general manager Doug Whaley specifically pointed to three players who are in the mix for the spot.
"(Ron) Brooks and (Justin) Rogers, those guys are competing for the nickel role and then we've got some young guys coming in," Whaley told Buffalobills.com. "Nickell Robey for example."
Let's break down the primary contenders.
Ron BrooksAt 5'11" and 188 pounds, Brooks' size puts him on the small side for an outside corner but makes him an ideal candidate to operate from the slot. Though Brooks appeared in just seven games in 2012 with 162 snaps, the second-year defensive back out of LSU earned the majority of first-team reps in the nickel role through OTAs and mandatory mini-camp.
Brooks' solid play has impressed many, including (and most importantly) the boss, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who has praised his performance.
"I think we're very pleased with where we are with Ron Brooks," said Pettine. "He played a good amount of nickel for us."
Brooks has plenty of experience at the position. Working behind Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne at LSU, Brooks forged a role in the nickel position where he was very effective in coverage and as a zone blitzer. Brooks showed his ability to bring the heat back on the third day of OTAs when he picked up a sack on Kevin Kolb, who did not see the pressure coming until he was tapped for the sack.
With his experience at the nickel in an elite college defense and a year in the NFL under his belt, Brooks is a strong contender for the job.
Justin RogersSimilar to Brooks, Rogers stands at 5'11" and 181 pounds, making him a bit undersized for the boundary but ideal for an inside role. At 25, Rogers is one the oldest players in the secondary, and his 547 snaps in 2012 make him the most experienced corner after Gilmore and McKelvin.
Rogers has previously explained the differences between playing inside and outside, and expressed comfort in either role.
"It's two different mindsets," said Rogers. "In the slot it's quicker guys and they're off the line so you can't really get your hands on them and they've got a lot of space to operate with. On the outside you can take away more because they're on one side of the field and they can only work so far. I'm comfortable at both [positions]. I've worked at both so it's just knowing which one I'm playing and adjusting my mindset."
Rogers was the primary nickel corner in 2012, where he picked off a pass by Andrew Luck in a Week 12 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.
Rogers' experience could give him an edge in this competition, and he will surely not be content to give up the job that was his for 16 games last season.
Nickell RobeyUndrafted out of USC, Robey has shown some flashes of great talent during spring practices. At 5'8" and 165 pounds, Robey is undeniably small, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in attitude and determination.
"I feel like I play with a big chip on my shoulder," said Robey. "I come out here every day, listen to coach and be coachable and just do what I've got to do for the Buffalo Bills. That's the main objective, do what I've got to do for the team."
What a defensive back needs to do is make plays, and Robey has done just that in practice. Robey rivaled Aaron Williams for the interception lead. One of those picks came in a matchup with the much larger Chris Hogan (6'1" and 215 pounds), where the two went up for a pass and Robey won the fight for the ball.
Robey's early success stood out to Pettine.
"Nickell Robey has come in and done a real nice job," said Pettine. "You could tell he was very well coached at Southern California—he's made big plays in big games. I don't think it will be too big for him [to compete for the nickel corner role]."
Robey played both inside and outside at USC, so the position is not foreign to him, but he is still the least experienced of the three. Still, Robey has proven himself to be a quick-learner and an impressive talent, so he will definitely be a factor in this competition.
With the three contenders putting in solid work through spring practices, this competition will be contentious and definitely one to keep an eye on come training camp.