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Back to his position roots

He's moving home … as if he's not already close enough. Orchard Park native Jon Corto will once again have an opportunity to prove himself at his original position.

After being signed to the Buffalo Bills practice squad in early 2008 as a safety out of Sacred Heart, Corto was moved to the linebacker position. For his first two NFL seasons that was his assigned position, in addition to a primary role on special teams.

The Bills' brass, however, determined it would be a smart move to drop the 6-1, 220-pounder further into the secondary in new defensive coordinator George Edwards' 3-4 scheme. So, coinciding with a number change from 57 to 33, Corto will again test out the safety position.

Having experienced it before, there won't exactly be a long adjustment period. The biggest obstacle, he contends, will be changing his method of pursuit, guarding against both the run and the pass.

"Obviously, it's not my first time back there," Corto said following the Bills' second rookie minicamp practice Friday afternoon. "And like I said, I'm a good size for a safety. I'm speedy enough to be a safety. I have those skills.

"I think just getting acclimated to being in more of a backpedal than just a lateral run. Just gauging the speed of the receivers now and learning when to turn your hips and go. Learning those things, I felt better as the day went on. It's something I'll feel more and more comfortable with as we progress here."

That's not saying his skills weren't sufficient at linebacker. While he's only started one career game, Corto provided a viable option in a backup role, racking up 32 career tackles. One role that won't change is the one on special teams for new coordinator Bruce DeHaven, which is exactly where he projects to find himself in the coming season.

Regarding his responsibilities in that respect, Corto is excited to get started.

"You know, it's just picking up where we left off," he said. "We have a big tradition here, and we take a lot of pride in our special teams."

The next logical question for the coaching staff to ponder is whether he fits the new 3-4 scheme better as a strong or a free safety. But, given the versatility he's shown in moving up closer to the line of scrimmage, he believes he could fulfill either role quite nicely.

"I see myself as a strong safety, but safeties are interchangeable," Corto said. "However, strong safety is down a little more in the mix of run support, which is what I'm used to. I can cover and I can also come up and play against the run game."

Luckily for him, players with fewer than three years of experience had the luxury of attending the rookie minicamp this past weekend. There, a host of newcomers, draft picks and other youngsters are afforded the opportunity to learn the new offensive and defensive schemes to be instilled by the new coaching staff.

Not only that, but Corto was able to brush up on some skills ahead of schedule in preparation for a quickly approaching training camp. And for him, that just means some extra time and repetitions while getting acclimated to the change.

"It's always good to know the defense as well as you can," said Corto "That's going to give you your best shot there, and that's how you get better. You practice out in the field. You get the reps, and here I'm getting a lot of them. That helps tremendously.

"You start getting comfortable, start making all the calls when it's going out there and you start seeing motions. You know what you've got to study if you don't know a particular (play). When the action's going, and the bullets are flying, you've got to be quick with the receivers."

And then there's the number change. Simply stated, a safety cannot wear a linebacker's number. But given a tendency for superstition regarding numbers and the like in all professional sports across the board, there's an underlying reason for wearing No. 33.

"I like the number 33," Corto said. "First off, Larry Bird was 33, and three and three put side-by-side is eight, which (on its side) is the infinity symbol. For me, that just means infinite possibilities. The more I kept thinking about it and started making it my own, I thought about all the things it correlated to. And that was cool."

As the minicamp draws to a close, Corto is well aware of the competition for his position in the months ahead. He respects it, but he's anxious to get things underway.

"We've got a lot of great players in the secondary," he said. "Obviously, this is the NFL. The competition is always at the top. We'll see where this takes us."

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