Changes in players, coaches and staff ignited Bills fans leading up to the season. Unfortunately change hasn't stopped for the Bills' secondary. Injuries have presented far more challenges than perhaps were expected this early in the season. Head coach Doug Marrone has chosen to highlight what it means for those who are still healthy.
"You want an opportunity to be a starter? Here it comes," Marrone said in reference to his reserve defensive backs.
The defensive staff has been forced to reach deep into their defensive back ranks as they try to plug holes left behind by injured players. They've even had to move personnel to new positions. Marrone said newer players will get more playing time while some experienced players will shift roles.
Safety Aaron Williams was forced to return to cornerback last week, and defensive back Jim Leonhard moved to Williams' position. That could prove to be the case again this week if Leodis McKelvin can't return from a hamstring injury suffered last Sunday. Marrone said the call to move Williams to corner was difficult.
"The way I look at the situation, is I think Aaron Williams was developing into a really, really good safety. A potential top tier type safety for us," Marrone said. "Moving him back to corner and watching him have to play. It's difficult for me because I don't think people realize that those two positions are very different."
Leonhard said changes like that will happen, but players are more ready for them now that they have lined up in those roles in practice this week.
"I've played long enough to know crazy things happen, and you only have so much depth," Leonhard said. "You kind of get into that mode of studying film a certain way, studying players a certain way. All of a sudden you go into duty and you just have to respond."
Williams said he's brushed up more on the position, but before Sunday, he hadn't played any snaps at cornerback outside a few in his personal routine. He said all that matters is making positive contributions.
"I enjoy being on the field. It really doesn't matter if it's safety, cornerback, nickel," he said. "It's the fact that they're asking me to do something and I'm not going to turn down a challenge. It's what the team needs and wants. I'll do my best at it."
The concern is whether new additions to the team are ready to play more snaps on defense. Marrone said this is the time to find out.
"This is a great opportunity. Players when they come out and they're new they're going to be targeted," he said. "That's the way the league is. It's been that way forever, so it's not anything new. But as you become targeted you also get an opportunity to show that you belong in this league."
New additions to the team like rookie safety Duke Williams and waiver claim cornerback Brandon Burton are expected to factor into a modified Buffalo defense this Sunday. They said they're ready to prove themselves, and are keenly aware that they'll be tested by Baltimore.
"There's always a bulls-eye on your back when playing D-B," Williams, a rookie out of Nevada, said. "You shouldn't let that affect you. That should be a challenge. You should be able to step up to that challenge. It's kind of exciting."
Marrone: Status for CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) is uncertain for Sunday. — Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) September 23, 2013
"That's something you have to embrace," Burton said. "We're a young secondary, so it's going to be tough. You just have to go out there and play."
For Burton and the rest of Buffalo's defensive backfield adjusting to all the changes has only served to bring the unit closer.
"It's actually made us a more tight-knit group," he said. "We've actually had to learn not only what we individually are supposed to do on the field, but what everybody does on the field just in case. It's made us tighter as a unit and much more focused on our work."