Head coach Sean McDermott loves position competition. When it comes to the starting job at right corner, McDermott will have a worthy contest during training camp. So, who's up for taking the spot? Levi Wallace who started at right corner last season is back, but that doesn't mean it's immediately his spot. E.J. Gaines also returns to the Bills. He knows the system, but can he remain healthy? Former Carolina Panther Josh Norman reunites with McDermott and a defense he knows, but can he prove he still belongs in a starting spot? Lots of questions, and lots of reasons to keep an eye on right corner during training camp.
One thing that can't be debated—due to the fact that left corner Tre'Davious White is so dang elite, that right corner spot is going to get a lot of action. Whoever earns the job needs to be capable of going up against some very talented receivers, as well as being thrown to the majority of the time.
I don't have the answer to who will earn the starting job, but here are some things that could determine who will be the starter at right corner come Week 1.
This season marks Levi Wallace's third year with the Bills. The corner worked extremely hard to earn the starting job last season. Wallace was on the practice squad before getting promoted to the roster. That opportunity turned into Wallace proving he was worthy of being a starter. The corner was passed on in the 2018 NFL Draft and walked-on at Alabama during his collegiate career. Wallace fits the DNA of the Bills due to his work ethic.
Wallace knows the defense, has a season and a half of game experience in the system and has chemistry with the team. This makes him a viable candidate for the job. Wallace is used to having many passes thrown his way due to playing opposite All-Pro corner Tre'Davious White last season. The right corner was up to the challenge and frankly did a pretty good job holding his own, especially for a player who entered the team as a practice squad member. Wallace had 67 total tackles, nine passes defended and two interceptions in 2019.
For Wallace to earn the starting spot, he needs to beat out Norman and Gaines. Wallace competed with former first-rounder Kevin Johnson last season, so he knows what it takes to win the job. The young right corner needs to prove he has advanced his skillset from last season. He also needs to show that he can control a heavy traffic area by shutting down receivers and creating turnovers.
Josh Norman is a recognizable face to some of the Bills coaching staff. Norman has ties to current Bills general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott from their time in Carolina. Norman was quick to sign with the Bills after he was released by Washington this offseason. Norman made a name for himself by playing his best football in McDermott's defense. After his four seasons with the Panthers from 2012 to 2015, Norman went on to the Washington Redskins where his game changed. The corner was not as productive with Washington as he was with Carolina.
If anyone can help Norman have a resurgence in his career it's McDermott and the defense that made him a star. With the Panthers, Norman racked up seven interceptions, 37 passes defended and 181 total tackles. The corner is entering his ninth season and has to prove he is still at the top of his game.
For Norman to earn the starting spot, he needs to beat out two younger corners in Wallace and Gaines. Norman needs his preexisting knowledge of McDermott's defense to come back quickly as Wallace and Gaines have played in the system more recently. Like Wallace, Norman needs to show he can cover a good amount of ground that will constantly be busy. The corner must quickly build chemistry with his defense, proving he can work in tandem with the rest of the secondary and linebackers.
E.J. Gaines is a familiar name for Bills fans. That's because Gaines was on the team in 2017 and competed for the right corner job last season, but couldn't lock it down due to injury. Unfortunately it wasn't his first NFL injury either, Gaines has dealt with a few during his five years in the league. Health is the most important factor in Gaines earning the job. If he's not healthy, his name won't be on the table.
There's a reason the Bills keep bringing Gaines back for an opportunity to earn a spot on the roster. Beane and McDermott believe he's a talented defensive player who has the ability to also play nickel. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier loves using his players all over the field. The more you can do in a defense that likes to confuse the hell out of an opposing offense, the better. In 2017, Gaines played in 11 games totaling nine passes defensed, one interception and 54 total tackles.
To earn the right corner starting spot, Gaines can't beat himself. He needs to enter training camp strong without the potential of getting hurt. Check that off the list, then he needs to beat out the former starter and someone who was a star in McDermott's defense. Not easy, but Gaines is on the roster because McDermott thinks he can compete for the spot. The corner also needs to prove he has grown his game even though he spent last year out of the NFL. Gaines will also quickly need to pick up the defense again, as well as proving he can survive a season where his side of the field will get plenty of use.