When the Bills report for camp at the end of the month, the nickel corner position will be under the microscope all over again.
The Bills cornerback slot positions are both likely already slotted for Vontae Davis and Tre’Davious White. But with no clear answer for the nickel position, a couple players new to One Bills Drive will be competing to make the starting roster.
One guy who will be under consideration for the spot is entering his rookie season after the Bills took him in the fourth round of the 2018 Draft. Taron Johnson comes to the Bills out of Weber State, and he prides himself on being a versatile option for the team.
“I played basically wherever they needed me,” said Johnson of his collegiate career. “Most of the time I followed the opponent’s best receiver whether he lined up in the slot or outside. I manned up on him if he went inside or outside. I basically did what the coaches asked of me. I feel like I can be a great nickel or outside corner.”
It was at the Senior Bowl where Johnson’ abilities were on display. His ability to hang with some of the best in the FBS convinced the Bills he’d be a worthwhile option in the draft.
The other name to keep a watchful eye on is Phillip Gaines. Entering his fifth year in the NFL, Gaines has only known a Kansas City Chiefs’ defense. Now, the 27-year-old will have the opportunity to up his game in Western New York.
One of the main reasons Gaines can make an impact in Buffalo compared to what happened in Kansas City is the Gaines may not have been used correctly. His style of play is more likely to be effective if he is using a zone coverage compared to a man coverage. That is making Gaines feel like Buffalo could be the place where he could fit in well.
“It’s just two totally different defenses,” said Gaines. “Kansas City was a lot of man. This one is a lot more eyes on the ball, so there are more opportunities out there. Instead of the pass breakup, you can get an interception. With their defensive philosophy of having eyes on the ball and attacking the ball it’s different in that aspect.”
Still, both players plan on making it work wherever the coaching staff decides to place them, but no matter what they are going to be a piece of dangerous defensive backfield. Whether that means in the nickel spot, or as the next man up, both players have something to prove.
“You just focus on what you can do,” said Gaines. “You never really want to look at what this person or that person is doing. You just put your best out there and whatever happens, happens. You can’t go into the situation worrying about someone else. You just take care of yourself and let the chips fall where they may.”
Gaines offers NFL experience and a longer frame, while Johnson appears to have the edge in short area quickness and athleticism. It figures to be one of the better battles of training camp.