Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We'll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 30 and the Sept. 13 opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium against Indianapolis.
Corey Graham is approaching his ninth season in the NFL. He'll turn 30 years old a few days before training camp. So the words must be music to his ears.
"Corey Graham is a fit on this defense."
That's what Bills Defensive Coordinator Dennis Thurman said during the offseason, when he was asked where Graham figures in Buffalo's plan. The reason Graham's fit is debated is because of his versatility, and the Bills need for an experienced starting safety.
Late in May, Graham was switched from his cornerback position, where he made eight starts for the Bills last year, to safety. The departure of free agent Da'Norris Searcy, the second Bills safety to leave in two seasons, left an opening in the starting lineup and Graham was tapped for the spot.
"We've been talking about all offseason so it's nothing new," Graham said two months ago. "Yesterday we pretty much made a decision that I was going to focus on it a little bit. So I'm preparing myself for training camp so I'll be ready. I'll learn as much as I possibly can and we'll see how it goes."
Graham started one game at safety for the Bills in 2014, the New England game in October. He got the bulk of his work in the starting lineup at corner, when Leodis McKelvin went out with an ankle injury in Week 10.
Graham spent his first five years in the league in Chicago, excelling as a special teams coverage man. He moved to Baltimore as a free agent for three years, and got a chance to play more cornerback there. When the Bills signed him as a free agent in the 2014 offseason, the thinking was the Buffalo native would shore up the coverage units on special teams, and see some spot duty at corner. That all changed when McKelvin went out.
Graham got high grades from the analytics experts at Pro Football Focus. He was graded the Bills best defensive back, and was rated the 8th best corner in the league. He came up with two interceptions, one against his former Bears team in the opener, the second against Peyton Manning in Denver in December.
But even with his success, Graham is up for the challenge of a position switch. And he's already tuned in to the major differences between playing corner and safety.
""It's totally different. It's nothing like corner," Graham says. "To me corner is totally different. You're in press (man) a lot of times. You're on an island. Safety you've got to take better angles. You're in the run fits a lot. You've got to help out and stay in the middle of the field. You've got to be disciplined. You've got to be smart and get everybody aligned. So it's a lot more thinking at safety, but corner is a lot harder to actually play."
It's not just different angles Graham will have to learn at safety. He's also getting a totally different look at the field from the back end.
"It's not just really about what you're doing. You have to pay attention to what everybody else is doing," he says. "You have to get everybody lined up. You have to think about what's going to happen if one guy motions because it could change the whole defense. Corner you're just pretty much in man. It's totally different. It's a lot more thinking, studying, preparing and anticipating, but you can make a lot of plays if you know what you're doing."
That's likely the number one reason the Bills are comfortable asking Graham to make the switch. After eight years, he knows what he's doing on defense.
"Corey is a guy that is a rare talent," Head Coach Rex Ryan says. "A guy that obviously as a veteran player, he's seen a lot of huddles broken in his day. He's very valuable to us as a corner and at nickel. Could he play safety? I believe he could. You try to get your best 11 players on the field and I think Corey is a tremendous player. It wouldn't surprise me if he has the talent to do that as well."