Wednesday's injury report for the Bills painted a less than promising picture for the team's starting defensive backfield for Sunday's game in Miami. With Leodis McKelvin (cracked fibula), Bryan Scott (ankle) and Donte Whitner (thumb surgery) all nursing serious injuries there's a very good chance that Buffalo will be down three quarters of its starting secondary this weekend.
"It's a challenge, there's no doubt about that," said head coach Dick Jauron. "There's nothing we can do about it except take the next step, see what happens, see how the health is on Sunday and accept the fact that everybody in the league has injuries and somehow you've got to get through them and play through them. We've certainly had our share."
McKelvin is a lock to miss Sunday's game after suffering a cracked fibula in his leg. Jauron said Whitner's thumb surgery went well, but to put that thumb in harm's way less than a week after surgery is unlikely at best. Meanwhile Scott has a high ankle sprain, which in most cases takes anywhere from 3-6 weeks to heal.
The good news is the Dolphins are one of the least successful big play passing teams in the league right now. Dead last in the league in yards per completion at just 8.28 yards, Buffalo doesn't have to be overly concerned about getting victimized by streaking receivers. And with Chad Henne making his first career start for Miami Sunday he's unlikely to be dialing up long passes as the offensive staff will probably stick with high percentage passes to try to keep the chains moving.
What they do need to be concerned with is the physical nature of Miami's offensive game. A smash mouth offense in every sense of the word, the Dolphins pound out yards on the ground using their Wildcat or spread option.
Whitner and Scott are two of Buffalo's most physical safeties when it comes to defending the run, so that is where their loss might be felt most.
"It's a major concern," said Jauron of Miami's ground attack. "They're third in the league in running the football. They're really effective at it and they do an outstanding job. It's not the best situation for us and we've got to have faith and we do have faith in those guys that will play. It's a huge challenge and it's not going to be an easy one."
George Wilson and rookie Jairus Byrd will be the men who step in at strong and free safety respectively. Wilson has seen more time at free safety in the times he's been called upon for defensive duty, but Jauron is confident Wilson can get the job done.
As for Byrd the rookie remains confident and his teammates believe he will succeed as well.
"Jairus has been a sponge in our defense," said Wilson. "He's just trying to learn and ask questions and I know he's looking forward to this opportunity."
"I'm excited. It's why you play the game. You want to start and you want to contribute and this is the beginning," said Byrd. "We have some veterans back there and they can help me along with the linebackers. Injuries happen. It's part of the game and so you've got to be ready and I'm going to make sure I am. As long as every guy does his job we should be fine."
Still one other option at safety is rookie Nic Harris. Since he was drafted he's been making the transition to linebacker, but on Wednesday he was lined up at his old college position taking reps behind Wilson. Should Wilson also suffer an injury this week, Harris is the next option.
"You don't know what's going to happen in a game. It is in case of an emergency," said Jauron. "He's played there so he seemed like the best bet at this point in case something else occurs."
"It was the first day I practiced as a safety since the National Championship game in January," said Harris. "It was great getting my feet wet back there again. I feel at home. It's kind of like a jump shot, you never lose it."
On the corner veteran Drayton Florence will step in for McKelvin. Cornerback is a position where the Bills have been caught short handed due to injury in the past, which is why Jauron made signing the veteran Florence this past offseason.
"This is why we got Drayton," said Jauron. "We really liked him as a free agent, what he brings to us. He's got a great attitude. He works hard. He's had his second full week now with no limitations on him so we're really glad we have him."
"He's definitely a veteran in our room and brings a lot of leadership to the table," said Wilson. "Now he'll go out there and take advantage of the opportunity he's got."
All in all Buffalo's reinforcements believe they can take up for the defensive backs that have gone down all at once just three games into the season. They're putting in the extra work now so come Sunday they can play loose.
"I'm sure we will get out there this week and fly around," said Wilson. "The main thing is having the right mindset and right attitude. Don't be concerned about making a mistake. You're not going to play the perfect game. Just go out, play hard, have fun and take on any adversity that comes our way."