Buffalo's secondary has already had to undergo some shuffling in the first half of the season due to injury. But now the defensive back whose versatility has helped to fill the void for a lot of his injured teammates is the one on the shelf.
Donte Whitner suffered a separated shoulder in Sunday's loss to the Jets and is unlikely to play this weekend in a pivotal division contest at New England.
"Donte didn't finish the game," said head coach Dick Jauron. "That's a shoulder issue and we're going to kind of take that week to week as opposed to day to day. It was fairly significant so it's not the best news we got."
Whitner left the game in the middle of the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and tried to return, but quickly exited the game for good a short time later favoring his right shoulder.
"It's not what we want to hear," said Kawika Mitchell of Whitner's injury. "He's a valuable player on our team. He's one of our captains and he's extremely talented and this is his third year and it's the time when you come into your own. It's unfortunate, but hopefully we get him back before the year ends."
Strong safety has been Whitner's primary position, but over the past three weeks Whitner has manned the free safety spot in Buffalo's base defense package with veteran Bryan Scott at strong safety.
Whitner has also played slot corner in nickel packages in place of the injured Ashton Youboty, who has not played due to an undisclosed foot injury the past three games.
The Bills are used to losing starters after 17 players wound up on injured reserve last season, but losing an every down player and the defense's emotional leader won't be easy to overcome.
"Losing Donte for a few weeks is a huge blow to this defense, to this team because he's such a leader and a captain," said Bryan Scott. "But when one guy goes down somebody else has to step in and fill in. It's an opportunity for me to go out there and hopefully make something happen and try to help this team turn around and win games."
In all likelihood the Bills will be able to plug the hole in their base package with Scott at strong safety and Ko Simpson at free safety. Where it could get dicey is in the subpackages.
If Youboty's injured foot doesn't cooperate and he's not able to play this week, Buffalo's defensive backfield will have to press either top draft pick Leodis McKelvin or fellow rookie Reggie Corner into the nickel role.
"Ashton was better last week," said Jauron. "He practiced a couple of days and we'll see on Ashton this week."
And as much as the Bills have to press forward, playing without a teammate that plays upwards of 1,000 plays a season will be strange.
"Just even last week when he went down for those few plays it's a different feel when he's not in there," said Scott. "But again we have to pick up that intensity level and Donte is so intense so someone is going to have to bring that to the field this week."
Reed and Schobel also week to week
The news is no better for fellow starters Josh Reed and Aaron Schobel.
"Josh it's kind of week to week," said Jauron. "It's not one of those day to day things right now."
Reed suffered a sprained ankle and strained Achilles and wore a walking boot at practice last week. He did not play this past Sunday and his absence was noticeable.
"I don't think anybody want to use an injury anywhere as an excuse because everybody's got them," said Jauron. "You never want to play without your best players. Josh for us has been really productive. He's a very smart player."
Meanwhile Aaron Schobel, who has missed each of the past three games with a strained ligament in his left foot, was thought to be making good progress. But his injury is no longer day-to-day.
"I don't know with Aaron," Jauron said. "That's why he and Josh and Donte… Aaron was more day to day, but it's kind of moved a little bit so it may be week to week too with those other guys."
Jauron said more tests are planned for Schobel's ailing foot this week.
Butler and Whittle working back
Brad Butler is closer to returning to action as he's missed the past two games with a sprained MCL suffered in Week 7.
"Brad's knee is better," said Jauron. "He did a little more last week. He'll practice some on Wednesday. We'll push him some on Wednesday so we'll have a real good idea of that."
His replacement the past two weeks, Jason Whittle, was injured late in Sunday's game when while recovering a fumble he took a helmet in between his shoulder blades.
"Jason Whittle we had some tests done earlier (Monday)," said Jauron. "He was in our walk through. We'll just have to see if anything significant comes back."