With Ashton Youboty still limited in practice due to a lingering foot injury and Donte Whitner considered week to week with a separated shoulder, Buffalo's secondary has been stretched thin particularly at one subpackage position – slot corner.
If neither Whitner nor Youboty are able to play Sunday, Buffalo will need to turn to top pick Leodis McKelvin and fourth-round selection Reggie Corner.
"We have 10 guys that we carry in the secondary," said head coach Dick Jauron. "If Donte can't go and Ashton's situation, we'll know significantly more (Thursday) – then clearly we're down to those eight guys and they've got to do it for us. They've got to do the job. I wish they had more experience certainly, but that's where we are."
McKelvin has seen more time on the field on the defensive side of the ball, but it's been almost solely at outside corner as he filled in for an injured Terrence McGee. Corner has played in the past four games, but primarily on special teams. He does have two defensive tackles on the season, while McKelvin has nine.
But in training camp Corner got a lot of time in the slot in nickel packages, while McKelvin got most of his work at cornerback. So there is the possibility that Corner would get the call on Sunday, should Youboty and Whitner both be inactive. And the Akron product is ready.
"I feel good," said Corner. "I'm learning more every day. I'm prepared. Every day I'm out there getting better. I'm learning from the older guys. I don't look at it as me being a rookie. It's an opportunity and I feel like I'm going to capitalize on it."
Veterans Jabari Greer and Terrence McGee know Corner could be asked to handle a very tall task if he has to step in the lineup this Sunday as he'd draw the assignment of Wes Welker, who leads the Patriots with 56 receptions this season. But they believe he or McKelvin would be up for it.
"We just have to let them know that we're behind them," said Greer. "The only thing they can learn from it is experience. When they get up there they're going to have to take the bumps and bruises, but they know the only thing they have to do is be consistent. Consistency is what pays dividends in this league and as long as they pay attention to their assignments and do their assignments and they do the little things right, they'll be effective."
"You've got to get out on the field and get experience just like everybody else," said McGee. "You're going to get that big shock when you first step out on the field. I know I did when I first stepped out on the field, but that's what it takes. You have to get out on the field and get your experience and that's what they have to do."
Corner however, has been anxiously waiting all season for an opportunity like this and is doing all he can to be ready if his number is called. The rookie has made a point of picking the brains of Whitner and Youboty who have manned the slot until now.
"I talked to Donte and I plan on going over his house later on after we meet here and watch some more film," said Corner. "You can never know enough."
The fourth-round pick feels he's come a long way since the offseason workouts and the preseason.
"I feel I'm getting in my drops better, reading the defense, knowing where I fill and fit in the run," said Corner. "So I definitely feel I'm more comfortable in the slot than I was in training camp."
What has Corner feeling confident about his game is the experience he's gained going against Roscoe Parrish in practice since he arrived in Buffalo. He feels Parrish will be good prep for a player of Wes Welker's caliber.
"They're definitely similar guys Welker and Roscoe," said Corner. "I go against Roscoe every day in practice, so I'm definitely prepared for the role I've got to play this Sunday."
The Bills drafted Corner and McKelvin for a reason, to provide depth and develop into dependable players that contribute. Now heading into the second half of the season the injuries have begun to pile up. Facing a must-win situation in New England, Corner and McKelvin can't be rookies anymore.
"We know how physical a sport it is and everybody loses people," said Jauron. "As you move through it the attrition becomes more and more a part of the game. Everybody in the league goes through it, everybody has injuries, so those backup guys are critical. We've got a lot of confidence in them and they've got to step up and perform."