Young safeties benefiting from Byrd's absence


"My focus is on the players that are on the field."

Those were Doug Marrone's words to the media earlier this week at St. John Fisher College, where two-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd remains absent from Bills training camp.

With Byrd absent and George Wilson released this offseason, both the free and strong safety positions need filling. Third-year defensive backs Aaron Williams and Da'Norris Searcy have been lined up with the starters so far this training camp. Both were drafted in 2011 by the Bills.

"We knew Byrd wasn't going to be back in time so whatever opportunity we get we just look to make the best of it," Searcy said.

The two took the majority of the reps on Sunday night. They each had a pick on rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel. On Monday afternoon, they warmed up and drilled with the starters and at Tuesday morning's 8 a.m. practice, the first one in full equipment, both were on first-team defense once again.

The competition doesn't end with those two, however. Two college safeties, Jonathan Meeks and Duke Williams, were both drafted by the Bills this past year. Meeks and Williams have both seen a healthy amount of reps with the second unit. Unrestricted free agent Jordan Dangerfield, and free agent Dominique Ellis were also acquired this offseason.

Safeties must be versatile under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine according to Duke Williams. He believes the safeties here possess the skills necessary to succeed in Pettine's defense.

Byrd is tendered so he still counts toward the Bills' roster total. When he signs, he'll be eligible to report to camp. Since this could happen at a moment's notice, Williams said there is a sense of urgency to show coaches their skills.

"You want to impress the coaches as much as you can before camp is over," Duke Williams said. "Obviously in our situation, of course you want to impress the coaches as much as you can before (Jairus) gets here."

Both Meeks and Duke Williams said they're looking forward to learning from Byrd. Until then, Williams said Leodis McKelvin has emerged as a leader for the young players.

"All the guys have been following him and following his lead," Williams said. "He stepped up real critical in a situation with Byrd not here."

Marrone said he's excited about Williams playing safety. Williams is making the transition to safety from cornerback where he's had only one interception in two seasons. In the spring practices he tied for the team lead in interceptions, and got his first INT in last Sunday night's practice session.

"The pick just boosted my confidence," he said. Depending on the length of time Byrd stays at home he could potentially miss some game time learning the new defense. However, Stephon Gilmore said on unofficial move in day that he and some teammates had been giving Byrd some information on the defense and expects him to be ready when he reports.

Aaron Williams is enjoying his time with the starters and Searcy. He is looking forward to Byrd returning, but is focused on bettering himself every day.

"I'm still not where I need to be whatsoever but as long as I keep working and keep watching film I should be working to get great." Williams said. "Working with Da'Norris, I feel like we're going to have great confidence out there."

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