Following the release of veteran George Wilson, the Buffalo Bills’ strong safety position is filled with youth and inexperience. Da’Norris Searcy, the team’s fourth round pick in 2011, is expected to take on the starting job, but Aaron Williams has moved to safety as well. Furthermore, the Bills invested two draft picks at the safety position in Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is a forward thinking mind when it comes to coaching defense, and had this to say about the strong safety and “Mike” linebacker position in today’s NFL.
“The days of the Mike linebacker and the strong safety have just about fallen by the wayside. Everything has moved over. You’ve taken the Mike now, and he’s moved over. You’ve moved Will to Mike. And now you walk up Bryan Scott as a nickel linebacker, and he’s now the Will. Those guys got to be able to run and cover.”
While a strong safety’s primary responsibility is providing run support, the added emphasis on passing offenses that utilize a tight end as a receiver, players at the position need to be versatile in their skill set.
Da’Norris Searcy has played as a reserve during his first two seasons with the Bills, but began to cut into George Wilson’s snaps as the 2012 season wore on. Last year, Searcy recorded 39 tackles and forced two fumbles in 279 snaps of play. According to ProFootballFocus, Searcy’s +3.7 rating while defending the run was good for 13th out of 163 qualifying safeties.
Searcy is strong and stout, which allows him to provide adequate run support, but he lacks the athleticism that’s necessary to consistently match up with slot receivers and tight ends. That missing aspect of his game could limit his playing time, but Searcy is definitely the front runner to start at strong safety for the Week One matchup against New England.
Aaron Williams has been playing free safety throughout the Bills’ Offseason Training Activities due to Jairus Byrd’s absence, but he projects well as the strong safety archetype Coach Pettine described. Williams is a cornerback/safety tweener that will help him earn more snaps in the team’s nickel and dime defensive fronts.
Williams recorded 32 tackles and defended seven passes in addition to forcing a fumble last season. He’s the perfect fit in the back-end of the secondary, as he has the strength to assist in the run game, while displaying the coverage skills to match up well with opposing tight ends.
The Bills invested their fourth round draft pick on Duke Williams, a hard-hitting safety out of Nevada. Williams is a bit raw from a technique standpoint, but he’s a solid athlete that plays the run and the pass equally well. During his collegiate career, Williams racked up 292 tackles, 14.5 of which were for a loss. He broke up 22 passes, intercepted four and forced five fumbles.
Williams projects well to the strong safety position, but while he will likely be initially brought along slowly, he could begin to see a more prominent role as the season wears on.