As training camp has progressed over the first week the reports out of St. John Fisher have mainly revolved around rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and the young corps of speed receivers making some outstanding plays. This is great news for the offense, but also a worrisome sign for the defensive side as multiple cornerbacks, not named Stephon Gilmore, have fallen prey to these plays.
Stephon Gilmore showed last year that he has the talent to be a number one corner, but the opposite defender spot has yet to be declared by any of the other players so far. The list of candidates includes recently re-signed Leodis McKelvin, returning players Ron Brooks, Justin Rogers, Crezdon Butler and rookies Nickell Robey, T.J. Heath. So far in practice the return on these players has not been much.
Lost in the shuffle of the Buffalo Bills secondary has been Leodis McKelvin, a former first round pick, who is seen as the clear favorite to win the job opposite of Gilmore. McKelvin has overwhelming physical skills, but has shown a lack of ball skills that are required to be a number one corner. So far he has been running with the second team after having offseason surgery; so unless his health and play improves, he may be faced as the third option. As for the rest of the pack, no one else has looked the part of a solid complement. They have either been overmatched or incapable of providing the needed coverage in new Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s schemes.
Pettine has been installing this aggressive blitz heavy defense since he was hired in February. The basic philosophy is pressure and is predicated by the success of the pass rush and pass coverage. The rush provides the support for the coverage and vice versa. If one unit is not working well then the other needs to be on its game to help the overall defense. So far the pass rush has been developing nicely in camp, not so for the coverage.
The silver lining in this is that the cornerback group could be strengthened when Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd ends his holdout; that is if Byrd remains a Bill. Byrd would provide the Bills the opportunity to move former corner Aaron Williams back over to help out as a type of utility player. Williams could spell Byrd at safety when needed, or take the role of third corner in different packages. Either way, Byrd’s return will not only help talent wise for the defense backfield as a whole, but also provides more flexibility to the corner position.
At lot of things have still yet to play out, including all four preseason games, before this picture becomes clear. The Bills can still explore the trade market or the waiver wire to find a savvy veteran or a talented rookie before the regular season starts. Either way the Bills need someone on the current roster to grab hold of the second cornerback role or the Bills need to start searching for help and soon.