All Safeties Free and Strong

Playing it safe has its limits, even with safeties. The Bills face positional upheaval thanks to Jairus Byrd deciding that being paid too much wasn’t enough. Change can create opportunity, and this team doesn’t have a choice.

Their top remaining guys must rise to the occasion this camp by leaving comfort zones. Since the only other alternative is to weep and panic, the franchise may as well work with the players left behind.

 (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy are the likely starters at safety to start 2014. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The consensus top player skipping town is one way for everyone else to climb the depth chart.  Aaron Williams inherited the title of best safety, but he can be more than the best on the roster by default. Now, he needs to be put where he can continue to thrive, whether that means keeping him nearer the line or liberating him from the confines and letting him watch the play develop. Next, ask the same thing about budding starter Da’Norris Searcy. Hopefully, the answers will complement each other.

Lining up where Byrd did isn’t the same as replacing him. But someone’s going to get the chance to make fans forget who went to Louisiana through Hawaii. Using multiple players to fill the shoes of the departed Pro Bowler is one case where flip-flopping might work.

With Williams, the Bills were at first drinking coffee and wondering why they weren’t sleepy. Anyone who thinks people can’t change should remember the story of a borderline bust at cornerback who turned into the team’s best remaining safety. He’s already in position to utilize his speed and vision without having to worry about matching an outside receiver turn-for-turn. The hardest change has already been tackled.

The man you may still call A.J. has pulled off reinvention before. His biggest asset remains his coverage ability, as he employs cornerback principles even though he’s not best utilized as one. Now, a new coordinator who never knew Williams as an improperly-aligned defensive back gets to spend camp figuring where to put him. Jim Schwartz is the lucky man who gets to figure when to either use Williams in tight or let him hang back before selecting his prey.

As for his presumed tag-team partner, Searcy looked promising both during Byrd’s pout-alone time and upon the mercurial star’s brief return to view. His 3.5 sacks last season inspire thoughts of using him as a sneaky safety blitzer. The staff must determine whether or not a de facto small linebacker can not just cover but roam. At least the team’s second-best safety isn’t starting from scratch.

The alignment revolves around whether Williams will be predominately used as a center fielder or shortstop. Seeing how the Texas product flourished once he started playing at his natural role should inspire confidence that he could shift within that same position, too. New hire Corey Graham could back up both depending on whether he’ll spend his summer continuing as a cornerback or beginning a semi-new career transitioning to safety.

It’s not like the Bills are enjoying addition by subtraction: the closest player to a star at the position chose the Ninth Ward over the First Ward. Noting the talent level has decreased is a compliment to Byrd, not a slight to those remaining.

But the Bills are devoting all of camp to determining who goes where in the last line of defense. They’ll have to be content with utilizing the budding capabilities of the precocious players still on the squad. At least they have players who showed up for rehearsals.

About Anthony Bialy

Anthony Bialy recently moved back to Buffalo from New York City and acts like he never left. He thinks "Buffalo 66" is biographical and considers it a crime against mankind that Steve Tasker is not in the Hall of Fame. He likes getting Tim Hortons on the way to get Labatt Blue. Follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyBialy.

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