The Buffalo Bills' secondary was subpar to say the least last season, ranking 19th in the league. They gave up 3,704 yards through the air, a multitude of passing touchdowns, and allowed a 93.1 quarterback rating to opposing signal callers.
The team addressed the position last year with the selection of Aaron Williams in the second round and Justin Rogers in the seventh, while addressing it twice in this year's draft with Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks.
The improved defensive line coupled with the move back to the 4-3 defense should make it easier on the cornerbacks, so lets take a look at how the position stacks up.
Terrence McGee is the longest tenured cornerback on the Bills' roster, as the 31-year-old, 10-season veteran has been the starting corner for the majority of his time in Buffalo.
However, he has recently been plagued with injuries and missed seven games last year with a knee injury. In order to stay on the team, he restructured his contract in February, agreeing to a two-year, $4 million deal.
While McGee has normally been an outside corner during his career, he was moved to the nickel position quite often when then-rookie Aaron Williams was on the field. The only problem is that, with the younger corners being developed on the roster, McGee could simply be relegated to the teacher/ leader role.
Leodis McKelvin was the Buffalo Bills' first-round draft choice five seasons ago and still hasn't had that breakout season. Entering a contract year, now his his chance to shine. Many project him to be on the roster bubble, but he has been learning a new position throughout Offseason Training Activities—the nickel cornerback.
McKelvin was used a good deal in the slot in spring practices and still has the elite physical skills that made him a first-round draft choice five years ago. Perhaps the defensive staff feels using him in the short to intermediate area where slot receivers generally travel could maximize those skills more effectively.
“Last year I didn’t play the nickel,” said McKelvin. “I know I can play on the field in nickel situations and they’re just trying to work me in. I never had a chance to ever try to be in there out of the four years that I’ve played. It’s just a chance to go inside and do what I can do.”
With McKelvin's inconsistent play, his best fit could be at nickel, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. With Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore expected to be starters—despite McKelvin being listed as the No. 2 cornerback on the BuffaloBills.com official depth chart—this could be the opportunity he has to shine and make plays.
The Buffalo Bills' second-round pick of 2011 made an impact in his rookie year, proving he could play at the National Football League level. Appearing in nine games and starting six, the former Texas Longhorn recorded 32 tackles, an interception and forced a fumble. Remember, Williams was injured for most of the year with a bruised sternum suffered in Week 3. He was able to break up passes and disrupt routes with ease, and looks to be a solid prospect of the future.
Williams is expected to start at left cornerback, opposite rookie Stephon Gilmore, according to BuffaloBills.com.
Head coach Chan Gailey has been high on Williams all offseason, stating:
“Aaron played fairly consistently for a rookie.“He battled injuries all year long and that’s always tough on a guy and that’s the one thing we’ve got to hopefully do is train him in the offseason and get him where he can make a whole season without the injuries. But I thought he showed potential to be a very good corner in this league for a long time. He matches up well size-wise.”“I think he is a much more confident player this year than he was last year,” said Gailey. “He was feeling his way through some of the time last year.”
Stephon Gilmore was drafted with the Buffalo Bills' No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft with the hopes of making an excellent cornerback tandem with second-year corner Aaron Williams. Since he arrived in Western New York, there has been nothing but praise for the former South Carolina Gamecock.
Bills' star wide receiver Stevie Johnson had this to say about Gilmore after seeing him in Offseason Training Activities:
“Even if he wasn’t on my team and just checking out film on him you can tell he’s going to be something special. He has that fight and that hunger and you can see it in him. I think he’s going to be one of those dominant cornerbacks in the league.”
Gilmore will have some heavy pressure on his shoulders, as he is expected to be the opening day starter at right cornerback. He is an extremely solid tackler with great physical instincts, which are noted by his 181 tackles (15 of which for a loss), seven sacks, seven interceptions and four forced fumbles at South Carolina.
After the 2011 NFL draft, cornerback Justin Rogers was an afterthought to many. However, after appearing in 13 games and starting one, he began to make an impact towards the end of his rookie campaign. He made 16 tackles, broke up four passes and recorded an interception. Furthermore, he added speed on special teams, returning 13 kicks for 373 yards for an average of 28.7 yards per return.
BuffaloBills.com interviewed Rogers and had this to say:
“I’m really comfortable,” said Rogers. “Last year it was something new to me because I played it a little bit in college, but not as heavily as I did last year. I became really comfortable with it and I like it. There is an art to it that I am still learning, but I am getting used to it.”
Rogers was among the more impressive slot corners in the spring. A strong training camp could ultimately give Rogers the nod this fall.
Cornerback Ron Brooks was highly overshadowed during his time at Louisiana State University due to Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu being in the secondary. Brooks will likely see his initial playing time on special teams, but could eventually take over the nickel cornerback role.
Equipped with the fastest feet in the entire Bills' secondary, Brooks also has the compact frame necessary to change direction at lightning-quick speed to mirror slot receivers. Brooks is still learning on the job, but after being given a high workload of reps in spring practices, the LSU product looked like he belonged.
“That’s the way I learn,” he said. “I’m better going out there and doing it and getting reps at it. Whatever the coaches feel like they want to do with me and how they feel they need to play me I’ll do it.”