Secondary is the first priority

The Bills aren't messing around. After getting burnt early and often against the pass last season, Buffalo has added talent to the secondary. As BFR's Marc Heintzman explains, a solid group of DBs is emerging.

The Bills are making it quite clear that their defensive backfield is at the top of the to-do list this off-season. Last year's secondary was ravaged by injuries and the unit struggled, as it allowed 238.4 yards a game through the air. They were too small, too slow, and too inexperienced. There was so little depth that they converted George Wilson, a receiver, into a free safety. The front office said enough was enough this off-season and got to work immediately revamping the secondary.

They started out by cutting Jason Webster and Kiwaukee Thomas to make room for more talent. In March, the Bills signed veteran CB William James who had played for both the Eagles and the Giants. While this was a move to add depth and experience to the roster, the draft was where the team would pick up some solid talent.

Three of their draft picks were for cornerbacks, including one projected starter and two backs meant for adding depth and competition for current players. The projected starter would be the 11th overall pick, Leodis McKelvin out of Troy. Reggie Corner, a fourth rounder from Akron, and Kennard Cox, a seventh rounder from Pitt, were also picked up to add depth.

McKelvin will most likely start opposite Terrence McGee, with last year's starter, Jabari Greer moving into the nickel position. James, Corner, Cox and under-performing Ashton Youboty will all be competing for backup roles. All of these added players will greatly enhance the competition this spring and at training camp this summer. What's better for a young and developing secondary than having to fight for your job at every practice and mini-camp?

At the strong safety position, Donte Whitner is quietly becoming one of the league's toughest players. His hardnosed, physical play kept the Bills in most games last season. He has exceptional coverage skills, and with an improved run defense up front, look for Whitner to be much more active in defensive backfield. There was even talk last year of moving him to free safety to make better use of his playmaking abilities.

His counterpart at the free safety position is Ko Simpson, who sat out nearly the entire 2007 season with an injury. He has promise at the position, and will only benefit from Whitner's leadership and solid play alongside him. The two only have a combined four years experience, so they can only improve as they get more games under their belts.

The upgrades in the run defense, and pass rushing will also benefit the secondary. The additions of Marcus Stroud and Spencer Johnson made the defensive front a lot bigger, and with Chris Kelsay and Aaron Schobel on the ends, the pass-rush will still be very effective. Not to mention the return of Paul Posluszny to the hard-working linebacker corps will also help snuff the run. The talent and size up front will allow players like Whitner to focus more on the secondary instead of bailing out the run-defense.

Only time will tell if all this focus on the secondary will pay off for the young Bills team. However what can be said is that they're trying, and making all the right moves at that. Adding new and fresh talent to this shaky squad will hopefully make their secondary one of the best in the league.

With McGee's experience and leadership, and McKelvin's raw talent, these two could become an elite duo on the corners. Whitner and Simpson continue to make strides at safety and will only benefit with more time in coverage rather than on the run.

While some may underestimate this squad, they have talent, they have youth, and hopefully this coming season they will have their health. The Bills cannot have another season where they have to throw together a patchwork secondary. With their moves during free-agency and their pick-ups during the draft, they have ensured they will have enough talent and enough depth to hopefully vault them back into the playoffs.

Marc Heintzman is a frequent contributor to the Buffalo Football Report. Contact him at mdheintz@syr.edu


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