One More Shot

Rumors are swirling. Cleveland needs a cornerback, and Buffalo suddenly has a surplus. Ashton Youboty has been mentioned as the center of such a deal, but the Bills would be smart to keep their young corner. He's had a rough first two seasons in the NFL...

This isn't how Ashton Youboty drew it up. Not by a long shot.

Youboty was supposed to be a first round pick, supposed to be a starting cornerback and supposed to be creeping toward a pay raise by his third NFL season.

Instead, the 2006 third-round pick is fighting for a roster spot – and it might not even be in Buffalo. Earlier this week the Orange and Brown Report noted that the Bills and Cleveland Browns have been talking about a trade involving Youboty. With four fresh faces at cornerback signed this offseason, including 11th overall pick Leodis McKelvin, Youboty seems like the odd man out by default.

But it's not time to give up yet. Let the former Ohio State Buckeye fight one more time. Chances are the Browns wouldn't cough up a ton for an unproven commodity. So, what's the rush? Young, potential-rich cornerbacks are rare. Maybe Youboty will springboard in Year Three. He hasn't exactly had an easy road. And right now, he gets it.

It's now or never.

"Having a first-round guy at my position is a big deal, but it's just a matter of competition," Youboty said. "If we weren't competitive anybody can come off the street and do what we do. I don't mind that they brought other guys in. It's just more here for me to push myself and step up my game to the next level."

Youboty's career has been one rocky, emotional, frustrating failure to launch.

Many draft experts envisioned Youboty following the footsteps of past Ohio State greats at cornerback, Antoine Winfield and Nate Clements. Ironically, like these two, Youboty landed to the Bills in Marv Levy's ultra-defensive 2006 draft class. The pick seemed ingenious – a first-round talent in the third-round. Marv still had it.

But Youboty's career has been jammed in neutral. Ohio State had a late graduation, which kept Youboty out of the always underestimated offseason workouts. While other rookies began absorbing the nuances of Buffalo's Tampa 2 scheme, Youboty wasn't around. This absence dragged even more when Youboty's mother died. The cornerback missed the bulk of his rookie training camp in grieving.

Perry Fewell's defensive was the last thing on Youboty's mind on an emotional level and X ‘n Os level. It was too late to make any sort of impact in Year One. Youboty appeared in only three games his first season.

Year Two? More opportunity, more frustration. When street pickup Jason Webster suffered a season-ending forearm injury in week one, Youboty was suddenly a starter. The big break, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound corner needed had finally arrived. Five games later, Youboty joined Webster on the injured list with an ankle sprain. He missed five games, and never really regained full strength. Youboty was a nonfactor in Buffalo's secondary, never challenging the inconsistent Jabari Greer for the starting spot opposite of Terrence McGee. He finished with 23 tackles, one sack and one interception.

"Ashton has had some ups and downs, but we're pleased with what he's shown in camp right now," said Bills defensive backs coach George Catavolos in the Buffalo News. "He sees there is some good competition out there and he knows he has to step it up. Like everyone, he's working hard and looking for his shot."

The Bills should let Cleveland scramble. After dealing starter Leigh Bodden to Detroit and losing Daven Holley to a severe knee injury last week, the Browns are in dire straits for a cornerback. G.M. Phil Savage did sign briefcase-veteran Terry Cousin, but would certainly like some young blood at a hurting position. Youboty fits the bill.

But for now, all signs point toward Buffalo clutching to Youboty. He has two years left on his four-year, $2.5 million contract. No doubt, McKelvin will be handed a starting spot ASAP. Fourth-round pick Reggie Corner, free agent pickup Will James and seventh-rounder Kennard Cox also have an edge on Youboty simply because they represent something different than last season's disaster on pass defense.

But Youboty has the skill-set, size and ranginess to develop into a week-in and week-out contributor as a nickel or dime cornerback, if not a starter. He deserves one full, healthy offseason and training camp. He knows three rookies aren't just breathing down his neck – they're practically holding his contract, about to tear it in half.

The Bills brass sent Youboty a wake-up call. Rather than trade him, look for the team to let Youboty choose whether to slam the "snooze" button or become a force in 2008.

thdunne@gmail.com


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