Defensive backs preview: Replenished unit

Buffalo made a point to improve its weak pass defense this offseason. The new additions join Terrence McGee (left) on what could be a very solid unit. BFR's Marc Heintzman takes a look...

It was obvious during the offseason that the Bills were trying to get better in their defensive backfield. They brought in plenty of talent during the draft by picking up three cornerbacks, including first-rounder Leodis McKelvin and veteran free-agent William James. The new additions bring the total number of cornerbacks on the roster to eight, which indicates there will be some position battles on the horizon when camp opens up later this week.

The No. 1 cornerback slot will undoubtedly go to Terrence McGee, one of the Bills' shining stars over the past few seasons. Despite his size, the 5-foot-9 McGee has been improving every year since he was given a starting CB role. He has proven he can match up with some of the league's best receivers, and will continue his solid play. McGee has not only proven that he should have the number one spot, but he has definitely earned it by working his way up from a special-teamer to a bona-fide ball-hawk on the outside.

Beyond the No. 1 CB spot, the depth chart is a little less clear and will be mostly decided during camp. McKelvin will be giving Jabari Greer a run for his money at his No. 2 spot. Greer has a slight height advantage over McKelvin, but the 11th overall pick in this year's draft will be one of the more exciting players to watch during camp because of his incredible speed and athleticism. It will be interesting to see how big a learning curve McKelvin will have to endure by transitioning from college to the pro level.

This learning curve is something all rookies have to go through, and some just get it quicker than others. The Bills hope McKelvin is part of this group and can quickly become the lockdown corner that Nate Clements was for them two years ago. McKelvin received help with this transition by becoming the protégé of safety Donte Whitner. Whitner took McKelvin under his wing, and literally into his own home, to help him adjust to NFL life and learn the defensive schemes more quickly.

Beyond competing with Greer, McKelvin will also have to contend with Ashton Youboty, who may very well be fighting for his life on the team this season. Youboty is entering his third season with the team and has made very little impact, due to off-field issues and nagging injuries. With the other up-and-coming draft picks, Kennard Cox and Reggie Corner, looking over his shoulder, Youboty will have to turn in one spectacular training camp if he wants to see any playing time this season, or ever again, as a Bill.

Beyond the rookies Cox and Corner who will be competing for back-up roles, there is also fourth-year Dustin Fox, who was acquired last year in free-agency. Will James will probably be seeing time in the nickel position, and could be very effective against the slot receivers in coverage.

The safety positions will hopefully see some more stability than it did last season. Donte Whitner will be entering his third season at strong safety and all but has his position locked up. Behind him on the depth chart is Bryan Scott, who the Bills picked up last season during their period of a paper-thin roster. Scott was cut by the Titans last season after training camp, but is entering his sixth season and could provide some solid veteran experience to the Bills roster this season. John Wendling – an athletic freak – was a sixth-round pick last year that will also look to challenge Scott for the spot behind Whitner.

The free safety position is where the team will be seeing some stiff competition as well. Ko Simpson will look to regain his pre-injury form and be the starter ahead of George Wilson, who played the majority of last season.

Wilson was converted from a receiver to be safety last season, which paid off greatly for the team. He turned in a great year, recording 41 tackles, two interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and a fumble recovery. Simpson has been contending with injuries the past two seasons, but has shown glimmers of the talent that got him drafted in the fourth round in the '06 draft.

With position battles and exciting new players peppered throughout the Bills' defensive backfield, it will be very interesting to see just how the depth chart ends up in early September. Players know that there are no guarantees of a roster spot, but what they can expect is one exciting, cutthroat training camp.


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