LATROBE, Pa. – The Buffalo Bills look like they’ve positioned themselves well to avoid the doomsday scenario that struck in the defensive backfield a season ago.
When cornerback Stephon Gilmore suffered a broken wrist during the 2013 preseason, the secondary suffered. Things got even worse in Week Three, when Ron Brooks missed a game against the New York Jets with a foot injury and Leodis McKelvin went out early with a hamstring strain. That put Justin Rogers in the spotlight – with disastrous results.
Rogers was torched for more than 250 receiving yards and two touchdowns as the Bills lost an important early-season AFC East game.
Perhaps with those memories still in their minds, the Bills have constructed a roster deep at cornerback this year. Buffalo native Corey Graham was added to the mix as a free agent, while the team also selected Ross Cockrell out of Duke in the fourth round of May’s NFL Draft. They join holdovers Gilmore, McKelvin, Brooks and Nickell Robey to give the Bills a strong top six at the position.
“I personally think that you can never have enough good corners, and I think we’re fortunate that we have a lot of players back there that we feel confident in,” coach Doug Marrone said. “We had an opportunity with Corey to go out and get a good player. Just making sure you never fall short in that position. That’s a position almost like left tackle, you know, you fall short there, you get in trouble. … We have players back there that we do not have a problem putting on that field.”
Gilmore has resumed his role as the team’s No. 1 cornerback after struggling through last season because of the wrist injury.
“That injury, that was a tough thing to come back from,” Marrone said. “He’s come out and been like he was in the beginning of last year – prior to the injury. He’s been playing real physical, and he’ll get better and better each day.”
McKelvin, though, has been slow getting back into the lineup after offseason hip surgery. He took part in team drills Wednesday for the first time in about two weeks during a joint practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers at Saint Vincent College.
“We have a plan that we’ve talked about and we’re going to rest him as long as we feel” the team needs to, Marrone said of McKelvin. “When he’s ready, I’ll let him out there.”
McKelvin’s absence, however, has had a silver lining in that it’s given the Bills an extended look at Graham – whom Marrone praised for his leadership – as well as Brooks and Cockrell.
“They’ve picked it up easily,” Graham said. “They just need to continue to try and get better and better each week.
Brooks would appear to be the most on the bubble of the Bills’ cornerbacks. The third-year veteran out of LSU has struggled with injuries in his first two seasons – playing just 20 out of a possible 32 games – but Marrone has been pleased with his performance.
“I think Ron’s having a good camp. Not just one game, I think he’s put a couple good games together and a lot of good practices,” he said. “Ron’s been practicing well and normally when you practice well, you’ll go ahead and play well. He’s done a nice job.
“I don’t know if he’s took advantage enough to move in front of everyone when they come back,” Marrone said, “but he took advantage from a standpoint of getting better, feeling better about the player … and putting himself in a position where he can play more.”
Graham, a Super Bowl champion who started 13 of 32 games with the Ravens the past two seasons, called the Bills’ current crop of cornerbacks the deepest he’s been around in his eight years in the NFL.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can go out there and make plays. It’s going to be very exciting to see how it plays out with the type of talent we’re going to put on the field this year,” he said. “You can never have enough DBs. We’re fortunate right now to have a good amount of guys who can perform at a high level. I’m pretty sure the coaches are going to find a way to be creative, to get guys out there on the field and make plays.”