Stephon Gilmore knows what is coming and he can’t wait for its arrival.
The bigger feel of the stage. The hotter glow of the spotlight.
That’s the life of a cornerback in Rex Ryan’s defense, which is known for putting anyone who plays the position on a figurative island. In fact, one, Darrelle Revis, took the concept to the extreme during his time with Ryan on the New York Jets by naming the territory he covered “Revis Island.”
And that’s the life Gilmore has always wanted to lead since the Buffalo Bills made him a first-round draft pick in 2012.
“It’s going to be big,” Gilmore said during the Bills’ recent voluntary veteran minicamp. “I’m glad we’ve got Rex Ryan. I think they’ll be sending a lot of blitzes up front. It’s going to allow me to show the world what I can do on the back end, playing a lot of man-to-man and doing what I do.”
What Gilmore will be doing most of the time is covering a receiver without help from a safety.
Under such circumstances, the world gets to see it all – the passes that are knocked down and intercepted ... and the ones that result in six points. The world gets to see the good and the awful.
Gilmore is fully expecting the world to see much more of the former.
“It’s going to be a good year,” he said. “I can see it coming.”
The Bills had to have had a decent amount of faith that Gilmore could hold his own, given their decision to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
Yes, on May 1, they did use their top choice in the NFL Draft – 50th overall – on a cornerback, Florida State’s Ronald Darby. But the decision was not a reflection on a lack of faith in Gilmore, even if he has yet to consistently live up to his lofty billing as a first-rounder.
“It was a blessing,” Gilmore said of knowing he’s under contract with the Bills through 2016. “Buffalo drafted me, I like Buffalo, so I’m happy to be here.”
To remain an effective member of what ranks among the top defenses in the NFL, Gilmore is following an offseason routine that he feels has served him well since he entered the league.
He says he’s working hard, logging long hours of watching videotape. His focus is on studying the receivers he will face this year. And there are plenty of good ones.
The New York Jets added Brandon Marshall in a trade with the Chicago Bears and made former Ohio State star Devin Smith a second-round draft pick. The Miami Dolphins used a first-round choice on former Louisville standout DeVante Parker, traded for Kenny Stills from New Orleans, and signed Greg Jennings, who was released by Minnesota.
The Bills’ schedule also includes games against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have A.J. Green, and the Dallas Cowboys, who have Dez Bryant.
“It’s going to be good,” Gilmore said. “I can’t wait. They’re supposed to be some of the top guys, so we’ll see what they do.
“This is a defense that starts with the front and us holding up on the back end. I’m just up for the challenge.”
Besides what Gilmore does on his own, he also will continue to receive guidance from Bills defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson. That was in doubt after Doug Marrone walked away from the Bills’ head-coaching three days after the 2014 season.
Henderson did, in fact, seem likely to join another team in the same capacity. But all of that changed when Ryan arrived in Buffalo and let Henderson, with whom he worked when both were assistant coaches with the Baltimore Ravens, know he wanted him to stay.
Henderson was good with that. So was Gilmore.
“When they kept Donnie, I was happy,” Gilmore said. “He’s helped my game since he’s been here. Donnie helps my game as far as me being patient at the line of scrimmage more and getting my hands” on the receiver “and being more physical. And, also, he preaches finding the football and making plays on the ball in the air more than anybody.
“Even the guys that we’ve got in the secondary right now, all of us feed off of each other – from Duke Williams to Aaron Williams to Corey Graham, Leodis McKelvin, all of us. It’s a blessing to have all us together.”
Although the Bills are expected to do considerably more blitzing this season from Ryan’s base 3-4 scheme than they did last year in the base 4-3 alignment of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Gilmore said the idea of finding himself in single coverage is hardly foreign to him. He did quite a bit of it in 2013, when Ryan coaching disciple Mike Pettine ran the Bills’ defense.
Gilmore also said that Schwartz’s scheme allowed for more than its share of one-on-one opportunities.
“Last year, they let me play man-to-man most of the time; they let me do my thing,” Gilmore said. “This year, it’s going to be still man-to-man, but they’re going to do a little bit more” blitzing “up front and this is going to be fun. Most of the time I’ve been on the island since I’ve been here, so it’s not really pressure.”
It’s the life he has always wanted to lead as an NFL cornerback.