This has been a hectic two-week span for Robert Blanton. Eleven days ago, he had his first son. On Sunday, he planned on flying to Miami to finish his MBA.
In between, the safety was in Western New York visiting the Buffalo Bills.
He chatted with defensive backs coaches Tim McDonald and Ed Reed about the Bills’ defense. He ate at Buffalo Chophouse on Franklin Street. And, most importantly, he was told that he’d have a chance to start at safety in the Bills’ defense.
So the free agent signed on the dotted line.
“That’s what I’m going in there to do,” Blanton said on starting. “Come into work every day, do my job and I feel like I can be the best. I feel like I’m the best guy for the job. So I just have to come in and be Robert Blanton – do my job – and the rest will take care of itself.”
The Bills will be returning both Aaron Williams and Corey Graham, though Williams must see how his neck responds to contact in training camp and Graham (who restructured his contract) struggled in December. On a one-year, $840,000 deal, Blanton is out to prove he belongs as a regular starter in the NFL. Buffalo promised that opportunity in camp. Through his four years with the Minnesota Vikings, the 2012 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame was mostly a reserve.
He did start in 2014 with 106 tackles (72 solo), two pass break-ups and an interception, though was relegated to a back-up role in 2015 with 34 tackles (28 solo) and three break-ups.
His intellect, his ability to interpret a complicated defense stood out most to Buffalo.
“Just being able to do my job – that’s important,” Blanton said. “They need to trust you to do your job for 75 plays. Consistently. So I’m going to try to bring that to the team.”
Rex Ryan’s scheme, he added, is similar to what he’s had in the past. He doesn’t anticipate a steep learning curve.
Of course, miscommunication ailed the Bills’ secondary last season as the defense surrendered 59 pass plays of 20-plus yards, fourth-most in the NFL. They never recovered from Williams’ scary Week Two injury. So this offseason, it appears Buffalo chose Blanton over restricted free agent Bacarri Rambo, who was not tendered.
While Rambo left receivers with bruises – and his three forced turnovers against the Jets on the road keyed a 22-17 win – he also had lapses in coverage.
Blanton sounds rejuvenated, eager to play in a new defense. Asked how he went from starting in 2014 to being a backup in 2015, he only said, “No idea.” A cornerback at Notre Dame, his coverage ability could give Ryan some flexibility on the back end. Blanton knows he’ll be putting that Notre Dame education to use in a defense that can totally change a split-second before an offense snaps the ball.
“They have different calls to get the defense in the best situation,” Blanton said, “for the formation that the offense is lined up in.”
Strong safety? Free? He says he has no preference.
Blanton describes himself as an “accountable” safety. On his visit, he watched tape with McDonald and also spoke with Reed, the Canton-worthy safety Buffalo hired this offseason as McDonald’s assistant. The two coaches have a combined 15 Pro Bowls, 104 interceptions, 14 touchdowns, 21 forced fumbles and two Super Bowl triumphs.
“They were both great safeties that played in the NFL for a long time,” Blanton said. “It’s only going to be a positive experience for me. I’m going to gain knowledge from both of those guys to make me a better player.”
And maybe this time next year he’s signing a long-term deal somewhere.
“That was my mind-set going in,” Blanton said, “to get into the best situation where I can get with a team on a one-year deal and have the opportunity to start and play and have a great year and see what happens the following year.”
Being a dad has been smooth so far. His son has, get this, been sleeping all night.
He’s not sure what this MBA will lead to. Blanton has a lot of interest in real estate, so that could be a career once his playing days are through. For now, he’s aiming to turn Buffalo’s defense around. What will stand out to fans? The fact that he’s “a consistent guy” who’ll “do his job.” Simple enough. But that was certainly an issue for Buffalo in 2015. Ryan didn’t have a source of reliability on his last line of defense.
With Williams’ future still uncertain, Blanton provides possible insurance.
He’s hoping to start, too.
“It’ll be great to get with a new team,” he said, “fresh start, new coaching staff, get to go out there and compete again and I’ll have a fair shot. So it’ll be great.
“I want to make the Buffalo fans proud of the decision they made to bring me in.”