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Bills in 'unique' spot with entirely new secondary

The question caused Leslie Frazier to pause.

In 19 years of coaching in the NFL, had the defensive coordinator ever began a season with an entire secondary of players new to the team and working together for the first time in a new defense?

"I don't know if I have," Frazier told reporters this week. "I'd have to think a little bit about it. That's usually pretty unique."

Tre'Davious White, a rookie, and E.J. Gaines, a fourth-year pro acquired in last month's trade that sent Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams, will start at cornerback for the Buffalo Bills in Sunday's season-opener against the New York Jets. The safeties will be Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, fifth-year pros signed in free agency from the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns, respectively.

Maybe the Jets are, as many around the NFL suspect, tanking. Maybe their quarterback, journeyman Josh McCown, and the rest of their offense aren't expected to pose much of a challenge to the Bills' or any other defense on the Jets' schedule.

But the Bills still must find a way to quickly establish continuity while carrying out the assignments of a predominately zone-coverage scheme.

"It's all about communication," White said. "That's the biggest deal in the defensive backfield. If everybody's wrong, we're all right. So if we're all on the same page, I feel like we'll do a great job and it won't look like all of us are new."

Making certain that's the case won't be easy for Frazier, who also is new to the Bills, to pull together at the start of the season.

"Usually, there's some carryover somewhere, usually," he said. "But, that being said, the guys that we do have, they've earned the right to be a part of this 53, each one of them, (and) to be in our secondary. They've done some good things throughout training camp and preseason and going all the way back to phase one, two and three (of offseason workouts)."

"I think we've grown just as a unit since OTAs, coming into training camp, throughout training camp," Poyer said. "I think we've just grown together, a lot closer, kind of understanding each other. And the communication part has been huge. If we're just able to all communicate, all understand what to expect, I think we're going to be OK. I think we've got to continue to grow and continue to learn off of each other and to just play together as a secondary."

Still, there are challenges.

The biggest and most obvious is the cornerback spot White occupies. Figure the Jets to have already pasted a bull's eye over his photo in their game plan.

"Because there aren't many offensive coordinators that aren't going to challenge a rookie corner in our league in his first start in the NFL," Frazier said. "Beside the fact that the other guys are new to the secondary ... the rookie corner getting through some of the things you've got to get through as a rookie, that's probably the bigger challenge than the fact that we've got an entire new secondary."

White isn't flinching at the prospect of being the focal point of the Jets' passing attack.

"I feel like that's the NFL and I'm up for it," the rookie said. "This is my calling, man, this is what I'm here to do, and I feel like with the way that I'm getting coached and the way that I'm going about studying and the way that I'm preparing and practicing hard, I'll be fine. I'll definitely make more plays than I'll give up."

Frazier, defensive backs coach Gill Byrd and assistant DBs coach Bobby Babich are handling the bulk of the teaching and everything else associated with keeping everyone in the secondary in sync.

But they do get a good deal of help from reserve cornerback Leonard Johnson, who played for the Carolina Panthers last season when Bills coach Sean McDermott was their defensive coordinator and, therefore, has the best understanding of the scheme of any player on the team.

Johnson provides what McDermott called an "extra voice" in the meeting room, occasionally pointing out where certain vulnerabilities and strengths exist within the defense.

"He's been a real big help to his teammates and the guys in this secondary because he does understand the system," Frazier said. "He played in it, had some success in this system at the nickel position. The guys have come to him at different times just talking about questions, because sometimes we'll go back and look at different tapes from the past and he's been great at communicating some of the things, some of the little nuances of secondary play in this system. His attitude has been terrific and some of the guys have leaned on him at times."

The situation might be new, even for a veteran coach such as Frazier. But he likes the talent on the back end of his defense.

"It's a good group," Frazier said. "I'm really excited about the group that we have in the secondary."

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