Jerry Sullivan: Bills' DBs have a much tougher road ahead - The Buffalo News
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Jerry Sullivan: Bills' DBs have a much tougher road ahead

Tre'Davious White has a degree in sports administration from LSU and hopes to be a coach or AD some day. The kid shows promise. One week into his first regular season, the rookie seems well-versed in the art of coach-speak.

"You need to stay grounded and do the things the coaches are teaching us," White, the Bills' starting cornerback, said Wednesday. "It's important to have a short-term memory."

That's the common refrain with all defensive backs. It's a profession where you're going to get beat from time to time, especially in a sport that caters more and more to the passing game. Put it quickly behind you and move on to the next play, or the next game. Your career, if not your sanity, may depend on it.

So you don't look back, whether the outcome was good or bad. The Bills' defensive backs aren't gloating about their rousing debut against the Jets, when they limited Josh McCown to 187 yards passing and and a pedestrian 4.6 yards per attempt in Sunday's 21-12 win in the opener.

But a defensive back can't look too far down the road, either. It's best to stay in the moment, to keep your eyes trained on the task at hand.

"To be honest, I don't even know who we play next week," said safety Micah Hyde. "This week, I know we're in Carolina. I'm focused on Cam Newton. He's obviously an MVP-caliber player."

Perhaps it's best that the Bills defensive backs don't think about what lies ahead this season. Suffice it to say there aren't many Josh McCowns (he's 2-21 as a starter dating back to the start of the 2014 season) on the schedule, or even his younger and less accomplished brother, Luke McCown.

The lineup of opposing quarterbacks is as daunting as I can remember in a Bills season. Some day, we might look back and realize that half a dozen of the opponents in '17 had a quarterback who wound up in the Hall of Fame.

The competition gets a lot tougher from here, starting with Sunday's game against Sean McDermott's old squad in Charlotte. Newton regressed a year ago, but he was the MVP two years ago when the Panthers led the NFL with 500 points. Newton is a phenomenal talent, the only NFL player who leads a franchise in career passing and rushing TDs.

The schedule includes five games against quarterbacks rated in the top 10 in NFL HISTORY: Tom Brady (twice) is third all-time, Drew Brees seventh, Philip Rivers eighth and Matt Ryan, the reigning MVP, is 10th. Last year, Buffalo faced only two QBs who rated in the top 10 in 2016 (Brady, Derek Carr).

This year, they also face Carr (10th-rated active QB), Andy Dalton (11th) and Andrew Luck (13th). Newton is 16th. Brady is the best QB ever. Carr was fifth in the league MVP voting last season. Brees passed for 5,208 yards last season and has five of the top eight passing yardage seasons ever.

Brees has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in 11 straight seasons. Rivers has done it in eight of the last nine years. Some perspective: The Bills have one 4,000-yard passer in their history -- Drew Bledsoe had 4,359 in 2002.

The challenge of covering NFL receivers is daunting enough for a rookie. But White said he welcomes the challenge of facing passers who might be bound for Canton.

"Most definitely," he said. "These are guys I watched when I was in high school, so having the opportunity to play against them is an honor. So I'm not going to take it lightly. I'm going to go out and lay my foundation and try to be one of the best to play."

Veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes said he hadn't pondered the murderer's row of quarterbacks, either. Cue the coach-speak sound track, please.

"I haven't," Hughes said. "Never look too far ahead. You just want to take it one week at a time. We understand it's the NFL. We're going to get everybody's best. As for the Hall of Fame quarterbacks we're playing, it's more exciting for us as a defense.  It puts added pressure on us to go and prepare harder throughout the week. I see the defensive backs in practice, they're all doing extra on the field."

All four starters in the secondary are new. Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, both fifth-year players, signed as free agents on the same day in March. White was the Bills' first-round draft pick last April. E.J. Gaines, the other starting corner, came from the Rams in the Sammy Watkins trade a month ago this week.

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, one of the wise elders of the defense at 34 (with Kyle Williams), said he hasn't been surprised by how quickly the foursome of defensive backs came together on the field.

"No, no," said Alexander. "Because of the type of guys they are. They're high-character guys, smart guys, accountable. And above all, they have talent. When you have a great mixture of all those things, you're going to have guys who come in and learn the system.

"And this is not an overly complicated system," Alexander said. "They're great friends back there; they have great chemistry. When you communicate well, you can pick up the system quickly."

Again, they've been together for one regular-season game, against a sorry Jets offense. There will be plenty of tests in the weeks to come, a virtual Rushmore of QBs. I rattled off the list to Hyde: Brady, Ryan, Carr, Brees, Rivers ... how's that?

"Yeah, that's the real deal," Hyde said with a smile. "You just said the elite quarterbacks in this league. So yeah."

Did I forget to mention Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and even Alex Smith, who had the biggest day ever against a Bill Belichick defense last Thursday?

"I just take it week by week," White said. "We have Cam Newton up this week. He's an NFL MVP, a great, great quarterback. We have a tough task ahead of us, but I think the way we battle, we're up for it."

The battle is the thing. That, and moving on to the next game. The identity of the opposing quarterbacks is, shall we say, secondary.

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