Justin Rogers' grasp on the Buffalo Bills' nickel cornerback job could be slipping.
"You know, he's been up and down. He played with a lot of confidence early in the season and then as of late he hasn't played with as much confidence. You can see it in his play," coach Chan Gailey said of Rogers, a second-year player out of Richmond. "He's still got, I think, the ability to do some things. I feel like sometimes his confidence wavers and that gets him in trouble. He needs to play with a great deal of confidence. I think that he can be a decent player, but he's got to go out and do it every down."
Rogers has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 65 percent of passes thrown at him this season and compile a quarterback rating of 92.4, according to statistics from the website profootballfocus.com.
Sunday against the Colts, Rogers was hit with a 23-yard pass interference penalty while defending Reggie Wayne and gave up a back-breaking 8-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton on third-and-goal in the third quarter of the Bills' 20-13 loss.
Given Rogers' dip in play, Gailey was asked Monday whether he'd consider rookie cornerback Ron Brooks as an option in the nickel role.
"I don't think he is. I think our first choice would be to move Leodis [McKelvin] in there before we move Brooks in there. Leodis played it in the spring and played it in preseason and showed some good things in there," Gailey said. "Brooks, missing all that time, hasn't had enough practice or even thought process in the whole thing."
Asked if that was a move he was considering for this week's game against Jacksonville, the coach offered only a cryptic "maybe."
The role of nickel cornerback in today's NFL is one of the most challenging on a defense. Offenses will increasingly shift their No. 1 receivers into the slot, especially on third down, because it's an effective way for them to get away from jams at the line of scrimmages.
"It's extremely difficult, but with it being difficult, I take that as a challenge," said the 24-year-old Rogers. "It's still a work in progress. I think I'm doing pretty good. I'm a lot further along than I was last year. In the nickel role, things are always evolving, different situations, different patterns."
Rogers gave up two completions to Wayne on Sunday, including one in the first quarter in which the Colts lined their star receiver up outside, then got him matched up with Rogers by running a shallow crossing route with the slot receiver. Rogers had pretty good coverage, but a strong throw from quarterback Andrew Luck went for a 10-yard gain.
"It's getting tougher and tougher as I see football go on [because of] people trying to match up with those guys inside," Gailey said of the slot cornerback role.
Slot receivers also have the advantage of working the entire field.
"They can go left and right. On the outside as a corner, you can use the sideline to your advantage and kind of take away part of the field. When you put a guy in the slot, he's got the whole field to work," Rogers said. "It's the emergence of the slot receiver in today's game. I just see it as a challenge and try and go out and do my best."
The AFC East is a brutal division for slot corners. New England features the preeminent slot receiver in the NFL in Wes Welker, while Miami's Davone Bess and the New York Jets' Jeremy Kerley have a combined 90 catches this year. Rogers' biggest gaffe this season came against Tennessee, when he allowed a go-ahead touchdown to the Titans' Nate Washington with 1:03 left.
"You're going against elite guys, so it's a challenge," Rogers said.
If Gailey does decide to move McKelvin back inside, it's likely Brooks would line up outside along with Stephon Gilmore. Second-year man Aaron Williams remains out of the lineup because of a knee injury.
"I'm feeling pretty good. Just waiting for my shot," said Brooks, the rookie from LSU, who saw 11 defensive snaps (15 percent) against the Colts, the first significant defensive action of his career. "As a competitor and as a person who plays the game and loves the game like I do, it's big. You've got to keep going out and fighting. "