Rex Ryan has left the door very much ajar when it comes to playing Corey Graham at safety.
“It’s something that we will definitely consider,” the Buffalo Bills’ coach said. “You try to get your best 11 players on the field and I think Corey is a tremendous player. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has the talent to do that.”
Graham, a Buffalo native, saw spot duty at safety last season – his first with his hometown team. He even started one game at the position, in Week Six against New England.
So far in spring practices, though, he’s been at his usual cornerback position.
“I’m able to play safety,” Graham said last week. “I’m able to play whatever they want. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be able to be creative to get guys on the field. If they ask me to do it, I’ll do it.”
That’s the type of veteran leadership the Bills hoped for when they brought Graham home with a four-year contract prior to the 2014 season. He rewarded them by playing in all 16 games, making nine starts and finishing with 84 tackles, a team-leading 15 passes defensed and two interceptions.
“Corey is a guy that is a rare talent,” Ryan said. “A guy that obviously as a veteran player, he’s seen a lot of huddles broken in his day. He’s very valuable to us as a corner and at nickel. Could he play safety? I believe he could.”
The idea of moving Graham picked up a little steam during the draft, when the Bills added Florida State’s Ronald Darby in the second round to the mix at cornerback. That, coupled with the relative inexperience outside of Aaron Williams at safety after Da’Norris Searcy’s departure as a free agent, makes it an option worth considering for the team. Graham, though, said the topic hasn’t been a top priority of the coaches during the spring.
“Obviously I played it a little bit last year, so it’s nothing new to me,” he said. “I know what my role is. I know what I have to do. If it came down to it, I know I have to know what’s going on at safety just like anything else.”
Graham spent two years in Baltimore, where the Ravens ran a defensive scheme that has some similarities to what the Bills will use under Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman.
“I kind of know it,” Graham said of the new scheme. “I know what this defense is capable of doing. It’s a very explosive defense. It creates a lot of pressure – puts a lot of pressure on the corners – but it’s probably the best system you can be in. … If we all work together, we can be special.
“We were good last year. I mean, we’ve got to move it up a notch this year. We want to be great.”
The Bills finished No. 4 in the NFL last season in both yards and points allowed, which to Graham means there is room for improvement.
“If you’re not No. 1, it’s not good enough,” he said. “We feel like we have the talent to do it, we’ve just got to put in the work to get there.”
Graham’s value to the Bills extends beyond his versatility on the field. Last season, he was voted as a captain, and during an anonymous in-season poll of players, named the team’s best leader. Darby comes to the Bills with some questions about his off-field behavior, so putting him in a position room with someone like Graham is a positive.
“As a leader you try to the help the guys any way you possibly can,” Graham said. “There are always going to be guys that had things in the past that didn’t go the way they expected. As a veteran, you just have to help bring guys in, help out as much as you can. Show guys how to prevent the negative things and do things the right way – the way we do it.”
Two down, four to go for the Buffalo Bills when it comes to signing members of the 2015 draft class.
Tight end Nick O’Leary and wide receiver Dez Lewis – the team’s last two picks earlier this month – signed four-year contracts with the team Tuesday.
O’Leary, taken in the sixth round (194th overall), won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end and was a first-team All-American as a senior at Florida State.
He played in 54 career games with 40 starts, leaving the Seminoles as the franchise’s all-time leader among tight ends in receptions (114), yards (1,591) and touchdowns (18).
Lewis, the team’s seventh-round pick (234th overall), played in 48 games for Central Arkansas, with 36 starts. He was a three-time All-Southland Conference selection, and finished with 197 catches for 2,618 yards and 24 touchdowns.