The News will examine 10 questions facing the Buffalo Bills leading up to the start of training camp.
By Tyler Dunne
News Sports Reporter
This week, Darrelle Revis graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in a re-make of Joe Namath’s 1965 Times Square pose. “Revis Island,” of course, was originated when Rex Ryan was his head coach.
At his best, Revis blankets one side of the field. He eliminates your No. 1 wide receiver.
He allows a coach like Ryan to send the hounds up front.
So as the 30-year-old Revis heads back to New York, Ryan now hopes a new island emerges in Buffalo. In Year 4, the Bills will likely be counting on the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Stephon Gilmore shutting down the opposition’s best wide receivers. The schedule is again full of prolific wideouts – Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Green, Andre Johnson and Dez Bryant to name a few.
If Gilmore can handle his business alone, one on one in coverage, Ryan will be able to move his chess pieces around on defense more freely.
Gilmore knows how his game must adjust.
“I like to play physical at the line of scrimmage and they have to get the ball out,” Gilmore said last month, “so I can be even more physical because the ball has to come out fast. That allows me to make plays.”
In Jim Schwartz’s defense last season, one that didn’t blitz as much, Gilmore had 46 tackles, three interceptions and one forced fumble. In three seasons, he has 32 total pass break-ups. The Bills showed a lot of faith in Gilmore this offseason, picking up his fifth-year option in 2016 at the price of about $11 million.
Translation: They’re expecting Gilmore to elevate from good to great.
Gilmore noted how much Ryan disguises his defense, saying “it’s more extreme.” And after sticking to the right side under Schwartz, there’s a good chance Gilmore shadows receivers more often.
So even more so than the physical, hand-to-hand combat at the line of scrimmage, Gilmore must mimic Revis’ rare patience.
The All-Pro cornerback doesn’t instantly mug a receiver, rather maintaining balance and forcing the wide receiver to make his first move. Thus, Gilmore has also said he’ll be relying more on his brain than his athleticism this next stage of his career.
“I can’t wait to show the world what I can do on an island,” Gilmore said.
In his final Revis-less season with the Jets, Ryan still blitzed more than most – sending an extra pass rusher about one-third of the time – and paid the price. Opposing quarterbacks posted a 101.5 passer rating against the Jets, third-highest in the NFL. Ryan didn’t have the manpower along the boundaries to stay aggressive and succeed up front.
Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Ronald Darby and the Bills’ cornerbacks must handle their business.
Even with arguably the best four-man rush in the league, Ryan will blitz again. One pro scout believes Gilmore is up to the task.
“I heard some people saying Gilmore had a down season last year,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily see that. I think he’s pretty underrated.”
Asked if Gilmore is capable of playing on an island, like Revis, the scout didn’t hesitate.
“Oh, he’ll be fine,” he said. “He’s a good all-around guy. They have Leodis, who was playing OK last year. To me, he’s probably more of a third. But he’s better than some that start. … Nickell Robey, little midget, but he’s a feisty little player.”