Suddenly, Corbin Bryant is one of the veterans. The 28-year-old has played for three defensive coordinators in Western New York with 47 games of experience.
Now, he’s a restricted free agent. A free agent who wants to be part of the solution in Buffalo.
The goal? To stay. Does he view himself as starter material? Absolutely.
“I feel that I’ve proven myself as a starter in this league,” Bryant said. “The tape and what I’ve done speaks for itself.”
Bryant rode the wave of ups and downs in Year One of Rex Ryan’s defense and believes he can be a part of getting it right in Year Two. No, he doesn’t view his future tied to Kyle Williams’ health at all, emphatically stating that Williams should play in Buffalo as long as he wants to with his résumé. But Bryant wants to stay, wants to help this defense turn a corner and could be priority No. 1 on the Bills’ restricted free-agent list.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder had 45 tackles (24 solo) a year ago. Like inside linebacker Preston Brown, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a compromise reached between players and coaches in Buffalo’s final two wins of the season.
After the very public spanking at Washington, Bryant said the Bills “felt like we got embarrassed” and that nobody wanted that sinking feeling again.
So Ryan and Co. started taking more player input.
“Everybody went out there and totally cut it loose,” Bryant said. “The coaches were asking us what we were comfortable with and put together a good game plan. That really helped the entire defense.”
And then some.
The Bills rattled Kellen Moore to the tune of a 48.6 passer rating in a 16-6 win over Dallas. They bruised and battered Ryan Fitzpatrick in a 22-17 win the next week – the New York quarterback had a season-low 42.7 rating. Letting Bryant, Marcell Dareus and others loose worked.
Of course it was all too little, too late, too frustrating for the 70,000 in the stands. But it’s important for the Bills to carry such compromise into next season.
“Because it’s a team game,” Bryant said. “It’s not just us players on the field. It’s the coaches, as well. If they’re calling something we’re not that comfortable with, then we’re not going to play it well. If they find the things we’re comfortable with, the things we do well, it bodes well for everybody in the organization.”
The loss of Williams certainly stung. As defensive back Leodis McKelvin bluntly said, “When Kyle went down, everything changed.” Even at his age, with his mileage, there is likely room for Williams and his $8 million salary on the roster.
And Buffalo should be able to ink Bryant, too. A front office pinching pennies this offseason may offer the RFA the low tender and he’d be an unrestricted free agent next spring.
Bryant had a promising meeting with Doug Whaley after the season, though the general manager admitted money was tight this offseason.
Said Bryant, “As of lately, we haven’t heard much of anything. We’ll see what happens.”
Bryant sees himself bringing another steady “veteran presence” to the locker room here. He’s a guy who was once pushed to the brink in Pittsburgh – cut repeatedly by Mike Tomlin, living out of the Omni William Penn Hotel, never knowing what’s next – before latching on with Buffalo.
“A guy who’s been out there,” Bryant said. “A guy who’s seen a lot. A guy who can break down film really well. A guy who knows the different tricks of the trade to figure out what teams are doing. And also, a physical presence out there as well. All the different parts that we have, everybody brings something great to the table and that’s what’s exciting.”
So Bryant repeats the buzzword: Continuity. That’s been the Bills’ version of “Make America Great” this offseason, repeated by Ryan, Whaley, everyone from January to, surely, September.
When a defense is constantly changing – and the terminology is re-jumbled each year – the product suffers, Bryant explained. He expects a big step in 2016.
Transitioning from Mike Pettine’s 3-4 to Jim Schwartz’s simplified scheme to Ryan’s 3-4 wasn’t a problem for Bryant, who leaned on that experience with Pettine. But it was tough for many players who weren’t around in 2013, especially considering the success under Schwartz in 2014.
Multiple players admitted some would not buy in.
To Bryant, it’s not so much that players and coaches weren’t on the same page. Rather, it took months for coaches to figure out the personnel.
“I’d say it takes time to learn the type of players you have,” Bryant said. “You can say you learn it in OTAs and training camp but until you get out there in a real game situation, it’s a lot different. We had our moments where we were dominant and we played well. And we had some games where things just didn’t go our way. It’s not like we were 5-11 or won only like four games.”
True, it’s not all gloom and doom.
But the Bills also don’t have much wiggle room to add reinforcements on defense this season. They’ll be counting on vets such as Bryant forming a strong nucleus.
He hopes so, anyway. Bryant feels your pain and wants that playoff drought to end once and for all.
“The people really care about the team,” he said, “and we see the passion from all the people who live there. It motivates us to want to do something great in that area.”