The Buffalo Bills' problems at cornerback are about to reach a turning point.
Some would argue that point came and went three Sundays ago against the New England Patriots.
I maintain, however, the disastrous showing by the Bills' corners that day, along with their Monday night humiliation eight days later at Seattle, could just as easily represent an ending as they do the beginning of the end.
Rex Ryan and his assistant coaches wisely spent part of their bye taking a much-needed hard look at the shockingly bad play on the back end of the defense.
They've seen Stephon Gilmore become an entirely different player than the one who, entering the season, seemed to have the potential to make a solid case to be the NFL's top-paid player at his position. Now, the question isn't so much whether he damaged his chances to get a hefty raise as he plays out the final year of his rookie contract. It's whether he'll even be on the team.
They've also seen Ronald Darby revert to the lost rookie he was during the 2015 preseason rather than the strong defensive-rookie-of-the-year candidate he eventually became.
For the time being, it appears Darby, who was benched during the Seahawks' game (as opposed to the "he was sick" cover story Ryan felt compelled to offer for some reason), might very well find himself continuing to watch when the Bills face the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday. Corey White, who took Darby's place against the Seattle, worked with the starters in Monday's practice and is getting a chance to compete for the No. 1 job through the rest of the week.
White might be an improvement. He surely couldn't be any worse. And the change could very well be exactly what the Bills need to plug at least one of the major leaks in their pass defense.
Think about it. Darby was the Bills' second-round draft pick last year. General Manager Doug Whaley saw his play as a rookie as vindication for the criticism Whaley received for taking Darby despite character concerns and especially after his poor inaugural preseason. I was also told by a high-ranking club official last season that the team viewed Darby as having better ball skills than Gilmore and that one of the major concerns with giving Gilmore a new deal was how it would impact the likelihood of paying Darby big money in his second contract.
Benching him isn't something the Bills would do without a good deal of thought behind it.
And if the intention of having White begin the practice week as a starter is merely to give Darby a figurative boot in the rear, so be it. At least it is indicative of a coaching staff that is trying to be proactive about the Bills' do-or-die status as they enter the final seven weeks of their schedule. Figure out how to make Darby play better or go with someone else who actually does.
After the Seattle game, Ryan went out of his way to praise Gilmore for his performance. Perhaps, compared with how he played against New England, it was an improvement. And compared with how Darby played, it was the lesser of two evils. But praiseworthy? I wouldn't say so.
Nevertheless, Ryan clearly is counting on Gilmore to bounce back. He's also clearly trying to help him regain any lost confidence or focus or both, knowing the Bills have almost no chance of succeeding against some of the explosive passing attacks (especially those of the Bengals, Raiders, and Steelers) they will face if they don't somehow find their way to at least a marginal upgrade at cornerback.