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Bills at DB: Hard to see immediate improvement in revamped secondary

This is the eighth of a series that examines where the Buffalo Bills stand at each position heading into training camp, which begins July 27. Today’s installment looks at defensive back.

You can argue the New England Patriots paid far too much to sign Stephon Gilmore as a free agent.

To some, the five-year contract that guarantees the cornerback $40 million isn't commensurate with the way he played for most of his five seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Yes, he was good, often very good. But that kind of money?

The Patriots do have a way of getting the most out of their investments, even the ones that occasionally prompt head-scratching. If nothing else, they succeeded in taking away an important piece of the defense of another AFC East team which happened to rank sixth in the NFL last season in passing yards allowed per game (with an average of 223.9).

And that's where the conversation about the Bills' secondary, which has undergone some of the biggest of the many changes on the team, has to begin.

It's hard to expect immediate improvement with a cornerback pairing of Ronald Darby -- who did not play as well last season as he did in his rookie year in 2015 and his transitioning to a new defense -- and a rookie, first-round draft pick Tre'Davious White.

It's also hard to expect immediate improvement with two new safeties -- free-agent acquisitions Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer -- who have yet to be starters for a full NFL season and who are also learning a new scheme.

Here's the breakdown at defensive back:

Returning: Ronald Darby (CB), Kevon Seymour (CB), Colt Anderson (S), Joe Powell (S) and Shamiel Gary (S).

Newcomers: Tre'Davious White (CB), Micah Hyde (S), Jordan Poyer (S), Shareece Wright (CB), Leonard Johnson (CB), Greg Mabin (CB), Marcus Sayles (CB), Charles James (CB), Bradley Sylve (CB), Trae Elston (S) and B.T. Sanders (S).

Better, worse or the same?: Worse.

In 2016, Darby fell well short of his sensational rookie season. He could very well rebound, but it won't be easy given that he was drafted to fit Rex Ryan's pressure-oriented scheme of the past two years that required cornerbacks to mainly play man-to-man coverage. In the Sean McDermott-Leslie Frazier defense, he must get acclimated to working within a zone-based system, and that could take time.

White's performance during offseason practices drew high praise from McDermott, who said the rookie looked much more like a second- or third-year veteran. Still, there's plenty for White to learn and opponents will no doubt seek to challenge him on a regular basis.

Seymour, Wright, and Johnson will compete for the nickel cornerback spot. Each is capable of filling the role adequately and providing solid depth.

The Bills had no choice but to part ways with safeties Aaron Williams, who was never the same after the neck injury he suffered early in the 2015 season, and Corey Graham, whose play had diminished greatly in his 10th year in the NFL.

They are starting over with a pair of newcomers: Hyde, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, and Poyer, formerly of the Cleveland Browns.

Hyde has spent much of his four professional seasons as a utility player, and his versatility is a plus. But the Bills are putting him in a key role as the quarterback of their secondary. It will take time for Hyde and Poyer to develop chemistry with each other and with the rest of the secondary as they also deal with learning a new defense.

Safety depth is a huge question mark. Among the candidates are Anderson, whose bigger contributions are expected to come on special teams, and Powell, who finished last season as an injured member of the practice squad and whose limited football background that includes the junior-college and semi-pro levels.

Next: Special teams

More from Bills pre-camp series:

Bills at QB: Could pay cut and uncertain future negatively impact Taylor?

Bills at RB: LeSean McCoy still looks to be at the top of his game

Bills at WR: Lack of commitment to Sammy Watkins speaks volumes

Bills at TE: Wait for the Charles Clay payoff continues

Bills at OL: An area of strength now carrying its share of questions

Bills at DL: Higher accountability for Marcell Dareus, simpler scheme could lead to greater production

Bills at LB: Could new role and additions help Lorenzo Alexander have a strong encore to impressive '16 season?

Bills at DB: Hard to see immediate improvement in revamped secondary

Bills at ST: Stephen Hauschka figures to spark a rebound in the kicking game

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