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Bills Position Preview: The focus is on depth at safety

This is the 10th in series previewing each position on the Buffalo Bills before the July 26 start of training camp.

Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer formed one of the best safety tandems in the NFL last season.

Hyde played 96.2 percent of the snaps for the Bills. Poyer played 93.8 percent.

Thank goodness they didn't get hurt. Building better depth behind them was an offseason goal for two reasons: Better insurance in case of injury and more flexibility for the coaches to employ more three-safety looks, if desired.

Returnees: Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, L.J. McCray, Dean Marlowe.

Newcomers: Rafael Bush (free agent), Siran Neal (draft), Kelcie McCray (free agent).

Departures: Shamarko Thomas (free agent), Colt Anderson (free agent).

What the numbers say: Hyde and Poyer each had five interceptions last season, combining for the most of any safety pair in the league. The Bills allowed the second fewest touchdown passes in the NFL (14). That also speaks to the reliability of Hyde and Poyer on the back end.

What to expect: The Bills were fortunate that Hyde and Poyer stayed so healthy. Hyde played every game. Poyer missed just one game. The backups at safety last season were shaky, but it didn't matter much.

The Bills addressed the issue by signing Bush from New Orleans to a two-year, $3.5 million contract. He has played in 76 games over seven NFL seasons. He gives the Bills insurance as a reliable, assignment-sound third safety behind either Hyde or Poyer.

"We saw a guy who had really good range and is tough as nails," said Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier of Bush. "He will hit you, but has good athletic ability as well. He played smart. Now that we've had him a few weeks, you see he's a very intelligent football player. Good football IQ. At the safety position that's a big deal."

"His range, toughness and football IQ, those are good ingredients," Frazier said. "Now we feel we have better depth at safety than we had a season ago."

One would think fifth-round pick Siran Neal from Jacksonville State will be the fourth safety. He will get competition from Dean Marlowe and Kelcie McCray. Marlowe played for Sean McDermott with the Carolina Panthers in 2015 and 2016 and joined the Bills practice squad at the end of last season. (He saw action in five games in 2015 and sat out '16 on injured reserve). McCray has bounced around five teams the past seven years but has played a lot. He saw 50 percent of the snaps for Seattle in 2016 and 65 percent in 2015.

Can one of the other safety candidates challenge Neal for the fourth spot or play well enough in camp to convince the Bills to keep five safeties?

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