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Training camp preview: Stability at safety is a strength of Bills' secondary

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Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde (23) returns a punt during the first quarter at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021.

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This is the eighth in a series of previews of Bills at each position heading into training camp. This installment: Safeties.

It was no surprise that the Buffalo Bills’ front office gave a vote of confidence to the safety position this offseason.

The list of newcomers to the position group was zilch.

When you have arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, there is every reason to stand pat.

The lack of moves also was a reflection on second-teamers Jaquan Johnson and Damar Hamlin. The Bills feel good enough about those two that they didn’t even bring in any undrafted free agents at the safety position.

Johnson was a sixth-round pick in 2019. Hamlin was a sixth-round pick in 2021.

“I think Jaquan, he's the guy who's probably had the most experience when Micah and Jordan haven't played,” said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. “That shows some of the things that he's doing. He's playing with a lot of confidence (in the spring). He was really good at Phase One and Phase Two (of OTAs) with taking charge and leading. You would expect that because of where he is in his career. Whereas Damar is still developing and still finding his way, but he's growing.”

Johnson and Hamlin are largely untested. Johnson played 90 defensive snaps last season. Hamlin played 50. Johnson made his first career start in place of Poyer against Houston last season.

“I think the fact that our starters weren’t here” for most of spring," Frazier said, “is really benefitting those young guys.”

Returnees: Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Jaquan Johnson, Damar Hamlin, Josh Thomas.

Newcomers: None.

Departures: None.

Key number: The Bills allowed the fewest big pass plays in the NFL in 2021 – just 31 catches of 20 yards or more. That was the lowest in the five-year reign of Sean McDermott and Frazier in Buffalo, eclipsing the total of 34 in 2019. It’s a reflection of the secondary’s ability to play assignment-sound defense, led by Hyde and Poyer.

Top position battle: Not much to see here. Josh Thomas joined the Bills as an undrafted rookie in 2020 out of Appalachian State. He has spent the past two seasons on the practice squad. He’s a pretty good bet to land on the practice squad again this summer.

What to expect: The expectation is there will be some kind of resolution this summer to Poyer’s desire for a new contract. He’s entering the last year of his current contract.

Meanwhile, look for the young guys to get a lot of snaps in the exhibition games. Johnson has some of the physical traits to excel near the line of scrimmage that Poyer demonstrates. Both Johnson and Hamlin will want to show sure tackling in preseason games. The Bills probably will give cornerback Nick McCloud snaps at safety as well.

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Bills/NFL writer

Gaughan's insight is featured in the "PlayAction" video series, providing analysis to get Bills fans ready for the next game. He is past president of the Pro Football Writers of America and served as a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector for 12 years.

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