State of the Roster: Bills Strong Safeties

Whitner needs to break out in Year 3 (BuffaloBills.com)

In a Cover-2 defense - the choice base alignment of our Buffalo Bills - strong safeties have historically been big playmakers in that scheme. Former Bucs SS John Lynch started the trend; players such as Chicago's Mike Brown, Minnesota's Darren Sharper, former Ram Adam Archuleta and most notably the Colts' Bob Sanders have all followed suit to varying degrees of success. Yet the Bills have not had a player who has shown the ability to consistently make plays at the position since the days of Henry Jones. We've had some big names (Lawyer Milloy) and some high draft picks (Donte Whitner) manning the position, but we're still looking for better playmaking production from the position.

Do the Bills need help at strong safety? These four guys think not...

Donte Whitner
Whitner's production dropped a bit in 2007, his second year in the league. The youngster tallied 17 fewer tackles (89, down from 106), made only one interception and in general did not improve much on his rookie season. His strength is playing down in the box against the run; he needs to become more adept at playing with the same aggressiveness in the secondary while in zone coverage. Still takes the occasional bad angle when trying to tackle, often leading to bigger gains for the opposition. To put it into perspective: Whitner's averages as a Bill (97.5 tackles, 1 INT per season) are nearly identical to the numbers put up by his predecessor, Lawyer Milloy (91.3 tackles, 1 INT, 2.7 sacks per season; he missed 5 games in '04). Different defenses, yes; similar production, yes. Whitner's due to break out, and the Bills need him to.

Will Improve in '08 if - he becomes more aggressive in pass coverage :: he becomes a more consistent tackler, and takes better angles :: the coaching staff finds a way to use his versatility to get him around the ball more often

Bryan Scott
Signed as a free agent before the Week 2 meeting in Pittsburgh, Scott found a way to work into the defensive rotation by season's end. Used mostly as a run down/blitzing safety, Scott showed a propensity to make plays in opposing backfields, and was a technically sound veteran presence in a very young secondary. He's an unrestricted free agent heading into the off-season; the Bills would be wise to re-sign the young (26) veteran, as he's a solid special teamer and has familiarity with the base scheme.

John Wendling
Wendling, a rookie last season, came into the league as highly regarded as a sixth-round pick can be. It became clear as the season wore on, however, that the coaching staff didn't want Wendling to play defense just yet - using Scott and converted wideout George Wilson in the rotation before Wendling. One of Buffalo's best special teams performers, Wendling almost assuredly as a roster spot locked up next season; the coaching staff would do him right by picking a defensive position for him and getting him some experience at it.

Will Improve in '08 if - he doesn't have to learn both safety spots :: the Bills utilize his size and athleticism in goal line defensive packages

Jon Corto
One of the better stories on Buffalo's roster - the Orchard Park native earns a tryout with his local pro team, catches a spot on the practice squad, and winds up on the active roster for the season finale. That said, the depth the Bills have developed at the safety position means that Corto will struggle to retain that roster spot in '08.

Off-Season Outlook
It's clear as crystal that Whitner - who is quickly developing into one of Buffalo's most vocal defensive leaders, and is a favorite of the coaching staff - has the starting spot locked down for the foreseeable future. Therefore, don't expect a lot of change at this position - unless the Bills feel the need to let Scott become a free agent. If that happens, the Bills will likely either let one of their free safeties (Jim Leonhard being the obvious choice) be the top backup here, or they'll put more responsibility on Wendling. Scott is the best reserve option for the club at this point; if he's gone, look for a youth movement or a re-shuffling in the reserve ranks.

Possible additions: low-round pick.
Possible subtractions: Scott, Corto.

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