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I write this Bills blog to express my thoughts on the goings-on of my all-time favorite sports franchise; if I didn't do this, my head would explode. So forgive me for the following rant: Ladies and gentlemen, the Buffalo Bills are better off without Nate Clements at cornerback. That might sound insane to most Bills fans - after all, Clements was our best cornerback, and the position is considered by many to be downgraded from last year. Read on - I shall do my best to convince you that not just the team, but the defensive backfield will be improved (eventually) with Clements thieving millions in San Francisco.
Again, the Cover-2 defense asks of its corners things that aren't always necessary for basic 4-3 or 3-4 alignments. Buffalo's cornerbacks will be playing short-zone coverage the vast majority of the time (with the "2" in Cover-2 the two deep safeties). If the team switches to a Cover-3 alignment, one corner will drop deep with the two safeties, with the other corner remaining short, again in zone coverage. These are the two predominant looks. With zone the emphasis, tackling skills are actually at a higher premium than pure cover skills.
Last season, Perry Fewell did not blitz often; when he did, he often sent Kiwaukee Thomas from the nickel corner slot. Expect to see even more of that as most of our defenders now have a year of experience under their belts. It may not necessarily be Thomas, but that's beside the point - the nickel corner usually lines up very closely to the linebackers, which makes blitzing from that spot easy (if predictable).
24-Terrence McGee: Assumes the #1 role with Clements out of town. Got picked on by opposing defenses last season due to his size (5'9"), but that shouldn't stop him from having a bounceback year. He'll benefit from the continued development of the zone portions of our coverage schemes. There is, however, a lot of pressure on him to step up and at least come close to what Clements brought to this defense.
25-Kiwaukee Thomas: Due to his year of experience in the system, I still believe he'll be the starting RCB for the season opener. He'll face stiff competition from the next two players on this list; regardless of whether he starts or not, he will likely re-assume his role as the nickel corner in multi-DB sets. He was effective there last year; what the team really needs from him is to hold on to some of the many interceptions he dropped last season.
44-Jason Webster: I'll admit, I wasn't the biggest fan of Webster when he was signed (thanks mostly to this "glowing" endorsement from The Falcoholic). But everything we've heard about Webster through spring practices has been promising, especially his ascension to taking reps with the first unit defense. He is a tough defender with solid tackling skills; I think this defense will mask some of his cover deficiencies (like McGee).
26-Ashton Youboty: This guy is green. He's talented, but you might not find a player in the NFL (outside of the QB position) who is less ready to see significant playing time. He's got talent, to be sure, but there's a reason we brought in Webster - Youboty needs time to ripen up. He'll be a dime back and a specialist to start the year, but could see more playing time if he picks things up quickly. I'm high on this kid - he's a quick learner, and I honestly think he'll be the #1 corner by next season. Feel free to hold me to that.
33-Jabari Greer: It could be argued that Greer is the most important specialist on the roster. He's fast, aggressive and one heck of a gunner on punt coverage. With that said, he won't see much time defensively unless there's an injury (knock on wood).
Rounding it out: Eric Bassey, Riley Swanson, Reggie Lewis, Duane Coleman. In my mind, any of these four guys could crack the roster if the Bills decide to keep someone over Greer. That's not likely, but I'm not discounting the possibility either. I'm especially keen on Swanson, who has been making a lot of plays throughout spring. If there's anybody on this roster who I'd pick for the practice squad, it's Swanson.
Clements meant a lot to this defense last season because of the fact that Fewell was playing a lot more match-up coverage (i.e. Clements on the top receiver) than he liked to. This was a mid-season switch after McGee gave up some big plays; if the team decides to go back to their original plan of corners staying on their own side, there will be growing pains. There will be growing pains regardless. But this position is far from desolate - in fact, it's brimming with talent. Like every other position on the team's defense, the Bills are cutting their losses with Clements, a good player that was vastly overrated in free agency. Things are looking up at Buffalo's cornerback position; the only required ingredient is a bit of patience.