Note: This is the first installment of a new series called "Buffalo Bills Training Camp Battles". Over the next nine days, Buffalo Rumblings will cover some of the more heated battles that will take place for roster positions when Bills Training Camp opens on July 26. Today's examination: right cornerback.
We have heard it before: "Blah blah blah blah Nate Clements is gone blah blah blah. The Bills' cornerbacks are bad blah." That has been the assessment of countless media "experts" this off-season, and it's an assessment that has worn out its welcome in Buffalo. The Bills may not be as certain at corner as they were a year ago, but there is not a lack of talent at the position. One starter returns in fifth-year veteran Terrence McGee. But who will start opposite him? Read on to find out.
The Favorite: Jason Webster (44)
Signed just two months ago, Webster has already emerged as the leading candidate to start after a strong spring performance in team mini-camps. That might cause those pessimistic fans to point out that a castoff from Atlanta is good enough to be our second-best corner already. I see it differently - Webster suffered through some injuries and slumps in Atlanta, but there's a reason that the Falcons gave him a big contract - he can play. He won't make Bills fans miss Clements if he does end up starting, but there are far worse options out there.
The Upstart: Ashton Youboty (26)
By all accounts, Youboty - a veteran of just three NFL games - is not ready to start for this team. But don't make the mistake of counting him out of this race, because this kid has the talent to play right away. He's the tallest of the candidates, he's added a bit of muscle this off-season and he is perhaps the most talented defensive back the team has outside of Donte Whitner. While the veterans he's competing against are solid enough, Youboty is a superior talent. If he can keep up mentally in the first week of camp, the coaching staff may feel comfortable enough to at least make him the nickel corner.
The Darkhorse: Kiwaukee Thomas (25)
Thomas has "nickel back" written all over him, because that was his role in Perry Fewell's defense last season. Thomas has the benefit of a full year in Fewell's scheme going for him. That experience makes Thomas a darkhorse to start at right cornerback, regardless of his role last season. However, at this point it seems that the coaching staff would like to keep him in that nickel role. Case in point: when McGee missed a game last year at the Jets, it was Youboty who started the game, not Thomas. Kiwaukee is too used to the nickel role to switch him to a starting slot.
The Longshot: Jabari Greer (33)
This is the longest of long shots. Greer has always been a player who has great training camps yet can't seem to put it all together during the regular season. The coaching staff asked him to put on a few pounds this off-season, which would make him a more physical presence in a defense that demands physicality from its corners. But the competition is too steep and Greer is too valuable a special-teamer to ever be a serious candidate for this post.
Predicting the Winner
You can eliminate two names right off the bat - Greer and Thomas - due to their already-entrenched roles as special teams ace and nickel back. That, in effect, leaves Webster and Youboty to battle it out for the starting right corner job, and this is a battle that is probably a lot closer than it may appear at first glance. My prediction: Webster is the opening-day starter. He is a tough, physical player that brings a veteran element to a young secondary - something that this defense sorely needs at the beginning of the season. My second prediction: Youboty is starting by mid-season. He has struggled through spring workouts, but this is a kid who once he "gets it" will fly up the depth chart. I expect that leap to come sometime before the bye week (Week Six).
Poll Results: Webster It Is
In a poll conducted over the past week, 67 Bills fans have sounded off on this battle. The results are as follows:
Name the opening day starter at Right Cornerback.
Jason Webster: 43 votes (67%)
Ashton Youboty: 12 votes (17%)
Kiwaukee Thomas: 10 votes (14%)
Jabari Greer: 2 votes (2%)
Coming Tomorrow: the Backup QB battle. Be sure to vote in the poll at the top right of the page on who you think will win that battle!