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Bills Training Camp Battles: Nickel Cornerback

The Buffalo Bills like defensive backs. Under head coach Dick Jauron, the team has drafted defensive backs with nearly thirty percent of their picks, selecting a total of ten over the past four seasons. In a league where passing attacks are constantly becoming further diversified, speed is at a premium and the spread offense is on the way, the idea that you can never have enough good defensive backs is a sound one. (That is particularly true this year, with several potent passing attacks on Buffalo's schedule. Tom Brady is back from injury, after all.)

Unfortunately, the Bills have also had to endure a rash of injuries in the defensive backfield, particularly at cornerback. Terrence McGee is perpetually banged up, it seems, and has missed a game here and there. Now-departed Jabari Greer missed six games in 2008. Ashton Youboty has only appeared in 19 games through three seasons, ending two of those on IR. The lineup shuffling has been so frequent that strong safety Donte Whitner has often been relied on to handle nickel duties for the team.

Right now, however, everyone is healthy at the corner position - including Youboty, who was limited during spring mini-camps but is expected to be a full participant when training camp opens next Saturday. With great health comes great competition - and with the team's starting corners all but officially set, the major battle taking place in Buffalo's defensive backfield this summer will be for the nickel corner role. Your contenders are after the jump.

The Front-Runner: Ashton Youboty. Yeah, I know he's hurt all the time, but no one can deny that Youboty has had an impact in the little time he's been on the field. After winning the nickel job last season - rendering veteran corner Will James a roster casualty - Youboty started the season with 8 tackles in a win over Seattle. He played in just five games before ending up on IR, but was on pace for a 64-tackle season - excellent production from a sub-package corner. He's shown solid ball skills and a knack to make plays on the blitz as well (he registered a sack on David Garrard in a Week 2 win over Jacksonville last year). If he's healthy, there's no reason not to think that he won't out-play the competition again.

The Challenger: Drayton Florence. There is an outside shot that Florence will start. Leodis McKelvin is the clear front-runner, but if the NFL sophomore struggles, Florence could see time next to McGee on the outside. That said, Florence has been concentrating mostly on the nickel position, an area at which he excelled in San Diego (10 interceptions over four seasons). However, Florence is coming off of a disastrous stay in Jacksonville, and many are quickly writing him off as the "next Will James" - i.e., the veteran corner that gets the axe. His two-year, $6 million deal says otherwise. Florence will be a factor in Buffalo next season.

The Dark Horse: Reggie Corner. A lot of folks weren't fond of the Bills when they selected the 5'9", 171-pound, moving-toward-25-year-old Corner in the fourth round of the 2008 Draft. Corner flew so far under the radar that he wasn't even invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. Yet his performance last season, while a tad erratic, justified the selection: Corner saw a solid amount of playing time in sub-package roles in the second half of the season while the Bills were dealing with injuries, and he even made some plays here and there (he had four pass break-ups in a win over Denver, including a tip in the end zone that could have tied the game late in the fourth quarter). Corner was impressive this spring, routinely intercepting passes, forcing fumbles and taking nearly every rep as the first-team nickel corner. He'll have a hard time beating out both Youboty and Florence for the job in July, but he'll be given an opportunity. The Bills may have found a diamond in the rough with this player.