There’s a battle in the Buffalo Bills secondary that fans should monitor this summer. And no, it’s not found at either of the outside cornerback positions which have presumably already been decided upon.
Inside at the nickel cover spot is where the competition is at. Apparently, the man currently holding down the No. 3 spot on the cornerback depth chart is a name that Bills fans are likely not very familiar with — Leonard Johnson.
Signed to a very modest one-year deal last March, the undrafted 27-year-old Johnson joins the Bills after a career that has spanned five seasons thus far (three with Tampa Bay and one each with New England and Carolina). In 2016, Johnson played in 10 games with the Panthers under the directions of Sean McDermott, the team’s defensive coordinator at the time.
He recorded 30 total tackles and one pass defensed a season ago — with eight of those tackles and his lone defensed pass coming in a Week 8 win over Arizona. Nonetheless, Johnson apparently made quite the impression on McDermott then, and it’s carried over to Buffalo.
“The thing that I love about Leonard is how tough he is,” the coach said last week during mandatory minicamp, via Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News. “He’s like a little Tyson in terms of just the way he approaches the game. He gives us an edge on defense, which is important.”
Go figure. McDermott referenced boxing legend Mike Tyson in regards to a player that he spent just one season with, one who failed to appear in more than a quarter of Carolina’s games.
Skurski notes that Johnson has lined up with the first-team defense as the slot cornerback during spring practices, ahead of second-year man Kevon Seymour (Round 6 pick in 2016), who appeared in 15 games and started three of those, slotted as the No. 3 man on the depth chart. It sounds as if it’s Johnson’s aggressive style of play along with his familiarity with McDermott’s defensive system has helped him stave off Seymour to this point.
“His familiarity with the system certainly helps in terms of his comfort level, and then also helping teach the players around him at times when coaches aren’t around — or on the field, to correct within a drive, that’s important, that ability to do that,” McDermott said. “I remember the thing that sticks out about Leonard was last year, his first game that he played for us, he had a sack or two and you saw the energy and the juice, the toughness — there’s no substitute for that mental and physical toughness that he brings to the table.”
Training camp is just around the corner, and it is there that this battle will take an interesting turn. There the pads will come on, and the Bills will get to see firsthand just how good Johnson really is.