Thursday night’s 20-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 of the NFL’s preseason schedule afforded the Buffalo Bills their first look at their new starting safety tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Hyde (strong safety) and Poyer (free safety) both signed with the Bills as free agents, but Hyde missed the first preseason game with an injury. Both are still adjusting to Buffalo’s zone-coverage scheme.
During their preseason debut as a tandem against the Eagles, Poyer made two tackles (one solo) and deflected one pass while coming up with one tackle for a loss. Poyer broke through and brought down LeGarrett Blount for a two-yard loss on the first play of the game. Hyde’s lone stop came on a solo tackle. Poyer and Hyde were part of a stout Buffalo defense that allowed only five yards on the Eagles' first nine plays, an average of 0.6 yards per play.
What can Bills fans expect from the safety position heading into the 2017 season?
Hyde, a free agent signee from the Green Bay Packers, is versatile and brings leadership to a Buffalo unit that is young and still learning defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s schemes.
Hyde, with the most starting experience of any Buffalo safety (33 starts in four seasons with Green Bay) is the key to the secondary playing at a high level this year. He hauled in three interceptions in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Poyer, a free agent signee from the Cleveland Browns, doesn’t possess much starting experience in the league, and when he has seen the field, the results have been mixed. According to Football Outsider’s Aaron Schatz, Poyer followed up a great 2015 season with an awful 2016 season, although both years are considered very limited samples according to Schatz.
Can Poyer prove himself an effective tackler? It was an issue that plagued him in 2015 with 12 broken tackles in 425 snaps. Bills fans hope to see more of the 2016 version of Poyer, when he only had two tackles broken. In McDermott’s cover-3 defense, Poyer, a free safety, will often occupy the “deep center field” role.
At strong safety, Shamiel Gary, in his third year out of Oklahoma State, is listed second on the depth chart. He has appeared in nine career games with the Bills and Dolphins, and has been a member of the practice squads for New England and Minnesota during his career. Gary made a pair of tackles against the Eagles while logging a team-high 33 snaps.
Rounding out the strong safeties, Joe Powell recorded three tackles (two solo) vs. Philadelphia, while Trae Elston added three tackles (all solo). Elston saw 29 snaps, tied with Poyer and Hyde for second-most on the team behind Gary. Both Elston and Gary have been heavily involved on special teams in addition to their repetitions at strong safety.
At free safety, the depth chart behind Poyer includes Colt Anderson, an eighth-year veteran out of Montana, and fan favorite Bacarri Rambo, who once picked off Aaron Rodgers twice during Buffalo’s 21-13 upset win on Dec. 14, 2014. Anderson did not record a tackle in Week 2 of the preseason, while Rambo, who was brought back by the Bills to provide depth, sat out the Eagles’ game due to a hamstring injury. B.T. Sanders, an undrafted rookie out of Nicholls State, did not record a tackle during his 16 snaps.
The Bills have eight safeties on their roster, but they will need contributions from more than just their two big free agent signings, Hyde and Poyer. Look for the depth chart to be further solidified when Buffalo travels to Baltimore at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Week 3 of the preseason.