Before the final practice of minicamp, Buffalo Bills’ head coach Sean McDermott spoke to the media. Along with a variety of topics, McDermott briefly spoke about the chance of bringing out the Big Nickel defense, something he used in Carolina as defensive coordinator but didn’t use with the Bills in his first season.
“Well we’re trying some different players in the position; you're not going to do it unless you feel like it is a position of strength and we’re still vetting that process,” said McDermott about the formation.
McDermott went on to say that it is something in his toolbox that he has, and if the right player fits that mold, running it could be a possibility. At the end of the day, however, it all comes down to matchups.
McDermott ran something similar in Carolina, which he called the “Buffalo Nickel.” In that case, it was the ever-so versatile Shaq Thompson. The closest player on the Bills roster that matches Thompson’s athleticism, size, and abilities is former fifth-round pick, Matt Milano. Milano is coming off an incredible year when accounting for the expectations of a rookie taken in the fifth round. Of course, depending on the matchups at hand, the lengthy Phillip Gaines could play a similar role, as could one of the team’s bigger safeties, such as Kelcie McCray who is a 6’2” 202-lb. safety, Dean Marlowe, a 6’1” 208-lb. safety and rookie 5th-round pick, Siran Neal, standing at 6’1” 205-lbs.
On the June 14th episode of, “The Bills Beat with Joe Buscaglia and Matthew Fairburn” the two discuss the options at the Big Nickel spot. Buscaglia seemed to think that rookie Siran Neal is not a lock as the fourth safety and thinks there may be competition between Neal and Marlowe:
“I don't think Siran Neal is locked in as the fourth safety,” said Buscaglia. “Maybe Rafael Bush is locked in as the third safety, but I look at Dean Marlowe. He is another long defender. He's very strong, a very imposing force. He moves really well out there. He's really caught their eye by putting himself in the right position a lot of the times. Watching their positional coach, he's very complimentary of him. I think Marlowe has a chance if he can capitalize on a good spring to potentially crack into the roster.”
Fairburn expressed that the possibility of the Big Nickel could determine a roster spot:
“I think [the ability to play the Big Nickel] is going to be the path to the roster assuming that Rafael Bush is safe as the third safety, that might be your path to the roster as the fourth safety if you can prove that you can fill that role which allows you to cover bigger slot receivers or come off the edge, they ask a lot of that guy.”
Fairburn went on to say that utilization of that position could heat up in training camp as the pads will be on rather than shorts and a t-shirt.
Although the head coach has the personnel grouping in his toolbox, he won’t force the tools into action unless he has the right ones to utilize. Continuing that “vetting process,” as McDermott called it, throughout training camp and the preseason will help to determine what the team’s best personnel groupings are for different situations.