The departure of Leonard Johnson following the Buffalo Bills’ 2017 season was somewhat surprising. An effective slot corner, Johnson was projected to command a contract firmly in the realm of “reasonable.” The heavy usage of nickel formations to close last year makes for an intriguing camp battle to replace the departed Johnson, who remains a free agent. Veteran Phillip Gaines and rookie Taron Johnson were the names to watch, and it appears the veteran has the edge.
Matt Parrino with NewYorkUpstate.com is indicating that Gaines has been receiving the lion’s share of reps in the slot corner position. Parrino indicates that both Gaines and Taron Johnson are playing well. Johnson has received specific praise from head coach Sean McDermott.
“I’ve been impressed with the way he’s come in and handled the system and what we do and how we do things,” said McDermott McDermott. “He’s playing fast and physical, which is good to see.”
Phillip Gaines was signed after a run with the Kansas City Chiefs where his performance was generally seen as unsatisfactory. Our dive into his 2017 season revealed a flawed player that may have been at least partially a victim of being placed in the wrong scheme. Taron Johnson was taken in the fourth round of the 2018 draft by the Bills. Johnson was seen by many as having the potential to come in and win the job in his rookie season.
Gaines has the ability to play both inside and outside, so if one of Vontae Davis or Tre’Davious White is injured, Gaines appears to be the next man to step up and replace the starting group. According to WKBW’s Joe Buscaglia, Johnson has been the second team nickel corner on days where Davis, Gaines, and White have all practiced. When Davis had a day off, it was Johnson who joined the starting group as the nickel corner.
It appears that the coaching staff has identified the top four corners, with Gaines and Johnson falling into the third and fourth spots on the depth chart early in camp.