The Buffalo Bills made a big change to their top-ranked secondary this past week against the Miami Dolphins. Levi Wallace, who has been the team’s starter since the middle of the 2018 season, was replaced by free-agent pickup Kevin Johnson. Johnson, a former first-round pick, was signed this offseason to push Wallace but ultimately the second-year former undrafted free agent was able to hold Johnson at bay. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more.
Wallace had a rough outing against the Cleveland Browns the week before, so it’s not surprising that working in Johnson was in the plan against the Dolphins. The pair nearly split reps down the middle, with Wallace starting and playing 33 snaps and Johnson coming on for 36 snaps.
Head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier were careful to not say too much in their responses to questions Monday regarding the cornerback platoon.
“As we were going through the week and our preparation we thought this would be a good thing to do based on what we were seeing from the opponent,” said Frazier. “We’ll take a look at it again this week and see what’s the best thing to do.”
“Rolling them was just taking a look at different combinations again, and then making the offense work a little bit as well in some different areas, different types of players and different combinations,” said McDermott, again making reference to the game plan.
It was the first time all season Wallace’s playing time had dropped below 94% of the defensive snaps (except for the game against the Philadelphia Eagles where he left due to injury).
“Kevin is a really good football player and so is Levi,” said Frazier. “You want to get them on the field. We’ve been using Kevin previously at the nickel position and given him opportunities that way. But he’s been a really good corner. And so we wanted to give him a chance and we’ll see how it goes this week as we prepare.”
Johnson had played in place of an injured Taron Johnson earlier in the season. Kevin Johnson was over 20 snaps in games against the New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals, and New England Patriots and close against the Tennessee Titans.
“I thought he handled himself well; tackled well, played with good eyes and discipline, played good fundamentally, gave us some juice,” said McDermott on Wednesday of Kevin Johnson. “He’s a good energy guy for us. Tough. The identity of a defense sometimes comes from how tough your corners are and we rely on those guys to be physical for us.”
That is perhaps the biggest slight against Wallace, who is listed at 6’0” and 179 lbs, but plays better when he’s not being asked to be physical with receivers. Johnson at 6’0” and 185 lbs is a little more physical as McDermott likes at the position.
“Levi—as I said before—is a team-first, unselfish, young man, that has done and played a lot of good football for us and we expect him to continue with that,” added McDermott Monday.
We’ll see how the Bills roll out the reps on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.