"All due respect to Robin Thicke, there’s a lot of blurred lines when it comes to free safety and strong safety," Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Wednesday. "Those lines are closer and closer to disappearing."
Schwartz, who spoke with reporters after yesterday's OTA session, was responding to a question about the roles of the safeties in the defense he's installing with the Bills. That's a position at which the team lost one of the league's best center-fielders in Jairus Byrd, who departed for the New Orleans Saints in March.
"I think the whole league has moved to interchangeable safeties," Schwartz said. "The days of having an in-the-box safety and a deep safety, that’s - all they have to do is motion the tight and and you can change it. You have to be able to cover a wide receiver man to man, but you also have to be able to get down in the box and tackle a 235-pound running back. You have to be able to blitz. It’s a wide range of skill set."
In his lone season under Mike Pettine, Byrd was used as a blitzer, but rarely was asked to drop into the slot and cover receivers one-on-one. Aaron Williams, on the other hand, was asked to do that - and more than just when he was forced to play cornerback due to injuries. Schwartz spoke glowingly of the fourth-year defensive back yesterday, as well.
"That’s why I’m so excited to work with Aaron," Schwartz said of his top safety. "Aaron is showing all of those things. He can range from the middle of the field, he can cover a guy man to man. He’s got those hybrid corner-safety skills. I hadn’t studied him since he came out of college, but the thing that probably impressed me the most was his physical play. He’s a tough guy, and really made a physical impact on the field last year."
When asked, Schwartz was diplomatic in noting that the team really isn't evaluating players enough at this point to declare a front-runner in the competition for the starting spot next to Williams. That position will likely fall to one of Da'Norris Searcy, Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks, with Williams - a 2013 fourth-round pick out of Nevada with eerily similar athletic traits to Aaron Williams - coming the closest to interchangeability. Out of that group of safety prospects, the two Williams players have the most experience by far playing corner.
Here's a quick peek at how those four players stack up athletically. These were their athletic numbers when each entered the NFL.