Everyone is aware that the Bills’ new 3-4 defense means a big change for the guys on the front seven, but some may be glossing over the adjustment the cornerbacks have to make. Coach Dick Jauron is a proponent of the Cover 2 defense, which places an emphasis on zone coverage. In the Bills’ new defensive scheme, the corners will be expected to perform more in man-to-man coverage than they were in the past few seasons. Based on the first two preseason games, here is how they look thus far:
Terrence McGee: McGee is an ideal #2 corner in the NFL. He is a solid cover corner, who can stay with any receiver, though he is not capable of shutting down the top flight wideouts. Unfortunately for the Bills, he’s been their #1 corner since the departure of Nate Clements, and while he is an important player on the team, he is often asked to do too much. McGee has looked solid in his limited repetitions so far. He played well in zone coverage the past few seasons, but has the athleticism and enough ball skills to be an effective corner in man-to-man. He has good hands for a corner, and demonstrated his big play ability against the Colts on Thursday, catching a tipped Peyton Manning pass and returning it for a 78-yard touchdown.
Drayton Florence: Florence seems to be a better fit for a man-to-man defense than a zone. He is a strong corner, able to jam the opposing receivers at the line, and has enough speed to stay with quicker wideouts. He has appeared to be a little too physical so far, committing a couple of penalties in the first quarter against the Colts (one of which was declined). He can be a valuable corner, and had a great season last year, but penalties have proved to be costly to the Bills in the past, and he can’t continue to make those mistakes.
Leodis McKelvin: McKelvin is in the big third year for an NFL player. This is usually the benchmark for knowing whether or not a guy is a player in the league. McKelvin’s first two years were a disappointment. He hasn’t proved to be an effective cover corner, particularly in the cover 2 scheme. However, he has been a pleasant surprise so far this preseason. He has great speed which has resulted in his being able to defend passes by closing quickly. He has also shown improved strength, as he has made a couple plays in the run game against the Colts and Redskins, making a couple of solo tackles on running backs. If McKelvin can continue to demonstrate this improvement, he could have a breakout year.
Ashton Youboty: Youboty is a guy I have liked since the Bills drafted him out of Ohio State in Round 3 of the 2006 draft. Youboty followed Antoine Winfield (who was outstanding) and Nate Clements (who was good, but not as good as he thought he was) as a Buckeye corner the Bills selected. Youboty has played well when healthy, and never seems to get burned. He showed his ability in coverage against the Colts, defending two passes in Thursday’s game. The problem with Youboty has always been his ability to stay on the field. If he can stay healthy, he would be an excellent cover corner to have.
Reggie Corner: Corner got exposed a little bit last season when he was pressed into starting action due to injuries. Corner had been playing well in dime and even nickel coverages at times, but showed last year he is not quite able to defend a starting WR in one on one coverage. I think he’s a nice guy to have in dime situations, but more than that might be expecting too much. I wouldn’t trust him in a man-to-man defense against most slot WRs. He also has hands of stone, but is a solid tackler.
Ellis Lankster: Lankster showed some ball skills in the preseason a year ago, intercepting a couple passes. He also may be a tad infamous for the press conference he gave after the game, as it was even played on the Howard Stern Show, due to the tough time he had. Lankster is having perhaps an even tougher time staying with receivers this preseason. He got absolutely torched by Taj Smith (3 rec. for 91 yds. and td) and Curtis Painter (5/6 97 yards, 1 td) in the last game against the Colts. Taj Smith’s ESPN player profile says he’s a player who isn’t likely to even make the team. Painter has been under heavy fire for his poor showing against the Jets last season and in his first preseason game. Cris Carter of ESPN even chided him, though not particularly cleverly, about his perhaps being a better painter than QB. Lankster is in big trouble. He may be better suited to getting cut and catching on with a team that does employ a cover two defense.
John Destin and Lydell Sargeant’s chance to make the team probably relies on their ability to cover kicks as much as their ability to cover receivers at this point. With Lankster and the special teams both struggling so far, these two have a glimmer of hope if they are able to stand out in kick and punt coverages.