3) What will the secondary look like?
The only sure starter in the Bills’ secondary is second-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore, with free safety Jairus Byrd currently holding out for a contract. Leodis McKelvin and Da’Norris Searcy are getting the first chance to start at cornerback and strong safety, respectively, but there are other positions on the roster and other names to consider.
Aaron Williams has converted to the safety position while Duke Williams’ versatility is proving to be valuable to the new coaching staff. With the Bills also drafting safety Jonathan Meeks this year, there seems to be quite a logjam opposite Byrd.
That doesn’t even factor in the plethora of options at cornerback besides Gilmore and McKelvin. Ron Brooks had the early advantage, but was injured again in minicamp, according to BuffaloBills.com. BuffaloBills.com also reported that Crezdon Butler and Justin Rogers, also key competitors in the cornerback competition, missed time in minicamp due to injuries.
With McKelvin also out due to groin surgery, other cornerbacks like T.J. Heath and undrafted rookie Nickell Robey have shown well this offseason. Duke Williams has also seen time at slot cornerback during minicamp due to the aforementioned injuries.
4) Can Nigel Bradham and Kiko Alonso anchor the linebacker corps?
The Bills’ linebacker corps has been a mess for a few seasons. With Nick Barnett gone and Kelvin Sheppard traded to the Colts, the situation is even more precarious.
It looks like the inside linebacker jobs will be held down by Nigel Bradham and Kiko Alonso when the Bills are in 3-4 sets.
Bradham was solid as a 4-3 outside linebacker as a rookie last year, and has the aggressive mentality, speed and fundamentals to succeed in the middle. He was a leader on the Florida State defense, calling plays and organizing the formations, so it’s something that he has experience with.
Alonso, however, is a real wild card. He has the same physicality and speed that Bradham possesses, but no NFL experience as a rookie.
If Bradham and Alonso can overcome their lack of experience and anchor the middle of the field effectively, allowing outside rushers like Lawson and Hughes to concentrate strictly on getting after the passer, the Bills defense may see a real improvement.
5) Who will win the final few starting spots?
A lot has been made about the quarterback battle between Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel, which has yet to be determined, so I won’t go into it in detail here. The secondary situation was addressed above, but there are plenty of other battles for starting jobs yet to be decided. Other important battles included those for No. 2 wide receiver and starting left guard.
The No. 2 wide receiver job seems to be down to rookie Robert Woods and second-year T.J. Graham, with undrafted Da’Rick Rogers hovering in the distance.
Woods is the odds-on favorite to take the job due to his precise route running and good hands. However, Graham has deep speed that neither No. 1 receiver Stevie Johnson nor Woods possesses. If his improvement continues, Marrone may try to get him on the field more often as a vertical threat.
The last man, Rogers, has more physical tools than both Woods and Graham, but is a constant question mark due to character concerns and his inability in college to consistently deliver on his potential. But if Rogers proves to be maturing and less of a concern, his natural talents may make it hard to keep him off the field.
I addressed the starting left guard job in May, but with Doug Legursky now in the mix, the battle has become even more complicated. It seems to be a two-person battle between Legursky and Colin Brown, but don’t count out a late push from Zebrie Sanders once camp starts. None of the three men have extensive NFL experience at the guard position, so the competition is not tremendously inspiring, but it is vital for the success of the Bills’ rushing attack.