BBD Staff Writer: John Maher
The story of the Buffalo Bills’ 2013 season has been about new beginnings: an entirely new coaching staff under the helm of coach Doug Marrone and a young team with many key rookies including quarterback EJ Manuel, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin and linebacker Kiko Alonso.
The majority of the buzz around Western New York and the entire NFL has focused on these young players or the Bills’ “big names” both positively (Mario Williams, Jairus Byrd, Kyle Williams) and negatively (C.J. Spiller).
While those players deserve the press they get, a few names have slipped under the radar and are having career seasons, all the while going relatively unheard of when compared to their teammates.
As Ryan Talbot and Dan Hope explained in their midseason ranking of Buffalo’s roster, starting left tackle Cordy Glenn has been the Bills’ most valuable player on offense. Since he was a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, he has been a huge asset in protecting the quarterbacks’ blindside.
Adjacent to him, the left guard position has suffered from shaky play from current starter Doug Legursky and Colin Brown, who started the first five games but was released on Oct. 15. Nonetheless, Glenn has remained dependable, starting 24 games since he was drafted.
Playing on a defensive line full of big names in Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, pass-rushing defensive end Jerry Hughes is quietly having a career season. He was one of the lone glimmers of hope in an abysmal loss for the Bills to the Steelers in Week 10. Hughes is currently third on the team with six sacks, already his career high, and two forced fumbles.
While Hughes may not have the lucrative contract or the media attention his fellow defensive linemen receive, he has more solo and total tackles than Mario Williams and is a large component of a defense tied for first in the NFL with 37 sacks.
A kicker often goes unheard of for the majority of the season unless he makes or misses an important field goal. Bills kicker Dan Carpenter has not received much attention, but he is having a tremendous season after being signed just prior to the start of the season to replace injured rookie kicker Dustin Hopkins. His 91.7 field goal percentage currently stands the second-best percentage ever by a Bills kicker in a single season, only .3 percentage points behind Rian Lindell’s 2006 season.
While cornerback Stephon Gilmore and free safety Jairus Byrd received attention while both missed the first five games of the season, cornerback Leodis McKelvin has not seen much press while only missing one game and having a career season.
McKelvin leads the team and has already tied his career high with 11 passes defensed. McKelvin came into the season facing criticism for having failed to live up to expectations as a 2008 first-round pick, but he has been a key player in the Bills secondary this season.
Undrafted rookie cornerback Nickell Robey may be flying under the radar, but like McKelvin, he has become a key piece of the Buffalo secondary. He is third on the Bills with eight passes defended this season. Robey has not started any games but has been active in all 11 Buffalo games this season, and leads all NFL slot cornerbacks with only 0.50 yards allowed per coverage snap.
Third-year safety Da’Norris Searcy is having a career season. He leads the Bills defense with two touchdowns (one interception return, one fumble recovery) and ranks third on the team in both solo and total tackles, while he has also blitzed for 2.5 sacks.
In his first two seasons in Buffalo, Searcy only started three games and made a mostly irrelevant impact. Having started in seven games this year, Searcy is making a name for himself with the Bills defense.
These players may not be in the spotlight at any point in the season, but they will all play a key role in whether Buffalo can make a late push in the final five games of the season (earlier this week, Dan Hope broke down the Bills’ chances of earning the final playoff spot in the AFC).