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Posted: Thursday, 30 May 2013 5:11PM

Bills' second corner job is up for grabs



Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550)  -- When the Buffalo Bills elected to move former second-round pick Aaron Williams to safety this off-season, it opened up a starting spot for either a rookie or a player already on the roster to earn. The Bills declined to select a cornerback in the 2013 NFL Draft, meaning someone already on the team would likely get the nod.

Second-year player Stephon Gilmore has one of the starting cornerback jobs locked up, that has long been established. So who might be the other player that plays an important role on the defense in 2013?

"It's a tough call right now," head coach Doug Marrone said on Tuesday. "I think there is competition there. I think we have three or four guys that can play on the outside."

That competition would seem to involve the freshly re-signed but rehabbing Leodis McKelvin, second-year player Ron Brooks, third-year corner Justin Rogers and the 26-year old Crezdon Butler.

McKelvin inked a four-year contract to stay with the Bills this off-season, with a big reason for that being his play on special teams. He's always held the reputation of being able to stay with his man, but not having the wherewithal to make a play on the ball when it's in the air.

"Fresh start," McKelvin said cooly. "As a defensive back, my first five years have been kind of almost like a roller coaster or whatever. With a new a coach, you got a new face and get a chance to go out there and show what I can do and compete and win that job which I know I can do."

The former first-round pick has opened the window a tiny bit for his counterparts at cornerback due to a hip procedure he went through in January. The surgery was to help relieve some of the ailments McKelvin had with both his groin and his hip, one similar to the work safety Jairus Byrd had done in 2010.

"We're obviously looking forward to Leodis coming back," Marrone said. "He's working some drills with us now, he'll obviously be available full-speed for training camp."

"It's a slow process right now as far as me just working back in, getting back to my regular speed, be able to go lateral, be able bend and burst out of my plant and drive," McKelvin remarked. "It's a real slow process of getting to that point. But I'm gradually getting better and better every week."

Besides McKelvin, both Brooks and Rogers got a legitimate amount of playing time in 2012. Brooks even started on the outside in a pair of games, whereas Rogers got the majority of his plays on the inside covering the slot receivers.

To Marrone and the rest of his coaching staff, getting all these players acclimated with many different spots is quite important.

"We've put Brooks outside, we've put Rogers inside. Nickell Robey has done a good job at nickel, Brooks has done a good job at nickel," Marrone said. "So we're moving those guys around now because the one thing that we don't want to do as a coaching staff is not… we don't want to walk out of here going in to training camp and try to say 'Well you know what, we didn't realize he could be a better inside player or outside player.'"

"I started off in the little veteran mini-camp and the beginning of OTAs working both, but even with the old coaching staff I was working both so it's nothing new to me," Rogers remarked. "It's just they're working me a little bit more outside than I was with the old coaching staff. I'm comfortable with both and doing whatever they ask me to do."

Both Rogers and Brooks found themselves in the doghouse for their play at times in 2012. In Brooks' case, he started on the outside against both the Jaguars and Seahawks only to be benched against Seattle for poor play.

For Rogers, he just could never recapture the upswing that his career seemed to be headed in 2011 during the following campaign.

"I was good mentally. I think the thing for me was staying healthy," he said. "I had a lot of nicks and knacks and things that kind of took away from my game, but it was no excuses. I was always there mentally but it's just things, you know when your body starts messing with you you start second guessing on stuff like that. I got myself back right this off-season, I came back and I'm ready to roll."

The question both media and fans alike have about Rogers is whether or not the 5-foot-11, 181-pound cornerback could withstand the physicality needed out of an outside cornerback in the NFL.

"I actually think he's done a nice job on the outside for us," Marrone said when asked about Rogers' size. "It's just a matter of how many people you're dressing for game, who can play on the outside and inside. He's worked extremely hard."

The true sleeper in all of this is former fifth-round pick Crezdon Butler. Originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, Butler has bounced around from Arizona, to Washington, back to Arizona and then finally hooking on with the Bills in November of 2012.

In his time during the OTAs at One Bills Drive, Butler has gotten a lot of repetitions on the outside.

"Right now, I'm just working on the outside getting that down," Butler said. "It's a new system so you want to learn one thing at a time. You don't want to be getting stuff mixed up with different plays so that's what we're doing now."

Once regarded as a possible first-round pick ahead of his senior season at Clemson, the 6-foot, 191-pound cornerback has fallen on hard times in his first three years in the NFL. With a new coaching staff and a starting spot up for grabs, now could be the time for him to strike.

"Oh yeah. When they came in I was like, 'Yeah, this is an opportunity right here,'" Butler agreed. "Certain coaches like certain players sometimes at different organizations. Here, they didn't know anybody so it was a fresh start. So I feel like, yeah, let's press the restart button and let's go."

While the job opposite Gilmore has yet to have a defined winner just yet, what has been learned is their likely role. The Bills have been training throughout OTAs with Gilmore firmly at left cornerback, regardless of where the top receiver lined up. Even some of the players up for the job alluded to the right cornerback job being the one to be won.

The other trait the boundary corner must possess are strong man-to-man skills. With all the blitzing of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's defense, it's on the cornerbacks a lot of the time to step up and stay with their assignments.

"I mean, mano y mano," McKelvin said as he cracked a smile. "Guard your man and do what you've got to do. Just win. That's all it is. Just win against your guy and do it a majority of the time than you do lose and you'll come out on top."

The best 'mano y mano' cornerback throughout training camp at St. John Fisher College will likely earn the starting role.

"That's a decision we're going to have to make, and we're not ready to make that one right now," Marrone concluded.

The Bills have one more day of OTAs on Friday, return for mandatory mini-camp on June 11, 12 and 13, and then break until training camp begins in late July.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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