PITTSFORD – Snaps, snaps and more snaps are the prescription for the Buffalo Bills’ young cornerbacks this summer.
The Bills have loads of athleticism at cornerback and think they have quality depth at the position.
They also are very young. Four of their top six corners are NFL neophytes. So the team is focused on getting them a lot of practice repetitions in training camp at St. John Fisher College.
“I really don’t worry about years because the guys who’ve got to play got to play, whether they’re first-year guys or not,” said Bills secondary coach George Catavolos.
Rookie Stephon Gilmore, the 10th overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, has played every snap of practice with the starters since spring workouts began in May.
Aaron Williams, the 34th overall pick in 2011, has played virtually every snap with the starters at the other corner spot due to the recovery from knee surgery of veteran Terrence McGee. Williams played in nine games last season, starting six.
Behind fifth-year veteran Leodis McKelvin (the No. 4 corner when McGee is healthy) are two more young guys.
No. 5 is second-year man Justin Rogers, who saw extensive action in the last six games of last season.
No. 6 is fourth-round pick Ron Brooks, the Louisiana State product who Bills scouts timed in 4.34 seconds before the draft. (Brooks was the fifth fastest player at the NFL scouting combine in February, according to official timing.)
The Bills are likely to keep six cornerbacks on the roster. Most teams wind up pressing their sixth corner into service at some point in the season due to injuries.
Given all the youth, McGee’s full recovery from patellar tendon knee surgery would add welcome stability at cornerback. McGee has seen an increase in practice snaps the past week or so. He worked more than 20 plays with the second team in Monday’s practice.
“It’s slight progress,” McGee said. “I’m seeing a little bit of a difference. To me, it’s still a long ways to go.”
“When you talk about percentages of where he is, he gains a percentage or two every day,” coach Chan Gailey said of McGee. “He never makes a jump of 10 to 15 percent. So it’s slowly but surely coming.”
McGee still has 26 days to get ready for the season opener against the New York Jets.
Gilmore will be holding down one corner spot regardless of McGee’s progress. It’s common for first-round cornerbacks to start right away.
“Nate Clements and Antoine Winfield came right in and played,” Catavolos said of previous Bills corners. “Hopefully Stephon can step in, in that tradition.
“The one characteristic he has: He’s got very good patience. He plays the ball well in the air. He doesn’t really panic in any situation. He needs playing time in the preseason and we’ll see how he progresses.”
Ditto for Williams, who has been beaten more often than Gilmore in training camp.
“He’s got to be a little bit more disciplined and pay attention to detail, but he’s progressed with his footwork,” Catavolos said. “He’s got size and strength and good ball skills. He’s another one we take for granted like he’s a veteran, but he’s only started a handful of games.”