The options are many, but so far the solutions have been few for the Buffalo Bills when it comes to finding a No. 2 cornerback.
“You’d like for somebody to step up and see some direction for the future there,” coach Chan Gailey said last week, before tempering his expectations in the next breath. “You really want somebody to just play well … so it gives us an opportunity to win the game.”
Rookie Stephon Gilmore has started all 15 games of the season so far and established himself as the team’s No. 1 cornerback. Behind him, though, has been a rotating cast of players vying for a starting role.
Second-year man Aaron Williams has made nine starts, including Sunday’s game in Miami, while veteran Leodis McKelvin started four before being placed on injured reserve last week because of a groin injury. Rookie Ron Brooks has also started two games. Second-year man Justin Rogers, while not starting any games, has seen ample playing time as the nickel cornerback.
Williams missed five games because of a knee injury suffered in Week Nine against Houston, but had done little to cement himself as a starter before being hurt.
“We all know the first half of the season, I didn’t do what my expectations were, he said. “But it happened. It is what it is. Gotta learn from it, and do a lot better. Like coach said, we’re playing for pride. I’ve got a lot of pride in me, to show them that wasn’t me the first half of the season.”
Williams played all but one defensive snap against Miami on Sunday.
“He played good, but he didn’t go out there and dominate the position,” Gailey said Monday, “So, we’re going to look and see what we need to do this week.”
That leaves the door open for Brooks, a fourth-round pick out of LSU who missed the first half of the season because of a broken foot.
“For me personally, it’s a big deal,” Brooks said. “I missed the first half of the season, wasn’t able to get out there and play. [I’ve] really been limited as far as playing time in the second half of my season. I feel like they haven’t gotten a good feel of what I really can do.”
Injuries and inconsistency have turned both the No. 2 and nickel cornerback jobs into a revolving door. The Bills started the season opener against the Jets with Gilmore and Williams outside and McKelvin as the nickel.
McKelvin, though, was benched in favor of Justin Rogers in Week Two. The Bills stuck with the Gilmore-Williams-Rogers trio until Week Nine, when Williams was hurt.
In Week 12 against Indianapolis, Brooks began to work his way into the defensive rotation. The following week, he made his first career start against Jacksonville, a game in which McKelvin tried to play, but couldn’t because of a tight back.
In Week 14, the three primary corners were Gilmore-McKelvin-Brooks, leaving Rogers on the bench.
“It’s just the nature of the game,” Rogers said. “We’re a young secondary. We’ve had different guys in and out. I think any one can go in and do the job, but going forward, it’s just still going out there and competing. That’s all I’m thinking about right now.”
Although Williams was healthy enough to play in Week 15 against Seattle, his first game back, he didn’t start. That job went to Brooks, but the rookie played just 28 snaps (48 percent) against the Seahawks.
Sunday against Miami, Rogers got the bulk of the work as the No. 3 corner, playing 39 snaps (61 percent), to just eight (12 percent) for Brooks.
“Nothing’s been established as far as the secondary goes,” Brooks said. “I need to step it up and showcase myself for next year.”
The Bills invested a high second-round draft pick (34th overall) on Williams in 2011, but he’s been hit with injuries in each of his two seasons. He missed seven games as a rookie, and another five this year. He’s keenly aware of the criticism that’s been directed at him this season.
“You can’t hide it. It’s out there. Not only on websites, but coaches know about it, players. Teammates come to me and say ‘hey, you gotta pick it up a little bit’ and I agree with them,” he said. “I’m not going to argue with them. I take it how it is, be professional about it and move on.
“You can’t argue about how you’ve been playing when it’s been proven. It’s on film. Film doesn’t lie. I’ve already forgotten about it. It’s in the past.”
Williams, who admitted to “stressing himself out” at times, said he can’t concern himself with whether he’s auditioning for a job going into next season.
“I don’t really worry about all that. I go out there and play,” he said. “You start worrying about how long I’m going to have the starting job, or what the situation is, then you start messing up.”