Doug Marrone doesn’t just like Da’Norris Searcy in the Buffalo Bills’ dime defensive package.
“I truly love him in the dime role,” the coach said this week.
Searcy’s propensity for big plays is what has Marrone swooning.
The third-year veteran has scored both of the Bills’ defensive touchdowns this season, including a 32-yard interception he took to the house in Buffalo’s 37-14 victory over the New York Jets last Sunday. He’s also third on the team in tackles with 55, fifth in sacks (2.5) and tied for fourth in passes defended (five).
Searcy’s role in the defense has evolved as the season has gone on. He started the first five games in place of injured Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd. But with Byrd resuming his role as an every-down defender the past few weeks – and Aaron Williams back at safety after moving over to cornerback for four games – Searcy has settled into a sort of hybrid linebacker/safety role in Buffalo’s defense. He’s primarily used when the Bills go to their “dime” package, as a sixth defensive back.
It’s a position similar to the one played in recent seasons by Bryan Scott.
“I think he’s a good safety,” Marrone said. “Obviously we have Aaron and Jairus back there. I think if something happened to one of them and we put Da’Norris back there, I’d be very fine with that. I wouldn’t be like, ‘What are we going to do? We have to get them healthy.’ But he is an outstanding dime complement for us.”
At 5-foot-11, 216 pounds, Searcy is the biggest defensive back on Buffalo’s roster. That provides him with some flexibility to be used in different roles.
For example, his first of 20 defensive snaps against the Jets found him lined up 9 yards off the line of scrimmage, in a deep safety role. On his next snap, he was on the line of scrimmage and blitzed from the right side of the defensive line.
“Truth be told, it’s just like playing linebacker,” he said of his current job on defense. “I played linebacker in high school, so it wasn’t any different looks. It was just being able to adjust back to being that close to the ball again. Once I got readjusted, it was fun.”
Searcy relished the chance to get on the field any way possible.
“I just saw it as an opportunity to show my versatility, show I can play pretty much anywhere they put me,” he said. “The coaches, they trust in me that I can make a play, so I’m just going out there to help the team out any way possible.”
His interception Sunday came after perfectly diagnosing an attempted screen pass to receiver Santonio Holmes.
“I knew the play was coming. I was just thinking, either he’s going to throw it, or he’s going to hold onto the ball,” Searcy said. “I figured if he held onto it, somebody’s going to sack him. Mario got good pressure on him, and he rushed it and he threw it straight to me.
“It’s a tremendous feeling, just being able to be out there and fly around. I was always taught since Pee Wee league to run to the ball no matter what. So anywhere the ball goes – see ball, go get ball.”
That’s something the Buffalo secondary has done better than almost every team in the league. The Bills have 16 interceptions through Week 11, tied with Seattle for the NFL lead.
“The big emphasis is always takeaways. We want to be a defense that can be able to put points on the board,” Searcy said. “If we can have an opportunity to score on defense, we want to do so. Getting turnovers, that’s when we have an opportunity.”
The Bills recorded three interceptions of New York rookie quarterback Geno Smith and recovered one of his fumbles to win the turnover battle, 4-0, Sunday. That comes after the Bills’ defense had recorded only one turnover over the previous three games, while the offense had lost the ball seven times.
For the season, the Bills are plus-3 in turnover differential, which ranks tied for 13th in the NFL. The Jets are 32nd, at minus-14, while Buffalo’s opponent in Week 12, the Atlanta Falcons, are 31st at minus-12.
“It all started early last week when Coach Marrone was telling us: ‘Don’t be afraid to celebrate with each other,’ ” Searcy said. “We were encouraging one another, and we saw how great we can be. We just want to keep feeding off that and feeding off that. As you saw, it helped tremendously. We were able to make a whole bunch of plays.”