Buffalo Bills: How Can Stephon Gilmore Build off Rookie Season?
Growing pains are part of the process for a rookie at any position, and cornerback is no different.
Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been charged with covering an opponent's best receiver for much of the season, and in that sense, he's exceeded expectations and has been a steady presence in Buffalo's defensive backfield all year.
He hasn't given up a touchdown since Week 5, and hadn't allowed more than 49 yards to a receiver for eight consecutive games. There are plenty of bright spots for Gilmore to build on from what's been a tough season for the Buffalo Bills defense as a whole.
Gilmore has been promoting the Pepsi Max Rookie of the Week campaign, using social media and doing work within the community to encourage fans to get out and vote. He says it feels good to have almost a full year under his belt, but it's not over yet.
"It's been a long season," Gilmore told Bleacher Report, "but we've still got to finish out strong."
They didn't get started off on the right foot against the Seattle Seahawks, but they won't see another offense the rest of the season that even closely resembles the one that hung 52 points on them this week.
"Not a lot of teams run the zone-read in the NFL," said Gilmore, "and when you have a quarterback like Russell Wilson, it puts pressure on a defense because he's so fast when he takes off with the ball, but he can throw it really well."
Gilmore was only targeted three times on Sunday, and gave up two completions for 25 yards, but not all completions are created equal: While Gilmore's first allowed completion was a sign of where he struggles, his second one ended up being a great play to save a touchdown.
On an early 3rd-and-7, Gilmore lined up eight yards off Sidney Rice. The Bills were in their standard coverage, with man underneath and two deep safeties playing Cover 2 on the back end.
Gilmore followed Rice on his subtle move to the inside, presumably expecting him to run something over the middle, but got turned around when Rice worked his way back toward the sideline.
Rice isn't incredibly fast, but he put his veteran wits to work against the rookie to get open.
Gilmore was visibly frustrated with himself after that play, and he knows he has to play with better technique.
He has put in the work all season to get better in areas where he struggles, but he called press coverage his "strong point" and said he likes that the Bills have run a lot of it this year.
"There are always areas where I could improve," conceded Gilmore, "but I've always felt confident in press man."
He made a big play in man coverage on Rice in the red zone, staying with him stride for stride across the middle of the field and tackling him three yards short of the goal line.
It wasn't easy; the route that Doug Baldwin ran nearly entangled Gilmore in traffic and allowed Rice to break free. FOX analyst and former 15-year safety John Lynch commended Gilmore for overcoming the route combination to make the tackle:
Excellent little combination here; you see Doug Baldwin with a little rub route, giving Sidney Rice some space. Throw right on the money, but Rice can't quite get in there, and it's the rookie Stephon Gilmore who made the touchdown-saving tackle.
Gilmore plays a tough, physical brand of football, but that doesn't mean he can't run, too. That being said, he's at his best when he can put his physicality to work.
A little offseason technique work could go a long way in his development, but it'll take more than just Gilmore improving if the Bills want to contend in 2013.
"We just need to finish the season out on a strong note," Gilmore said. "We have a lot of young guys on the defensive side of the ball."
Gilmore is one of them, and his growth could mean big things for Buffalo's defense going forward.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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