ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.—When Terrence McGee crashed to the turf in practice Wednesday, tumbling beneath Terrell Owens after defending a pass, it pointed out both the depth and the degree of competition on the Buffalo Bills' defense.
McGee left the practice field immediately after an injury to his right shoulder, later deemed not to be serious. He sat out the final two days of week two of the Bills OTAs.
But instead, the likes of Reggie Corner and Ellis Lankster both contributed picks in drills and illustrated just how competitive training camp promises to be once it opens in July.
The Bills have openings to be sure on defense, particularly at cornerback and defensive end. The Bills’ “D” ,which ranked 14th overall last season, is one looking to create more big plays, says head coach Dick Jauron.
“We’d love to be a higher turnover ratio team(the Bills were a minus eight in 2008)—however we get them,” Jauron said. “Whether it’s hitting the quarterback in the pocket which creates most of them, or intercepting the ball.”
The Bills had just 10 interceptions last year, though three of them went for touchdowns —tied for third in the National Football League in that regard, but still way fewer than Jauron and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell would be happy with.
And so, with regulars McGee, Leodis McKelvin (finger, non-football specific injury) and Ashton Youboty (plantar fascitis) watching from the sideline, some of the non-regular DBs took center stage at OTAs this week.
Lankster is a 5'9", 191 lbsseventh round pick from West Virginia who had 68 tackles with three interceptions for the Mountaineers last season.
Corner, in his second year (5'10", 175 lbs from Akron), came on towards the end of last season after plantar fascitis sidelined Youboty. Corner recorded 19 solo tackles and four breakups. Jauron calls him an “effort” player.
“He’s one of those players when you look at him on film and wonder if his game’s going to translate,” Jauron said. “But he’s a high-energy player. He’s one of those players who looks like he wants to make the play.”
The Bills also have sixth-round pick Cary Harris, 5'11", 187 lbs from USC who has been nursing a hamstring since rookie camp and 5'10", 200 pound Jairus Byrd who played corner at Oregon but whose ball-hawking skills will likely lead him to be groomed at free safety.
There’s also competition at defensive end as the Bills look to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and increase their number of sacks over the 2008 season.
Buffalo was 28th in the league—tied with Washington—in sacks with just 24. Aaron Schobel is coming off a season with just one sack having played just five games, winding up on injured reserve with a toe injury. Ryan Denney had four sacks and Chris Kelsay just two.
Kelsay, a second-round pick in 2003, had a career-high 5.5 sacks in 2006 but his production has declined rapidly since, which led to the Bills selecting Penn State pass rusher Aaron Maybin with their first-round pick in this year’s draft.
Kelsay’s name was often mentioned in offseason trade rumors.
"Before we drafted Aaron, my prior six years I considered Ryan Denney competition and a challenge every training camp," Kelsay told the Buffalo News. "In this league there are obviously some people who have guaranteed jobs because they're such good players. But I don't believe that you can go into any camp or OTA just assuming that your job is secure.”
If Jauron is right and the Bills are truly looking to become more of a ball-hawking defense —one which posted a minus eight turnover ratio in 2008—then nobody’s job should remain secure.