Jabari Greer- 46 tackles, 2 int.
Terrence McGee- 78 tackles, 4 int.
Donte Whitner- 89 tackles, 1 int.
George Wilson- 37 tackles, 2 int.
William James (with Phi.)- 31 tackles, 1 int.
The ghosts of Buffalo past haunted the Bills secondary last season. Like a mirage in the desert, Bills fans could still see the likes of Nate Clements and Antoine Winfield roaming the defensive secondary of Ralph Wilson Stadium. But the reality of 2007-2008 season is that those two promising shutdown corners were officially gone. Instead, Buffalo was left with a rebuilding defense that allowed 238.4 yards in the air each week.
The 2007 season began marred in doubt for the Bills secondary. Unable to top the massive $80 million contract offered by the San Francisco 49ers, the Bills watched their Pro Bowl cornerback and defensive leader Nate Clements leave Buffalo for the NFC West. With Clements’ departure went the final piece of a Bills secondary that had been billed as a powerhouse in the AFC. Winfield and Clements were drafted by the Bills just two years apart in 1999 and 2001 out of Ohio State and had the tools to be a lockdown defensive secondary to rival the likes of the Packers’ Charles Woodson and Al Harris. Each player posted extremely productive seasons in Buffalo for a defense that relied heavily on one-on-one coverage from the corners.
The 2007 season marked the beginning of a rebuilding period in the Bills secondary. Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer were two of the primary players asked to shoulder the burden of a defense in transition. McGee played in 15 games for the Bills last season recording 78 tackles and a team-high four interceptions – including one nail-in-the-coffin pickoff of Chad Pennington with 11 seconds left in the Bills’ 17-14 Week Four win over the New York Jets.
Greer was also called upon last year to fill the void left by Clements in the secondary. Greer played in all 16 games last season making a career-high 13 starts and posting personal bests in tackles, interceptions and passes defensed. Greer also earned AFC defensive player of the week honors in Week Four, when he had one pick and five tackles against the Jets. One week later, his pass breakup on a two-point pass to Terrell Owens seemed to seal a huge win for the Bills. But Dallas won the ensuing onsides kick, and the game, 25-24.
Perhaps the Bills defender that played the most unlikely role in the defensive secondary was second-year player George Wilson. Wilson was forced to transition from wide receiver to safety in 2007 following the season-ending, Week One injury to Ko Simpson. Wilson played in 12 games last season, starting in nine of them before being placed on injured reserve himself on Dec. 14. Wilson showcased his receiver skill set and speed against Dallas by returning his first career interception for a 25-yard touchdown.
One of the few bright spots in the 2007 Bills secondary was second-year man Donte Whitner out of Ohio State. Following in the footsteps of departed Buckeyes Winfield and Clements, Whitner played a vital role in stabilizing a Bills secondary searching for both consistency and an identity last season. Whitner took every snap at strong safety for the Bills the first 15 weeks of the season and recorded 89 tackles. Whitner showcased both his promise and durability in 2007 for a secondary that was often unable to keep opposing teams out of the end zone.
Despite efforts of Whitner, McGee and Greer, the Bills secondary struggled mightily as the Achilles heel of a subpar defensive unit. Missing the presence of a shutdown corner like Clements, the Bills struggled to match up to many of the formidable air attacks in the AFC last season. Despite having a plus-nine turnover ratio during the 2007 season, the Bills ranked in the bottom of the league in both pass yards and yards allowed. Next year, the Bills will look for needed improvement in the secondary amongst Greer, McGee, newcomer William James and possibly outside help via the draft.
In the draft the Bills will most definitely look to address their needs on defense primarily at the cornerback position – despite the addition of Philadelphia’s James. Physical cornerbacks are of paramount in today’s league. James may not be the answer, after being demoted to the No. 4 corner role with the Eagles.
Buffalo is hoping the additions of Kawika Mitchell and the return of promising linebacker Paul Posluzsny will also help to pressure opposing quarterbacks so the deficiencies in their secondary will not be as exploited this year. The Bills will most likely address their needs at wide receiver in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft but look for a second or third round selection to help a rebuilding Bills secondary. Expect the Bills’ secondary to get similar contributions to those it received last season but with a new face in the draft and more help from the linebacker position.
Jeff Westfall is a frequent contributor to the BFR. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org