Buffalo's secondary seems to whip into a new tailspin every week. But no injury provided the sucker punch of bad news Monday did.
Starting safety Donte Whitner is out indefinitely with a separated right shoulder. The prognosis is not good. Head coach Dick Jauron categorized the injury as week-to-week and "fairly significant," code word for panic. It's unclear how Whitner injured his shoulder, but he left the field holding his right shoulder midway through the New York's game-sealing field goal drive in the fourth quarter of a 26-17 Jets win. He returned to action, but soon returned to sideline wincing in pain.
Whitner has been a staple on a refurbished Bills defense the past three seasons. Drafted eighth overall in the 2006 draft, the Ohio State product logged 100 tackles in each of his first two years and was off to a stellar campaign this season. Through eight games Whitner had registered 37 stops (33 solo, 2nd on team), one sack and two forced fumbles.
More importantly, Whitner's versatility anchored the Bills defense. Buffalo used the safety in multiple packages – even nickel cornerback when Terrence McGee missed two games in October. His presence in run support and assignment-sure reaction in pass coverage has helped the Bills defense rise to 10th in the NFL.
The eerie uncertainty of when Whitner will return isn't sitting well with the team.
"It's not what we want to hear," said linebacker Kawika Mitchell on Whitner's injury to buffalobills.com. "He's a valuable player on our team. He's one of our captains and he's extremely talented and this is his third year and it's the time when you come into your own. It's unfortunate, but hopefully we get him back before the year ends."
For the Bills, such an injury isn't a major shocker. After all, the Bills lost 17 players to injured reserve last season. But this one stings. Whitner did the little things that often go unnoticed.
"Losing Donte for a few weeks is a huge blow to this defense, to this team because he's such a leader and a captain," said Bryan Scott. "But when one guy goes down somebody else has to step in and fill in. It's an opportunity for me to go out there and hopefully make something happen and try to help this team turn around and win games."
Scott will likely join Ko Simpson now in the secondary. Scott at strong, Simpson at free. Of course, this injury comes at a bad time. Cornerback Ashton Youboty is recovering slowly from a foot injury – he was listed as "probable" but did not play Sunday. No. 1 corner McGee is still coming back from injury, but looked much improved against the Jets. One week after getting torched by Ted Ginn Jr., McGee has six solo stops and played a key role in limiting Laveranues Coles to three receptions. How the Bills disperse roles in nickel and dime coverages is dicey.
Stay tuned to the BFR for more on Whitner's injury and the effect it'll have on the Bills.