Friday, June 21, 2013
Eight in the Box: Secondary status check
By James Walker
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South
How does each AFC East team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?
Buffalo Bills: The Bills have talent and major questions in the secondary. In regards to talent, Buffalo has an excellent young pair in cornerback Stephon Gilmore, 22, and Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, 26. This duo could lay the foundation for Buffalo’s secondary for years to come. However, Byrd is unhappy about his one-year franchise tag, and his long-term future with the team is up in the air. The Bills have the cap space to work out an extension, and this should be their highest priority. Otherwise, Buffalo could be looking at a training camp holdout. The other safety and corner positions are wide open. Buffalo is trying out former cornerback Aaron Williams at safety this offseason in an effort to jump-start his career. Da'Norris Searcy and rookie Duke Williams also are potential options. Leodis McKelvin, Crezdon Butler and others have been competing at corner opposite Gilmore.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins were 27th against the pass last season and needed to make changes. Miami was aggressive in free agency and the draft this year, making a big signing at corner in former Pro Bowler Brent Grimes and spending second- and third-round picks on corners Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, respectively. Grimes has easily been the most impressive corner in organized team activities and minicamp. He is 100 percent again following last year’s season-ending Achilles injury. Taylor and Davis both have a lot to learn, but the Dolphins hope at least one rookie is up to speed and ready to contribute by the start of the regular season. Veteran cornerback Richard Marshall is starting with Grimes. The safety positions are the same with Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons. Jones, in particular, has the potential to be one of the better safeties in the AFC.
New England Patriots: The Patriots finished 29th against the pass last season and must make major strides. New England made a wise decision to re-sign No. 1 cornerback Aqib Talib, a good midseason acquisition in 2012, to a one-year contract. Former 2012 seventh-round pick Alfonzo Dennard overcame legal issues and should improve in Year 2, and I like the physical addition of veteran safety Adrian Wilson in free agency. He will combine with converted cornerback Devin McCourty, who is now at safety on a full-time basis. It’s hard to imagine New England’s secondary playing worse than it has the past two years. The Patriots returned most of their secondary from last year and hope continuity leads to improvement.
New York Jets: Despite the loss of star Darrelle Revis, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, there is not much to be concerned about at cornerback for the Jets. New York still has veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who made the Pro Bowl last year, and there is depth with first-round picks Kyle Wilson (2010) and Dee Milliner (2013). Wilson may start early, but both young corners will play a key role on defense, especially in sub packages. New York’s major question in the secondary is at safety. The Jets could not afford to keep 2012 Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, who signed a multiyear contract with the Indianapolis Colts. Instead, the Jets signed his cheaper, less talented brother -- Dawan Landry -- as a replacement. The other starting position at safety is wide open, with players such as Antonio Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Josh Bush vying for playing time. Look for Jets head coach and defensive whiz Rex Ryan to find clever ways to cover up New York’s deficiencies at safety this year.