Buffalo Bills cornerback Ronald Darby was among the most impressive first-year players in the entire National Football League during the 2015 season. With Stephon Gilmore playing the opposite side, the Bills thought they had a shutdown pair heading into the 2016 season.
Except, sometime between the end of the 2015 season and through the Week Nine contest in Seattle, the performance of that starting duo has not been near what the Bills — and head coach Rex Ryan — grew accustomed to. Ahead of Monday’s practice, Ryan dropped a big hint in saying that there would be a couple of jobs up for grabs during the week of practice.
He even made mention of both the offensive line and the secondary, but didn’t get into specifics. Based on the way that Robert Blanton has played at starting safety, most thought that was the area in the secondary that was getting some competition thrown in.
Lo and behold, it was Darby standing on the sidelines with defensive backs coach Tim McDonald, all the while veteran journeyman cornerback Corey White took the first-team reps at left cornerback.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) November 14, 2016
Darby started eight of the team’s first nine games, but was benched in Seattle in favor of White. After the game, the head coach said Darby was dealing with an “illness” and that he should have taken him out of the game sooner.
Instead, now Darby is losing first-team reps at practice. Is he surprised at the train of thought, considering he was benched for an illness on Sunday?
“They’re coaches," Darby said. "They’re doing what they’ve got to do, at the end of the day.”
The Bills will resume practice on Wednesday in Orchard Park.
Joe B’s Take
This decision — if the Bills are indeed serious about legitimately starting Corey White — is one that I whole-heartedly disagree with for a lot of different reasons.
First, Darby is the clearly more talented player between those two options. He had a lot of success in his rookie season — which shouldn’t be ignored — and even though he has struggled at times in the 2016 season, he has been far from the team’s biggest problem in the secondary.
To me, it’s an overreaction to a down performance in Seattle, when Darby shouldn’t be the man getting the lion’s share of blame. Those honors are reserved for safety Robert Blanton, who offered up little resistance as one of the team’s two back-line options at the position.
Second, in his two appearances for the Bills in 2016 in Rex Ryan’s scheme, White has not been a better performer than Darby. His lone start came in Week Three against Arizona, and despite coming down with an interception at the end of the game, was one of the worst Bills players on the field in that game.
The only way that I would condone switching Darby out of the lineup would be if his replacement had been playing at a higher level than he was — which is simply not the case.
Third — and this one is probably most important — the Bills need to take a long-term view at what happens as a result of this. If they go through with benching Darby for White, what does that do for Darby’s confidence past the 2016 season?
He hasn’t been playing so incredibly terrible to warrant such a stark switch, and with it looking more and more likely that Stephon Gilmore could be moving on at the end of the season, they’ll need to rely on Darby to be their top cornerback next season and possibly beyond.
Needing likely six out of their last seven games as wins for a hope at the playoffs, it’s an awfully curious time to start messing with the confidence of such a talented, young player.
Now, this is all a moot point if this is only Rex Ryan sending a message to Darby in the early stages of the practice week, just to teach him a lesson that nothing should be taken for granted. That would be a logical and tactical move that you can see reason with.
However, if Corey White does indeed make the start Sunday in Cincinnati… it’s a decision I couldn’t disagree more with.
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