With the way things have shaped up in the AFC over the first 10 weeks of the season, it’s now getting to a critical time for the Buffalo Bills. Already down two-and-a-half games in the race for the AFC Wild Card, they need to start putting together wins before falling out of the race completely.
And to Bills head coach Rex Ryan, that means putting jobs on the line in the week of practice leading up to their contest with the Cincinnati Bengals. What else did we get out of Wednesday's practice and media availability?
Five takeaways from Rex Ryan:
1) Darby talk ignites
- While a few different jobs are up for grabs on the roster, the one that has grabbed the most attention has been the brewing battle between second-year cornerback Ronald Darby and veteran journeyman backup Corey White. Rex Ryan raised some eyebrows on Monday by having White take the first-team reps at left cornerback while the media was allowed to watch practice. Darby, clearly with the message having been delivered from the head coach, was a man of few words on Monday after practice. It’s a bit of a delicate balance for the Bills considering how well Darby played in 2015, and the fact remains that he’ll likely have to be a big piece of the defense moving forward. How do they approach this without shaking the confidence of Darby completely and for the future?
"Well, the big thing is that it’s not just about his confidence. It’s about our confidence. We’re very serious about it. Ronald Darby is an outstanding talent. We need Ronald Darby to play the way he’s capable of playing and what we think he’s capable of playing. If there’s a reason he’s not, and just throwing him or anybody else behind [Stephon] Gilmore or whoever, we’ve got to ask ourselves, “Why? Why is this happening?” First off, it’s understanding how teams are attacking you and the technique that you have to play to offset that, and that’s what we’ll do. But it’s my responsibility to play the best guys out there – to get guys that give us the best chance to win. Regardless of if it’s Ron Darby – if Kyle Williams wasn’t doing his job, if so and so wasn’t getting it done – it’s my job to give us the best chance and that’s what we’ll do."
Honestly, I still don’t get the fascination with Corey White. I don’t think Darby has played so poorly that he needs replacement. In fact, I think a lot of the blame needs to be put on the safety position — most notably Robert Blanton — over the last two weeks. Also, in his time on the field, White hasn’t played well enough in my view to warrant benching Darby in favor of him. On the upside, at the beginning of practice on Wednesday Darby was taking all the first-team reps at left cornerback. I still would not be shocked if this is nothing more than just a wake-up call for the talented second year player.
2) All evidence points to Ihedigbo playing a big role... eventually
- The days of the Robert Blanton and Jonathan Meeks duo having a firm grasp on the starting job may be numbered. The Bills made the move to sign veteran safety James Ihedigbo on Tuesday — a player with loads of starting experience, even over the last three seasons. Rex Ryan seems to be fairly confident in the team’s newest signing. Some of the reasons to believe so:
"Yeah, I mean we can look at him but basically, as we say, he’s coming in off the couch. He hasn’t really had that, but James is a physical player, I think he started in, what, two Super Bowls as a safety, so he’s got a proven track record. Very physical player, but we’ll see what he can handle. We’re not just going to give him a bunch of stuff, but we will get him in there somewhere."
"Well I think it’s good and as we’ve mentioned, he’s played in this system for a couple of years, so I think that helps. He’s not as behind as just picking up somebody, so it gives him an opportunity. But I like having that. It’s not a whole lot different than bringing in a Lorenzo Alexander, a (Leger) Douzable, somebody like that. A good veteran player that has experience. I’m not saying he’s going to have the impact that Zo’s had, that would be nice, but I think you’re getting a real pro."
Now, what’s interesting is how Rex said on Monday that his team needs to be more physical, and boasted that Ihedigbo’s physicality is one of his best attributes. That line about having a role was certainly interesting, too. Now, pair that with the evidence on the field:
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) November 16, 2016
For reference, I have yet to see Rob Ryan take the 1-on-1 time with any other midseason defensive pickup that he gave to Ihedigbo on Wednesday. Then, during the defensive back walk through, Ihedigbo was in on every play call and followed Corey Graham wherever he went. Now, I don’t think he’s threatening to take Graham’s spot. I do, however, believe that when ready Ihedigbo will take over Graham’s current role as the in-the-box safety, and then Graham will shift into Blanton’s role of patrolling the deep middle and to help prevent vertical passes. It might not be able to play in full in Cincinnati, but Ihedigbo seems to be primed to take over at safety at some time in the near future.
3) Seymour taking over the nickel
- The changes keep on coming in the Bills secondary. Not only is it Ronald Darby and Robert Blanton at risk of losing their starting jobs, but now nickel cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman seems to have been benched in favor of rookie Kevon Seymour. The rookie took all the first-team reps that I saw during Wednesday’s practice. After practice, Robey-Coleman confirmed to reporters that he has indeed lost his hold on the nickel role. Robey-Coleman has been getting beat deep quite a bit over the past two weeks, so they’re going to see if the bigger Seymour can have a bit more success at that spot. Seymour is an intriguing player, especially considering the Bills may take a hard look at him to be a starting cornerback on the outside next year if Stephon Gilmore leaves. This will be his first taste of extended work on the field for the Bills this season.
4) One OL competition heating up, the other basically done
- Seantrel Henderson’s comeback is getting closer to becoming reality. The Bills former starting right tackle in 2014 and most of 2015, Henderson has been battling back from being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, undergoing emergency surgery, and losing nearly 50 pounds to potentially regaining his starting role. Jordan Mills has struggled mightily the last three weeks which has opened the window for Henderson. On Wednesday, Rex Ryan admitted that Henderson is pushing, and they’re going to make a decision on the starter for the Cincinnati game as the week goes on. The way they’ve been talking about Henderson this week, it would be fair to expect him getting at least some time on the field against the Bengals, if not all of it. Of course, that’s if there aren’t any setbacks over the next two days of practice. As for the center spot, the only person that seems to think it’s still a competition this week for starting center is Rex Ryan. The way Ryan Groy, Richie Incognito, LeSean McCoy, and Tyrod Taylor have all talked this week, it seems all are of the belief that Groy will be starting at center for the injured Eric Wood. Ryan told reporters that they’re going to make a decision between Groy and Patrick Lewis, but it appears Groy is the heavy favorite for the role this weekend.
5) Percy Harvin primed to be unleashed
- The Buffalo Bills are taking the training wheels off of wide receiver Percy Harvin. Now with three weeks of practice, and one game under his belt, the Bills believe it’s time for Harvin to take a substantial role on the offense. Against Seattle, Harvin had 21 snaps on offense without being targeted once, but the team admitted he was a bit limited as to how many routes he could run. Now, all the restrictions are seemingly off of the incredibly talented wide receiver, as they’ll likely use him in a multitude of ways — outside, in the slot, in the backfield — to try and utilize everything he can do. As a result, it would be fair to expect that Walt Powell and Justin Hunter’s roles on the offense will shrink significantly, as the main trio of wide receivers will be Harvin, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin. As always, just because of his talent, I’m quite intrigued about how the Bills will use him against Cincinnati.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) November 16, 2016