By Tim Graham
As players reported to St. John Fisher College today, Buffalo Bills General Manager Buddy Nix shared his thoughts on the important issues facing his team at the start of training camp.
Nix insisted the Bills have to win now and that anything less than contending for the playoffs would be a disappointment. He said he's interested to watch the battles at left tackle and wide receiver, needs to see his young defensive tackles step up and announced tight end Mike Caussin is on the physically unable-to-perform list.
Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan was there and will file a comprehensive report. He already posted a Press Coverage item on Nix's acceptance of the high expectations.
But I wanted to explore one other Nix revelation. Nix said he's concerned about the Bills' lack of safety depth.
This is interesting because the Bills have the best two safeties in the AFC East. The Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets have been volatile at the position in recent years.
But Jairus Byrd and George Wilson have been steady playmakers. Listed behind Byrd at free safety are undrafted rookie Nick Saenz, Josh Nesbitt (practice squad last year) and undrafted rookie Delano Howell. And behind Wilson at strong safety are Da'Norris Searcy (fourth-round pick last year) and undrafted rookie Nick Sukay.
So you can understand Nix's concern.
Searcy is the lone reserve who has played an NFL game. He played in all 16 as a rookie, starting three. He had one interception. Bryan Scott has been converted into a linebacker, apparently for good.
Nix said he wants to be able to count on four safeties. Nix and head coach Chan Gailey will rest much easier if there's reliable support behind inexperienced cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams, who are expected to start.
As the roster stands now, an injury to Byrd or Wilson would make the Bills more vulnerable downfield.
Free-agent options are out there if the Bills don't want to see who gets dropped by another team in the coming weeks.
Former Bills safety Jim Leonhard is available. The Jets don't want him back after he started three seasons for them. Leonhard has been bothered by injuries, including a broken leg, the past two seasons. But he's a high-character player who always performs as though he has something to prove.
Melvin Bullitt also is on the market. He was limited to five games over the past two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts because of shoulder injuries, but he's only 27 years old.
Deon Grant has some mileage on him at 33 years old, but he has 30 career interceptions and won a championship with the New York Giants last season. He started nine regular-season games and three more in the postseason, including the Super Bowl.
Chris Harris has 16 interceptions over an eight-year career with three teams. He split last season with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, starting eight games.