BY DAN BEGNOCHE
Mike Pettine's defense relies its players being interchangeable, not only to cause confusion but to also fill in for those inevitable injuries. Problem is, not just anyone can replace the key pieces to the puzzle.
Such is the case with the Buffalo Bills' No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who fractured his wrist during the team's third preseason game against the Washington Redskins Saturday. The injury puts Gilmore on the sidelines for an estimated six to eight weeks.
Moreover, it throws a bit of a wrench into the core of Pettine's game plan, which relies on strong corner play to be able to handle man coverage during various blitzes.
Coach Doug Marrone talked briefly with reporters Monday about the effect of an absent Gilmore going forward, particularly in regards to how the team will prepare against opposing air attacks.
"[I] think you really have to look hard at match-ups really," Marrone said. "Do we feel good about these match-ups and how do we want to match-up defensively on team’s receiving ability. So if you don’t feel comfortable in a match-up, then obviously you can cloud them, put someone behind them.
"At the end of the day if you just have single coverage, man-to-man, they can get to you. It’s probably more schematic about how you want to go about it. Which puts a little bit more planning on our part, but that’s what we do. Our job is to put our players in the best position."
Marrone said he'll be looking at corners Justin Rogers, Crezdon Butler and T.J. Heath in Gilmore's absence, with Butler likely getting the nod based on his performance on the perimeter while No. 2 corner Leodis McKelvin nursed an injury of his own. The shuffle will likely also force McKelvin to prove himself early on, as his primary role will more often than not be the No. 1 receiver on the field.
While Marrone did say that Gilmore will undergo surgery for the fracture, he was emphatic about not designating him under temporary IR status. If that occurred, it would force the former Gamecock to sit out a full eight weeks.
According to Marrone, that much time may not be necessary.
"We know in our mind he’ll be back earlier," Marrone said, "so again we don’t want a player that is able to play, and you guys know how we feel about him, coming back that could potentially play for two or three weeks during the season and just because we designated him as that lose three weeks of game time for him."