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Buffalo Bills Position Battle Spotlight: Cornerback

Tre'Davious White is still recovering from ACL surgery and Levi Wallace is gone, putting the spotlight on Dane Jackson and a pair of rookies.
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Of all the many veteran free agents the Bills acquired since being eliminated from the playoffs last January in Kansas City, none were cornerbacks. That easily has been the most surprising aspect of their offseason, though the option still could be explored by the end of training camp, which starts next month at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.

As a result, cornerback is the position group with the most uncertainty swirling about it this summer.

The Bills lost one of the NFL's top corners indefinitely to a torn ACL on Thanksgiving when two-time Pro Bowl selection Tre'Davious White went down. He is just about a lock to start camp on the PUP list and could well start the season on it too following surgery last December.

Then they lost fellow outside starter Levi Wallace to free agency, leaving them with Dane Jackson, proven slot performer Taron Johnson and precious little other experience at the position.

Even Jackson, a 2020 seventh-round draft pick, doesn't have much experience, having made just 10 career starts, including playoffs.

Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Chargers receiver Mike Williams during their 2020 matchup.

Tre'Davious White (left) could miss games for the Bills this season too after tearing his ACL last Thanksgiving.

So how did the Bills and general manager Brandon Beane respond?

By getting even younger at the position. That's how.

They resisted the temptation to add one of the many high-profile free agents, like J.C. Jackson, Darious Williams, Charvarious Ward and, later, James Bradberry.

Instead, they waited until Florida's Kaiir Elam was the last player they had with a first-round NFL Draft grade to still be sitting on the board at No. 23 to trade up two spots and grab him. They would add Villanova's Christian Benford in the sixth round at No. 185 and sign undrafted rookies Travon Fuller and Ja'Marcus Ingram.

So even though they will go to camp with 12 bodies at the position, they ostensibly will have no proven outside starters on the field for their first practice.

That's the definition of uncertainty. Others may call it the definition of insanity for a team that has been so excruciatingly close to the Super Bowl the previous two seasons and had the No. 1-ranked defense in the league last year.

Nevertheless, that's their situation, which should make Jackson, Elam and Benford perhaps the most scrutinized players in camp — unless White gets cleared before it's over. Then all eyes will instantly be on him.

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Bottom line here: The Bills are counting on Elam, a fearless and physical press specialist with a long wingspan to go with excellent speed, to be as ready to step in as White was when he was drafted at No. 27 overall in 2017.

So far, so good on that front.

Sensing an unsually great opportunity, Elam has dedicated himself from the start and has opened his mind like a dry sponge.

"I could talk football all day," Elam said during rookie camp last month. "You know, it's awesome. Honestly, I just try to embrace it all, try to learn as much as I can. But it's what I expected, though. It's probably a little bit more than in college, I would say, just detail-wise. But like I said, football is football at the end of the day."

Besides, no matter who lines up outside, they will do so knowing they have the finest safety tandem in the league playing behind them in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde.

Hyde gave the impression during mandatory minicamp that Elam already knows where his help is.

"He's all ears," Hyde raved. "You can tell as I'm saying stuff, he's taking mental notes. And that's how Tre'Davious was when he first got here."

To be sure, the Bills will need Elam to do more than just take notes in his first year. They're going to need everyone's best from the start.

Even though they have no idea yet what anyone's best is.

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Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to Nicky300@aol.com