ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Upon being drafted by the Bills in 2015, CB Ronald Darby was immediately thrust into a starting role and thrived. In his impressive rookie campaign, Darby broke up 21 passes and snagged two interceptions over 15 games. Not quite enough to earn NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, but he did garner an AFC Defensive Player of the Month award, once.
Most importantly, in a Rex Ryan defense that struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks, Darby and fellow CB Stephon Gilmore provided some stability on the back end.
Fast forward one-year later though and that script has been flipped entirely; as Buffalo’s front-seven currently leads the NFL in sacks, the previously dependable secondary has surrendered 21 plays of 25 yards or more. Darby and Gilmore have each had a hand in that, as they’ve collectively struggled in coverage on numerous occasions and in last week’s Monday night loss to Seattle, Darby was even benched for veteran CB Corey White.
After the game Ryan told reporters that the second-year corner was sick and that he had given all he could on the field. However, as the team returned to One Bills Dr. for practice after a much needed bye week it was White, not Darby, taking reps with the first-team.
Ryan had hinted at overseeing open competitions at several positions ahead of practice on Monday, siting the offensive line and secondary. Still, seeing Darby – a talented and youthful player – off on the sideline comes as a surprise, even with his recent struggles.
The 22-yeard-old was clearly bothered by the decision after practice. “It is what it is at the end of the day,” he said. “I’m not sure. They’re the coaches; I’m just out here to play.”
As rough of a season it’s been for Darby, this feels as though he’s become the scapegoat for an abysmal all-around secondary. In all honesty it’s the safety spot that has been a bigger liability than both Darby and Gilmore.
Perhaps it’s easier to make an example out of the young, second-year player, but in favor of journeyman Corey White? You lose me.
Darby’s struggles can be compared to a slumping hitter in baseball; for as long as it drags on and as bad as it looks, the only way to break out of it is to keep getting up to the plate and swinging. Yes, Darby has shown some regression – it’s been noticeable since camp – however, he’s a talented player who has shown he can compete at this level.
There’s a real possibility that Darby may become the team’s top CB depending on how things play out with Gilmore’s pending contract situation. Fiddling with Darby’s confidence this late in the season, especially with that upcoming situation in mind could backfire badly.
It’s not as if Darby doesn’t realize that he’s made some mistakes, so this almost comes off as rubbing salt in his wounds. It’s obviously Ryan’s right to challenge his players, but this is a delicate situation, as the Bills playoffs hopes rest on an almost unfathomable finish. They’ll need their best players to the field to help.
We’ll see if this is just a motivation tactic by Ryan or if they’ll actually go through with starting Corey White on Sunday in Cincinnati.
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