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Future looks bright at corner

Posted May 18, 2012


Bills veteran secondary coach George Catavolos often pays closest attention to his youngest players. There’s more for them to learn, experience and visualize both on the field and in the classroom. For some veteran assistants that can sometimes mean more gray hairs, but Catavolos is excited about the talent he has to develop at cornerback.

Catavolos will be entrusted with bringing a quartet of very young, but talented cornerbacks up to speed very quickly as they are likely to step into some very prominent roles. Aaron Williams is already lining up at the starting left cornerback position in preparation for OTAs in a week and a half and top draft choice Stephon Gilmore played the entire weekend of rookie minicamp at right cornerback.

At this stage of preparation for the regular season coaches often harbor questions about what their players can and cannot do. Catavolos however, sounds very confident about what both Williams, Gilmore and some of his other young cornerback talent is capable of.

“I’m real excited to be working with the talent we have,” Catavolos told Buffalobills.com. “They’re good athletes and good people. They’ve just got to get a lot of work in camp and a lot of work in the preseason. They’ll be fine once the season starts.”

That’s saying a lot for a potential starting cornerback tandem that has all of nine games of NFL experience. Of course Gilmore and Williams are both top 35 draft choices from the past two draft classes, and players that come off the board that high are expected to play early and play a lot. A prospect that has both Gilmore and Williams eager to prove themselves.

At the same time the younger corners are wise enough to know they could stand to learn a few things from their veteran teammates.

“I’ve got a new role starting out there at corner so I’ve just got to keep working and keep doing what got me to this point while also listening to the vets,” said Williams. “George (Wilson) is very smart and mentally knows everything that’s going on and Terrence (McGee) is still helping me out a lot. Having a guy like that is going to help us young guys be successful.”

“I’m looking forward to getting in there and competing and playing confident like I always do and get to know the vets a little bit more and how they want me to play,” said Gilmore.

Of course the young talent goes deeper than just Gilmore and Williams, with 2012 fourth-round pick Ron Brooks and second-year corner Justin Rogers, who got 13 NFL games under his belt last season.

Catavolos believes Rogers and Williams in particular will be able to hit the ground running.

“Last year a lot of these young guys ended up playing for us,” he said. “At times we had three rookies in there with Da’Norris Searcy, Aaron and Justin, and they showed their athletic skills, but they also made some rookie mistakes. This year they’ll be better and do a better job and be way ahead when camp starts.”

Gilmore admits he’s taken a look at the collection of secondary players on the roster and is aware there’s a sizable contingent of youth.

“I’ve thought about it because Aaron is a great cornerback and Justin is really good too,” said Gilmore. “So I’m just trying to be another young guy that can come in and help the team win.”

As Williams sees it, Gilmore will have it a bit easier than the rookies did last year when the lockout kept them from seeing a playbook or taking a rep on the field until training camp.

“Having a year under your belt and actually going through minicamps and OTAs and not just going through training camp prior to the season helps a lot. You actually have time to put your nose in the playbook, so the rookies this year have it good,” Williams said.

That should only serve to help Buffalo’s defensive backfield, knowing there’s a strong likelihood that Gilmore lands a starting role coming out of camp. With the extra reps taken in OTAs and minicamp the Bills top draft choice will be that much more prepared for the baptism by fire that could await him come September.

“Everybody in the whole league is happy to have the opportunity to conduct workouts with their players and know they’ll be able to spend more time in the film room looking at cut-ups and get a better handle on Dave’s (Wannstedt) system,” said Catavolos. “You can’t describe how valuable it is.”

“Not only is it going to help each of us individually, but it’s going to help the team chemistry-wise,” said Williams. “We’ve all got to mesh together and I feel like being here together is going to give us that chemistry as a team.”

What has Catavolos confident that the youth at cornerback will deliver is their approach to the game. All four of the youngsters have a model work ethic and a thirst for football knowledge.

“It’s great to have young talent, but you have to remember young guys come in and don’t know the playbook yet,” said Williams. “It takes us a while to get accustomed to not only what we’re doing, but what the D-line and linebackers are doing also. Once you get well acquainted with what your teammates are doing things come a lot easier and a lot faster.

“Hopefully we can come in, show what we can do and when our shot comes we can run with it.”

“It’s not going to be easy,” said Gilmore. “We all have to work hard and push each other and I’m looking forward to that.”