A Rare Opportunity For Bassey

The fifth cornerback spot is one that is often held by an incumbent on an NFL roster or a middle round draft pick. A player that has been with the team for a couple of seasons and capably held down a reserve role, or is being groomed for bigger and better things in a year or two.

For the Bills the fifth cornerback spot is wide open, much like the starting right cornerback job, and for a player like Eric Bassey that’s a rare, rare opportunity. It’s not often that a former undrafted rookie free agent has only current rookie free agents to compete with for an opening on a 53-man roster. But that appears to be the situation right now with Buffalo down on numbers at cornerback.

After not drafting a cornerback Buffalo’s front office identified the position as one in need of some reinforcements. But as GM Marv Levy has said many times reinforcements can sometimes come from within. Bassey is hoping to make good on that theory for Buffalo.

“This opportunity has come and I feel blessed to have it,” Bassey said. “The NFL is a numbers game, but this happens to be one that could work in my favor if I work hard.”

Armed with timed speed in the mid 4.3s, Bassey has always been physically gifted and at 6’0″ he has good size for the position. His issue has been consistency. Bassey flashed the ability to make plays in college, but didn’t turn in enough of them week to week.

He worked hard to change that last year while toiling on Buffalo’s practice squad.

“I took the time last year of not being on the active roster by learning and getting to know the defensive system,” he said. “I got a year of NFL experience. Now I can hopefully go out there and take that knowledge and just play.”

Bassey said he knew his game was improving about midway through the 2006 season, after he had faced Buffalo’s number one receiving corps for about 10 weeks straight as a member of the scout team in practice.

“I kind of felt I was getting a little more comfortable with what was going on,” he said. “Our receivers will let you know exactly where you’re at, and if you’re not up to par they’ll get the best of you pretty fast. But the speed of the receivers wasn’t outrageous anymore. Guys weren’t just racing at me and my eyes weren’t popping out of my head. Toward the end of the year I was getting more hands on the ball. I was able to calm down and break and plant with them and I made more plays toward the end of the year.”

As a result Bills defensive backs coach George Catavolos is pushing Bassey to give him more of those plays more of the time this year.

“Coach Catavolos expects a lot from me,” said Bassey on the heels of his participation in the Bills rookie camp. “Now that I’ve shown him I can make plays I have to continue to show him. This is a highly competitive game so I can’t fall off. He just wants that consistency where he sees it all the time.”

In an effort to provide that Bassey has focused on his footwork a lot this offseason. As he sees it, sound technique should lead to more opportunities to make plays.

“Footwork on jams, hip flips and reading three step drops by the quarterback,” Bassey said. “Things like that in the NFL are more detailed so you watch yourself on film to critique yourself and hone in on the details. I’m watching how my foot is placed when I come out of my break, my attack angle. All of those things are details that I’m working on. Your plant and drive if you’re a corner is something you have to work on consistently to be the best.”

The Bills aren’t pinning all of their hopes on Bassey or any of the other cornerbacks that were on their roster last year, but they wouldn’t mind if one of them took a significant leap forward in their play. The club has also added three rookie free agent conerbacks in Duane Coleman (Clemson), Reggie Lewis (Florida) and Riley Swanson (Wake Forest).

Having been a former undrafted free agent himself, Bassey isn’t taking the new challengers lightly.

“It’s all competition,” said Bassey. “All you can do is work as hard as you can and control the things that you can control and whatever happens after that you just have to roll with it.”

“It’s open,” said head coach Dick Jauron of the cornerback position. “We’re going to let them compete for it.”

And that’s just what Bassey intends to do. After putting on five more pounds of lean muscle this offseason the Oklahoma product is now tipping the scales at 205.

“I feel real good,” Bassey said. “We’ll see how it works out because we’ve got some speed around here at receiver. I think I’ve still got my speed, but I can put my hands on people now and I feel this will help me support the run. We’ll see how it goes.”