By Sal Maiorana Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
If you were keeping score at home, Da'Norris Searcy lined up at free safety, strong safety, nickel linebacker, and sometimes even as a rush end as former coordinator Mike Pettine dialed up every blitz known to mankind.
"It just helped me grow as a player," Searcy said, recalling the 2013 season when he started seven games — mostly when Jairus Byrd was sidelined early in the year — and made 69 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception, taking both of his turnovers to the house for touchdowns.
"I got to see a lot more being out there and seeing all the formations, and being in different positions. Being around those many packages and positions, it helped me learn the defense and I learned a lot."
Of course, Pettine is now the head coach in Cleveland, and Searcy and the rest of the returning Bills are learning a new scheme taught by Jim Schwartz. But in reality, it isn't vastly different, and the strides the 5-foot-11, 216-pounder made as an NFL player last year have served him well in 2014.
He is the starter at strong safety as training camp rolls into its second week at St. John Fisher College, and while he's being pushed by second-year player Duke Williams, Searcy is confident that it's his job to lose.
"Absolutely," said the 2011 fourth-round pick. "You're out there with Kyle (Williams) and Mario (Williams), Marcell (Dareus) and Aaron (Williams), Stephon (Gilmore), you've got to match their intensity. They come to work every day with their lunch pail ready to work and ready to get better, so I don't want to be a weak link. When I'm out there, I want the whole unit to be strong. And I plan on being out there full time with the guys."
Duke Williams, a 2013 fourth-round pick who played mostly special teams as a rookie, hopes to have something to say about that. The 5-foot-11, 201-pounder is running mainly with the second team, but he's catching the eye of the staff.
"It's a great competition and that's going to make both of those players better," said Schwartz. "We go into it with an open mind and their play on the field will determine how that works out. Both of them have a little different style, but we'll have a good option no matter where we go with it."
Williams exudes a quiet confidence in his own ability, and like Searcy, he's not shy about predicting that come opening day, he'll be the first strong safety to trot onto the field.
"Playmakers stay on the field, and if I continue to make plays like I'm doing, I think I'll be able to take the job," he said. "Year one was pretty much a learning experience for me; I was able to get my feet wet and learn from the veterans, and this year I have a great opportunity to be a starter. Taking over a starting job is my No. 1 concern this year."
Searcy seems like a better fit as in-the-box safety, while Williams looks more comfortable in space in the deep third of the field. But to pigeonhole them would be wrong, said Schwartz.
"In this defense they have to be able to play both," said Schwartz. "Safeties in general in the NFL, you need to be multi-dimensional. You can't be only an in-the-box safety, or only a deep safety anymore because it's easy for offensive coordinators to create matchups that way."
Coach Doug Marrone has said on more than a few occasions that's it's too early to start making judgements on players, and that the preseason games are really where jobs are won and lost. So for now, he's enjoying watching the tape of two players in fierce competition.
"I think (Searcy's) been excellent from OTAs on, reliable, done a great job, plays multiple positions for us, and I think that Duke has flashed, at times, some great ability," said Marrone. "From his standpoint it's just going to be a matter of consistency, but we feel we've got two good players there. Right now, Da'Norris is the starter, but Duke is coming on strong and there's a lot of time left in camp."
TRAINING CAMP NOTES
• The Bills made a wise decision moving practice from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday. Recognizing the weather forecast called for heavy rain most of the day, but clearing later on, they made the call Sunday night to switch times. A ticket was not required for the workout, but the combination of the late change and the still damp weather held the crowd down.
"I just wanted to make sure that we got to practice," said coach Doug Marrone. "Last night, when the storm was coming in, I wasn't sure about lightning. I don't mind the rain, but they said thunderstorms and lightning and I just said, 'It's important that we get the practice in.' "
• There is a serious shortage at the tight end position, so with Scott Chandler (groin), Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and Chris Gragg (still recovering from a heat-related issue) down, a few offensive linemen and fullback Evan Rodriguez had to take some reps in certain sets at tight end.
• Safety Aaron Williams, who has been nicked up a bit the past few days, sat out the workout, which was conducted in full pads for the sixth straight session this camp. There is no doubt this has been a tough camp under Marrone with all the full pads practices lasting at least 2½ hours.
"Really, the thought process is that we play in pads, so I like to practice in pads," Marrone said. "I don't see it that way, I really don't, as far as a grind. I've said it before, last year, you talk about a tough situation to a standpoint that I've even claimed it's a little bit of a disadvantage when you come in and you have the least amount of practices in a league. Then you go from the least amount of practices to the most amount of practices of a football team. And we need it. That's what has been explained to the players, so we've taken advantage of it."