ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Josh Norman wouldn’t be back in Buffalo for a second stint if not for a rash of injuries depleting the Bills’ defense.
What the veteran cornerback, however, made clear on Wednesday is he would not have signed to Buffalo’s practice squad a day earlier if he didn’t still regard the Bills as contenders, however banged-up they might be.
Difficult as it will be to replace linebacker Matt Milano (lower right leg), cornerback Tre’Davious White (torn right Achilles tendon) and tackle DaQuan Jones (torn pectoral muscle), Norman placed his faith in Buffalo’s deep and disruptive defensive front as being a difference-maker.
“Listen, man, regardless of anybody coming in or out, this defense is menacing,” said the 35-year-old Norman, who patiently bided his time this summer in waiting for the right opportunity in extending his career to a 12th season.
“I mean, they got some grown men up front and nobody wants anything to do with them,” he added, referring to a defensive front whose members account for 19 of Buffalo’s league-leading 21 sacks. “They have the most talented group of men that I’ve seen since I’ve been in the league.”
Another plus for Buffalo, Norman added, is the safety tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who have been together for seven seasons.
“They help the guys around them. That’s what makes it all better,” Norman said.
Milano and Jones, who are both out indefinitely and require surgery, landed on injured reserve on Wednesday, after going down in a 25-20 loss to Jacksonville on Sunday. They join White on IR, after he was hurt a week earlier in a win over Miami.
Rather than focus on the players they lost, the Bills (3-2) began placing an emphasis on who is healthy in preparing to host the New York Giants (1-4) on Sunday night.
“Overall, it’s the job of the person stepping in to do the job. And we have full confidence in that player,” coach Sean McDermott said. “And a piece of it is playing for those (injured) guys, too, because they were a big piece of this team and still are. But they can’t help us so much, so we play for them.”
Reinforcements are on the way, with Buffalo signing Norman, who appeared in nine games for the Bills in 2020. The additions continued Wednesday, with veteran linebacker A.J. Klein signed off the practice squad, and second-year linebacker Baylon Spector returning to practice after spending the past five weeks on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury.
The theme of discussion turned to the familiar next-man-up mentality, even though the backups aren’t nearly as accomplished as the players they’re replacing.
“It’ll definitely be tough without him out there,” middle linebacker Terrel Bernard said of Milano, who is regarded as the defense’s backbone. “Whoever it is, we’re going to go out there and play hard, we’re going to be physical, fast. The standard is the same.”
Rookie Dorian Williams and fourth-year player Tyrel Dodson split time replacing Milano on Sunday. Klein is a candidate to step in after spending the previous two-plus seasons in Buffalo.
While Jones’ presence in the middle will be missed, the Bills have defensive line depth with Poona Ford in position to fill in after being a healthy scratch the past three weeks. And don’t forget Von Miller. The NFL’s active leader in sacks was eased back in by playing 20 snaps on Sunday in his first game since tearing a right knee ligament in late November.
Replacing White might be Buffalo’s biggest challenge after Kaiir Elam had difficulty defending Jacksonville’s Calvin Ridley, and was eventually replaced by practice squad call-up Ja’Marcus Ingram.
Elam was thrust into action after being a healthy inactive the first four weeks, and with Buffalo’s other starting cornerback Christian Benford sidelined by a shoulder injury.
Benford has a chance to return this week, though backup Dane Jackson’s status is uncertain with a foot injury.
Elam acknowledged he can play better, and was perhaps too over-eager in making his season debut.
“I wanted to do so well that I just felt like I was trying to play every route,” he said. “I just got to calm down and just do what I do best.”
A 2022 first-round pick out of Florida, Elam’s struggles carried over from his rookie season, when he spent the year splitting starting duties with Benford, before losing the job altogether in training camp this summer.
This is where Norman’s veteran presence should help, McDermott said.
“To me, it’s not the primary reason why `J-No’s’ here, but it is a secondary reason where he can impart some wisdom and perspective,” McDermott said.
Norman is all for it, noting his career got off to a slow start in Carolina in 2012, before he earned All-Pro honors in 2015 while also receiving two votes in the NFL’s defensive player of the year balloting.
“It’s paying it forward,” Norman said.