Tre'Davious White likely out for Week 1 and Bills have tough decision at cornerback

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

ORCHARD PARK - In two weeks, the Buffalo Bills will open the 2022 NFL season against the Los Angeles Rams, and it is becoming abundantly clear that cornerback Tre’Davious White will not be on the field.

We have been speculating about this for months, but the reality is that White has not practiced with the team since he suffered a torn ACL last Thanksgiving in New Orleans. He is doing work behind the scenes with the strength and conditioning staff, but it seems virtually impossible that he would be able to suit up on Sept. 8 when the Bills take on the defending Super Bowl champs.

“Candidly, we don’t have the final answer,” general manager Brandon Beane said Tuesday when he was asked what the Bills plan on doing with White’s roster spot early in the season. “We’re not sitting here going, ‘Oh, he’s going to be here on this date.’ We truly don’t know that. We’re trying to run out the clock here and make that move.”

What Beane meant is they are trying to delay the decision as long as they can in order to see where White is, but time is running out because the roster must be trimmed to 53 by 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Brandon Beane talking to Tre'Davious White during training camp at St. John Fisher.

If the Bills think he can be ready inside of four weeks, they can put him on the 53-man roster and have him be a game day inactive until he’s ready to play. Being on the active roster would also allow White to start practicing with the team.

However, if the Bills don’t think he can play in the first four weeks, they can open his roster spot by placing him on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list. White would be ineligible to play in the first four games, but the tricky part is he also cannot practice with the team, which would essentially extend his unavailability because he’s going to need time to ramp up, meaning he would likely miss additional games.

“I have something in my mind,” coach Sean McDermott said when he was asked how much practice time White would need before he’d play him in a game. “It’s a little bit different maybe for every player because each one of them is different, experience wise and how quickly they get themselves back up to speed, so I won’t go there. But you do need to practice to get yourself ready to go and get yourself game ready.”

If he starts on PUP, when they deem him ready to practice, a 21-day window opens where he can be activated to the 53-man roster anytime in that period. If he’s not ready within 21 days, the Bills would have to put him on Reserve/PUP for the entire season.

While the Bills try to figure all that out, the more pressing issue before them is deciding who is going to start in White’s place. Dane Jackson looks set at one cornerback spot, but rookies Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford remain locked in a tight battle for the other job and it could come down to how they play Friday night in the preseason finale at Carolina.

McDermott said Wednesday that most of the starters, including Josh Allen, will not play, and the game will be used to evaluate the players who will fill out the bottom of the roster. The cornerback situation is an outlier because that’s the only place where a starting job is truly open.

“I think Dane’s experience, along with his talent level, puts him just a notch above the two young rookies that we have,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “Those guys will continue to progress and get better as we go along, but we still believe that Dane is ahead at this point.

Bills Kaiir Elam celebrates a third down stop in the first half during the Bills 27-24 win in their first preseason game Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022 at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.

“As far as Kaiir and Christian, those guys are battling to be able to give us an option if Tre’Davious is not active for the Rams game. It’s just an ongoing competition and ongoing evaluation with the both of them.”

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Neither player has really stood out above the other in practice or the two preseason games. They have each made several nice plays, but also have made several mistakes. In other words, exactly what you’d expect from rookies.

When he was asked what he wants to see Friday night from the two players, Frazier said, “I think it’s just to continue evaluation of their technique and fundamentals just to see how they’re coming along with some of the things we’ve been teaching going back to April when we started our offseason program.

“And just to see which guy is really acquiring that knowledge and being able to transfer it to the field best, and we need more views. Fortunately, we have time to get more views.”

In the Indianapolis game, both rookies started because Jackson was given the veteran treatment like the rest of the starters. Against Denver, Jackson started, and Elam and Benford split time opposite him on the first two series. Could that be a blueprint once the season starts, to rotate the rookies in and out during games?

“There’s a lot to discuss prior to then once things have settled, for sure,” Frazier said. “One way or another, we’ll put everything on the table and make what we think will be a good decision for our team. So, got a little ways before we have to make that decision.”

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