The Buffalo Bills were dealt a devastating blow during their 31-6 Thanksgiving Day victory against the New Orleans Saints, as star cornerback Tre White suffered a season-ending ACL injury. With a huge Monday Night Football clash with the red-hot New England Patriots looming, second-year cornerback Dane Jackson enters the starting lineup with incredibly big shoes to fill.
Jackson entered training camp as a hot sleeper candidate that many expected to supplant Levi Wallace as the team’s No. 2 cornerback opposite White. While the former Pitt standout wasn’t able to unseat Wallace, he gained the confidence of both the coaching staff and his teammates with his feisty and steady play.
While Jackson – and just about every other cornerback in the NFL, for that matter – can’t play at the level White does, and certainly won’t be tasked with trailing the opposing No. 1 receiver, it’s clear that Buffalo is confident in his ability to step in and play at a high level.
Head coach Sean McDermott spoke to the media Tuesday, and explained that while losing White hurts, the team believes Jackson is more than capable of playing at a high level.
“He’s always been a guy, coming from Pitt, that has our DNA in terms of gritty resistance,” McDermott said. “A player that’s tough. He’s up for the challenge. I felt that and we have a lot of confidence in Dane Jackson.”
White’s absence from the lineup undoubtedly hurts the team. Through 11 games, White was playing as well as any cornerback in the NFL. His 53.4-percent completion rate against ranked No. 6 among cornerbacks that played 80% of their team’s defensive snaps. He surrendered the sixth-fewest yards (305) and was one of three cornerbacks that hadn’t allowed a touchdown. His 61.4 passer rating is the second-lowest rate in the league.
“I don’t know if there is (a way to quantify the loss of White),” Leslie Frazier told reporters Tuesday. “He’s obviously a big part of what we do on defense. He allows us to do so many things because of his talent, how smart he is, how hard he works. He’s a matchup guy. He’s allowed us to do some things on defense because of his ability to eliminate another team’s No. 1 receiver. So there are big shoes to fill and I think Dane Jackson is one of those guys who will step up and do a good job for us. But to say that he will play at the level of Tre’Davious, that would be misleading, for sure.”
But while Jackson won’t replicate what White brings to the Bills, the team still believes in their 2020 seventh-round draft pick. Jackson played in four games as a rookie in 2020, making two starts. He recorded 15 tackles, making one interception and breaking up five passes while being targeted 17 times. Jackson’s quality play in his limited action left a great impression on defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who praised the confidence he brought to OTAs this summer.
“We believe in Dane,” Frazier added during his Tuesday media availability. “He competed in training camp for a starting job. So we have confidence in him. But we do have to be mindful of the fact that Tre’Davious is a Pro Bowl corner, and you’re missing him. So we’ll be conscious of the fact that Dane is replacing Tre’Davious and we’ll do the things necessary to help him and really help our defense. But it’s not the same with Tre’Davious not being there, and we will have to be cognizant of the fact that he’s not out there.”
Jackson’s first test will come against a Mac Jones-led Patriots offense that is centered around the quick passing game that’s designed to get receivers in space to create yards-after-catch. He’s a physical and reliable tackler, which should bode well against Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Algholor, who are quality receivers in their own right but aren’t exactly world-beaters.
Losing White is a huge blow to Buffalo’s defense, but Dane Jackson has enough talent and intelligence to step in and keep the Bills rolling.