The Buffalo Bills’ roster underwent a dramatic makeover this offseason, especially in the secondary. The Bills were not only looking to fill starting positions, but also looking to add depth. On June 1st, the organization signed 6’2″ cornerback Greg Mabin. The former Iowa Hawkeye has already had an uphill battle since going undrafted this year. He initially signed as a UDFA with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was subsequently released, before finally signing with Buffalo.
His path has been a rocky one, but if you look at his career at Iowa, he was solid. He played in 35 games in three years, and that was with his 2016 season cut short due to an ankle injury. Throughout those 35 games, he did show flashes.
Mabin comes from a well-coached defense led by Phil Parker. Under Parker, the Hawkeyes’ defense was ranked 13th in total defense and 19th in pass efficiency in the NCAA. You can tell that Parker, who is also the secondary coach, preaches tackling. All 11 defenders get downhill and are not afraid to lay the lumber. That includes Mabin, and I imagine this trait is what caught McDermott’s and the staff’s eyes.
He doesn’t shy away from contact, whether it is a pulling tackle or a fullback coming to blow him up. However, he is able to disengage and make the tackle. On this play he reads run, flies to the ball, leads with his hands, absorbs the blow and recovers, and is still able to get his body into a position to uncoil his hips into the back.
The coverages executed by the Iowa defense weren’t overly complicated like those at Clemson, but the players were obviously well-versed in the concepts. Mabin showed the ability to play just about any coverage, but his strength was definitely in zone coverage. Specifically, he excelled in off zone coverage. It allowed him to get his eyes on the QB and read the depth of the drop, all while keeping the receiver in his peripheral. On the following play, Mabin does just that. He understands the down and distance, and he sees the quick set by the QB in conjunction with the short hitch by the receiver. Parker often puts his defensive backs in a shuffle, rather than a backpedal. Here, it allows him to break quickly on the ball and use his long arms to get a piece of the pass.
His 2016 season was average; he didn’t really get his hands on the ball too often. However, if you go back to his junior season, where he reeled in two interceptions, you can see why the Bills organization wants to see if their staff can develop him.
The first one occurred on a double reverse pass. As the #1 WR motions to receive the jet sweep handoff, Mabin tightens his alignment to the tight end. The ball is snapped, and he doesn’t chase the sweep action. Instead, he immediately gains depth to stay in his deep third.
The Illini receiver, Geronimo Allison, receives the second pitch and throws it deep to the tight end. This allows Mabin to make the easy interception. Mabin displayed very good zone eyes and execution on this play.
His second interception of 2015 was even prettier. The offense runs play action with a post-dig route combination, otherwise known as the ‘NCAA’ concept. In essence, it is a high-low concept attacking the single high safety. If he jumps the dig, which he did on this play, then the QB throws the post. Due to the blitz and the vulnerability of the coverage, the safety jumps the dig (possibly by design).
Mabin continues to gain depth because he recognizes the route combination. He gets on his horse and high points the ball for the interception.
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I don’t think it is a secret that Mabin is a long shot to make the roster, but he does possess some traits that the coaches are looking for in their cornerbacks. Of those traits, tackling is first and foremost. Mabin possesses not only the willingness to come up and make a tackle, but also a surprising aptitude for it. He uses really good form and is able to get his body into position to explode through the offensive player. This should be of no surprise, since he played under Kirk Ferentz, whose teams are always technically sound.
Cover 4, Cover 3, soft press and tight man coverages
Mabin is still considered a project player, but he’s a player with a skill set that, if sharpened, could help him make a roster one day.