Buffalo Bills' defensive picture remains murky

Bills safety Cole Bishop's prospect profile (0:37)

Check out some of the top college highlights for new Bills safety Cole Bishop. (0:37)

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The basics are being explained at One Bills Drive this month. That's what happens with roster and staff turnover, even the little things are new -- directions to the cafeteria, locations of meeting rooms, new roster numbers and fresh faces.

Nickel corner Taron Johnson, one of the veteran mainstays in the secondary, acknowledged the change to the roster has a "definitely different [feel]. But it's exciting."

Quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Von Miller are the only remaining team captains out of eight from 2023. Long-term staples who were here at the start of coach Sean McDermott's tenure in 2017 -- cornerback Tre'Davious White, safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde -- are no longer with the team. Signs of this not being the same Bills have already appeared in a variety of forms.

Allen noted how he has put more intention and focus behind "just sitting with different guys in the cafeteria and getting to know them and their families."

"I truly believe and again, I said a lot over the years, that having that relationship off the field pays dividends on the field," Allen said.

Allen isn't alone in that thought. McDermott spearheaded a team-bonding day in between OTAs for the group to get out into the community. On Wednesday, they split up in groups mixed from all ages and positions and visited 12 schools in western New York. They interacted in a variety of ways, from meeting with junior and senior high school athletes to an elementary reptile show.

"I got to believe that a big piece of this is them learning from the students and some of the questions that they're asking of our players of, 'Hey, they're going through the same thing that we even go through,'" McDermott said. "So, I think it's mutually beneficial here for both sides."

The lingering questions, however, remain on the field, most notably for the defense, a unit that saw depth added across the board in the draft. At the top level, McDermott still has not determined who will be calling the plays for the defense this year, whether it's him, as it was last year, or first-time defensive coordinator Bobby Babich. McDermott said answers will come during camp, giving Babich the opportunity to practice calling plays with sessions early on that are largely scripted.

The question mark surrounding a potential returning captain remains with Hyde, who said last week in the lead-up to his charity softball game that he has yet to decide whether he wants to retire or return to the Bills, but that those are the only options he is considering. He has remained in contact with McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane.

In the meantime, the Bills addressed the position in a big way through the draft, selecting safety Cole Bishop in the second round. He'll have the opportunity to earn a starting role, with free agent signing Mike Edwards, who is currently missing on-field time with a shoulder injury, and re-signed Taylor Rapp among those in the mix for the backfield roles that Poyer and Hyde filled for the past seven seasons.

"First thing I saw [Bishop], I'm like, this kid's big, you know what I'm saying," Johnson said of the 6-foot-2, 207-pound Bishop. "And the way he moves, like, I'm watching them in the drills, I'm like, he moves like he's my size [5-11, 191 pounds], you know what I'm saying? So, just having a guy like that out there, I feel like it's going to help us a lot."

The Bills addressed cornerback late in the draft with Daequan Hardy in the sixth round; however, he projects more as a returner option. Cornerback is the more stable part of the team's secondary with Christian Benford and Rasul Douglas projected for the starting roles and 2022 first-round pick Kaiir Elam behind them.

At linebacker, the Bills drafted Edefuan Ulofoshio in the fifth round, adding depth to a position that dealt with a variety of injuries last season -- especially as Matt Milano continues to rehab from his season-ending Week 5 right leg injury.

Milano's on-field time with Terrel Bernard, who emerged as the team's starting middle linebacker, was limited because of it. McDermott said Tuesday that the athletic trainers have said Milano is "on schedule" but "it's probably going to be more closer to training camp until we see him out there."

The draft was also an opportunity for the Bills to address depth at both defensive tackle -- DeWayne Carter (third round) -- and defensive end -- Javon Solomon (fifth round). Carter is off to a solid start already, knocking down a pass during 11-on-11 drills. Questions on the ends extend to how AJ Epenesa continues to grow after being re-signed to a two-year deal, and whether Miller can show some of his former playing form.

With so many new faces, that McDermott described as brining a "kind of a new excitement around, new energy," Johnson, 27, who signed a three-year extension this offseason, is among the constants who will be in line to take on new roles to help guide and extend the culture that has been built.

"Just being more vocal," Johnson said on how his role as a leader changes. "A lot of times, I would let Micah or Po talk, you know, but I'm doing that, and I want to make sure I'm doing that. Because I mean, we have a lot of young guys, and they haven't been in the league that long. So, I think it is my job to do that for them."