Cam Lewis' versality key as Buffalo Bills defense juggles multiple injuries


Staff member

Cam Lewis moves where he goes throughout the week.

“Sometimes he’s in the meeting with us as corners,” cornerback Dane Jackson said. “Sometimes he’s in a nickel meeting, sometimes he’s in a safety meeting. He’s just kind of like our jack-of-all-trades guy who could do pretty much anything. So, it’s a good thing to see him preparing. He doesn’t get rattled about it.”

Lewis, a fourth-year defensive back, has a unique job, preparing for multiple roles on the Buffalo Bills’ defense. He exemplifies the way this defense works to have each player ready to step up, particularly in a secondary in which the roles can be a bit more fluid.

Lewis played in all 17 games in the regular season, with 13% of defensive snaps and 75% of special teams snaps, but played 43% of the defensive snaps last week against Pittsburgh in the wild-card round, mainly because of the concussion suffered by nickel cornerback Taron Johnson.

As the Bills prepare for Sunday’s divisional round game against Kansas City, they are navigating a number of injuries on defense. That means Lewis could be called upon in a variety of roles, a valuable trait.

“It’s just unspeakable, because you’re not having to go outside the building, and train a player,” defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator John Butler said. “You have people in the wings, so to speak, whether it’s a corner, whether it’s a safety, whether it’s a nickel.”

Lewis, an undrafted free agent in 2019 from the University at Buffalo, has also impressed Butler with the way he’s worked his way into the lineup.

“Just the journey of coming from up and developing as a practice squad guy, and then as a special teams guy. And then as a Covid callup and then as a regular roster guy for the last couple years,” Butler said. “And I think he’s not only carved out himself a nice career from the Bills, but I think he’s shown that he’s capable as a really good player in the NFL, so hopefully, he’s around here for years to come.”

Lewis is happy to play anywhere, but said his favorite spot is at nickel cornerback. That’s where he’s most comfortable, even though it’s not an easy position.

“You’ve got to cover everything, and then you’ve still got to be inside on the run fit,” he said. “Early in the week, I’m very nickel heavy in my side, and then go to safety. But just trying to switch my brain back and forth, just to be ready for anything.”

Assistant head coach and defensive line coach Eric Washington sees Lewis put in the extra hours to make sure he’s ready. Lewis’ mental toughness and investment in the defense are key, too, Washington said, as he juggles backing up multiple roles.

“Cam knows to compartmentalize each role in preparing for all of the different things based on what we’re working on,” Washington said. “He does a good job of organizing ... the contingencies that he may find himself in, so he’s ready to go with each particular situation, if it comes up.”

“It’s tough, but he’s the guy for the job,” Johnson added. “I’ve seen him grow, and he knows the defense inside and out. … He’ll be ready.”

Lewis isn’t the only player tasked with learning multiple roles. It starts at training camp, in how the Bills try to find interchangeability with some players. Even before that, they value versatility in their evaluation process.

Butler says that about 90% of the defensive backs’ meetings come with the entire group together.

“There’s a connectivity there,” he said. “When you’re a corner, you’re playing with the other safety way more than you’re playing with the other corner. And as a safety, you’re playing with a corner nickel more than you’re playing with the other safety.”

There are times when players will split into more specialized groups, Butler said, but plenty of the studying comes together.

“It requires a coaching staff that can coach everybody,” Butler said. “And it requires players that can handle that volume of responsibility.”

Lewis has shown his grasp of the playbook to coaches and teammates.

“Cam has been the guy around here that since he stepped in this building, who’s just been making plays for us,” safety Micah Hyde said. “Whether if it’s corner, nickel, safety, dime, special teams – whatever it may be, he’s out there making plays.”

Hyde can especially attest to Lewis’ path. The veteran safety said the versatility can benefit Lewis.

“I know that was me back in Green Bay when I was a young corner, playing nickel and playing safety,” Hyde said. “I learned a defense so much faster than anybody else, because I was forced to be thrown in those positions and make mistakes. And once you learn from those mistakes, there you go, there’s a defense. So, kind of same thing happened to Cam and he’s continuing to be filling that position and succeeding.”

Lewis, meanwhile, finds guidance from players such as Hyde when it comes to honing his craft.

“I’ve got the greatest teachers right here in this building, to be honest with you,” Lewis said. “All-Pro safeties, All-Pro nickels and All-Pro corners outside as well.”
The close-knit nature of the Bills’ secondary plays a factor in all this as well.

“I think there’s a level of the culture and the family atmosphere,” Butler said. “You can talk about it, but at the end of the day, you don’t want to ever let a family member down. So, part of that responsibility is you better be ready to play and play to the standard when you’re called upon.”