One of the biggest areas of concern for the Buffalo Bills this offseason has been the offensive line. With two retirements and backups ready to step-up, the front line of the Bills could be better than we expect.
Following the 2017 season, it appeared the Buffalo Bills needed to address the right side of the offensive line and potentially upgrade. They had an extra asset in Cordy Glenn after the emergence of Dion Dawkins, and Richie Incognito had made the Pro-Bowl yet again.
Even with their question marks, the team helped running back LeSean McCoy reach 10,000 rushing yards for his career and earn him another trip to the Pro Bowl.
However, as the team got deeper into the offseason, the line got significantly weaker. Eric Wood suddenly was forced into retirement as injuries ended his career early. Then Glenn was traded to Cincinnati as part of a deal that got the Bills the No. 12 pick in the draft. Finally, the Richie Incognito saga ended with his release after his contract was restructured and he announced a shock retirement.
That leaves Dion Dawkins as the lone for-sure starter from last season. Jordan Mills also comes back to the team, but his play is inconsistent and his starting job could be in jeopardy. Vlad Ducasse, Ryan Groy, John Miller and Conor McDermott are additional linemen that return from last season.
With all of that being said, it really doesn’t look like I’m as optimistic about the line as the title of this article may suggest. Although it looks bleak on the surface, I really believe the Bills can be better than expected up front. They have youth, new additions and competition. There is plenty to be excited about.
Buffalo has what appears to be their second consecutive franchise tackle in Dawkins. After Glenn’s injury last season, Dawkins was able to step in and play extremely well for a rookie. While there may be some further growing pains in year two, I expect him to get even better and develop into a top-tier left tackle in the next several years.
On the inside of the offensive line is where I see the biggest potential for growth. Ryan Groy is my favorite player along the offensive line. I think he has plenty of untapped potential because he had Wood and Incognito in front of him. However, when given the opportunity after Wood got hurt several years ago, Groy stepped up and was a more than adequate replacement.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about how I think Groy could have a breakout season. While he is currently rotating first team reps with Russell Bodine, I think he will win out. Bodine doesn’t offer the athleticism that Groy does, but he is still valuable due to his experience. If Groy is the starting center, I think he will be the anchor in the middle of the line and make everyone better around him.
Moving to the guards, there is more to work with there than originally anticipated. It is good to see that John Miller has gotten back in the good graces of the coaching staff after being benched last season.
If you forgot, Miller came to the Bills as a third-round pick in 2015 and was extremely effective in his first two seasons. He helped make the Bills one of the most potent rushing attacks in the league. If he can get back to the form he had early in his career and can continue to impress the coaching staff, he should be back in the starting lineup at one of the guard positions.
The next guard spot is right now held down by Vlad Ducasse, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Wyatt Teller made his name known during training camp. While Ducasse had a decent 2017, Teller is a player who has once had immense potential and is looking to recapture that form.
After his 2016 season, Teller was considered a first or second-round pick by many. His play dropped off in 2017 and that led him to the fifth round where Buffalo selected him. If he can get back to his 2016 style of play, he could be a major wild card in the guard competition.
Physically speaking, he has all the tools to be an effective player at the pro level. He is strong as he benched 225 pounds 30 times at the combine and at 6-foot-5 and 314 pounds, he is imposing as well. If he can get back to his junior season level of play, he can push Ducasse for the starting position.
As for the right tackle job, it appears Jordan Mills will resume the starting position there for the third season. While he isn’t anything exceptional, his is adequate for now.
I am intrigued by Conor McDermott and what he can offer to the team. He is by no means a player who is ready to be a Pro Bowler, but the team sees something in him and has continued to develop him.
The new additions and position battles will hopefully up the competition along the line, but one of the biggest reasons to believe in the offensive line is not the players, but the coaches. Brian Daboll is now in charge and to me that brings more excitement.
With all due respect to Rick Dennison, he was a major reason the offense struggled last season. He wanted his players to adapt to his style of offense instead of adapting his offense to his players. It appears that Daboll is far more open-minded to his players and developing a system that allows them to succeed.
With the Erhardt-Perkins style of offense Daboll wants to run, it will use a lot of quick passes to take pressure off of the line. Shady will help the line with his running ability, and I believe that they will rise to the occasion this year.
The team didn’t go out and spend a ton of money on offensive line free agents. They added depth and created competition which could pay off in the short and long-term. I have belief in the coaching staff and the players that they can turn that position group into something the team will no longer have to worry about.