The pass protection of the Buffalo Bills has been something of a talking point over the past week or so, thanks largely to the efforts of Pro Football Focus in methodically building up to their team pass protection rankings. Yesterday, they ranked the Bills No. 20 in pass protection last year, but I was most interested in hearing what they had to say about Demetrius Bell.
"Demetrius Bell isn’t even an average left tackle yet, but he was much better than 2009," writes Khaled Elsayed.
I had been planning on writing a short piece with some consolidated notes from our Buffalo Bills re-watch, and with the PFF rankings out, now's as good a time as any to share some of those thoughts. In short, I realize Bell has his share of sometimes-harsh critics (I'm looking at you, certain Buffalo Rumblings moderator), but I remain hopeful that Dick Jauron's coaching staff knew what they were doing when they threw Bell into the fire in 2009.
To start, most of the common beliefs about Bell - that he's a great athlete, that he's inconsistent, and that he lacks strength - are all accurate. Bell isn't quite at "dancing bear" status, because he's not an especially huge offensive lineman, but he can really move. Other than Eric Wood, I'd argue that he was Buffalo's best run blocker at the second level last season (something the entire team needs to get better at), and from what I've seen in closely evaluating five games now, he's very adept at defending the edge. He handles speed quite well.
As a run blocker, Bell's at his best when he's sealing, or when he's doubling down and then scraping to the second level to get a linebacker. He kept a lot of lanes free in that fashion last season. He's not the straight-ahead, drive-blocking lineman many expect all five guys on a line to be. If he's able to improve his strength, he'll at least be able to better hold his own on plays that ask him to do that.
In pass protection, strength was again a big issue for Bell. He struggled with power in 2010, as strong ends were able to either bull rush him into the pocket, or jolt him onto his heels and get by him to the inside. Improved strength, again, will help Bell maintain better balance and leverage in those situations. Technically, he made vast strides from '09 to '10, but he's still a bit rough around the edges, particularly with his hands.
There were times last season when Bell missed some assignments on blitzes and stunts. That happens to the league's best linemen, but Bell needs to improve his overall recognition. Given the fact that he didn't play organized football until he got to Northwestern State, this is hardly surprising, and the fact that he made huge strides in this department from year to year is encouraging.
Yes, there are flaws to Bell's game - some of them borne of his continued inexperience playing the game, some borne of the knee injury that caused him to miss an entire off-season's worth of workouts (yes, I absolutely buy that excuse), and some of them borne of his being who he is as an athlete: more finesse than power. This is a player that, to my eye, is getting better. I do not know where he'll eventually level off, and I'm not certain that I'd say his full potential will ever mark him among the league's elite. Don't give up on this guy. There's a lot to like about his talent and his game. He's plucky; there is some grit and spunk to his game, and he's a team player. I think there's a strong chance that by the end of the 2011 season, many Bills fans will feel quite comfortable labeling Bell the long-term starter at left tackle.