Of all the Buffalo Bills’ position groups, the offensive line is arguably the thinnest. With three legitimate starters in Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito, and Eric Wood, and two up-and-comers (hopefully, anyhow) in John Miller and Jordan Mills, the unit is somewhat set in its starting formation. It is thin, however, in the reserve ranks. Seantrel Henderson has battled Crohn’s disease, Cyrus Koundjio has battled chronic knee ailments, and last year’s top interior reserve, Kraig Urbik, was released. Cyril Richardson returns, but he has spent his career mostly inactive on game days. Fernando Velasco was signed in the offseason, and his versatility and veteran savvy would seem to give him an edge in any competition for a backup role. However, with an injury to Richie Incognito, it has been another man stepping in with the first team: Ryan Groy.
Groy, signed off of Tampa Bay’s practice squad last season, is not a household name. He was not a high draft pick—in fact, he was not even drafted out of Wisconsin in 2014—instead signing with the Bears and making the team out of camp. He was traded to the New England Patriots after his first NFL season, and was subsequently released, signed by the Buccaneers, placed on their practice squad, and signed off their practice squad by the Bills in 2015. He did not start a game for the Bills but did find his way onto the field in “heavy” packages as Greg Roman’s sixth lineman. What, then, can we expect to see when Groy takes the field on Saturday night?
A Solid Athlete
Groy has prototype size for the guard position. He’s 6’5” and 320 pounds, putting him at almost the same size as Richie Incognito, the man he’ll replace (Incognito is 6’3” and 319). For comparison’s sake, John Miller is considered to be “undersized” at 6’3” and 305. Groy is very strong, putting up 26 reps on the bench at the 2014 combine, but it’s his short-burst quickness that is truly impressive. He ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4.47 seconds, and the 3 cone drill in 7.49 seconds. When his athleticism is again compared to Miller’s, he comes out ahead, as Miller ran the shuttle in 4.75 seconds, and the 3 cone drill in 7.8 seconds. Miller’s 28 bench reps were similar to Groy’s. This speed and explosion makes Groy the kind of athlete that coaches covet, someone who has the physical tools and needs a bit of refining in terms of technique. According to Andrew Rosin of Bucky’s Fifth Quarter, Groy is exactly that kind of player—a solid athlete whose technique wanes at times.
A Versatile Player
Groy started games at four different positions in college. He was primarily a left guard, but he also played center, left tackle, and fullback. Yes, a 6’5”, 307 pound (hey, he was a freshman in college...he hadn’t quite bulked up yet!) fullback set up in Wisconsin’s backfield. His athletic ability made him a prime candidate for a position switch when he was blocked out of the lineup by a slew of NFL caliber players. Every starter on the 2010 offensive line was drafted, and 3 (Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler, and Travis Frederick) were first-round picks. Groy accepted the challenge of a new position, and really relished it. He was highly respected by his teammates and coaches, and played in 54 games during his college career. He started his final 27 games, with two of those starts coming at left tackle. The other 25 came at left guard.
A Sound Scheme Fit
Wisconsin is known for a zone blocking scheme with power elements, and Groy excelled in it. However, Greg Roman is known for his smash-mouth, man-on-man style power running. How, then, can a zone-block lineman be a solid scheme fit in Greg Roman’s offense? Roman designs runs that work for the individuals on the field; he is not married to a particular philosophy. Looking at the running game in 2015, it seems that he mixed the blocking throughout, with some zone concepts mixed into the man scheme. With almost every power/man blocking scheme play, a guard pulled—mostly Incognito—into position as a lead blocker for the back. Incognito and Groy both have excellent quickness for offensive linemen, and Roman loves to move his linemen around. Rob Quinn, formerly of Building the Herd, provided an “All-22” breakdown of Roman’s run game concepts that deserves a read, and watching Incognito in those plays gives us a good idea of what Groy will be asked to do in his absence. He has the athleticism and smarts to do it.
Ryan Groy’s spot on this team is nowhere near guaranteed. In limited action in 2014, he received a -2.4 grade from PFF, which was right around one another player whose name will be familiar—Fernando Velasco (-2.8). In camp this year, the offense has had two of its worst days (August 10 and August 11) with Groy starting in place of Incognito. His versatility and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect who is at least worthy of a deeper look, and who could potentially make a game day roster as a swing lineman at 4 different positions. My favorite line of any regarding Groy came from Nolan Nawrocki, who said that “[Groy] As a starter, is the type you look to replace, but could be serviceable backup in a slide-protection scheme given his size, intelligence and functional anchor.” A huge step towards proving he belongs comes tonight against the Colts.