Last season was, to put it lightly, a struggle for Buffalo Bills right tackle Jordan Mills. The fourth-year man out of Louisiana Tech did manage to start all 16 games for the 7-9 Bills, but he was often the weakest link in what was an otherwise strong unit. Mills was penalized seven times, which tied him with guard Richie Incognito for second-most on the team last season.
Combine Mills’ struggles with the dismissal of his former coaching staff, and it would have been easy to imagine the Bills right tackle for the better part of the last two years adding “former” to that title. However, the Bills re-signed Mills to a new contract, giving him a pay raise, as well. If that seemed like a positive endorsement, the team then went ahead and drafted Temple offensive lineman Dion Dawkins, trading up to the second round in order to secure his services.
For Mills’s part, he seems to be taking everything in stride.
“Jordan Mills has had one heck of an offseason,” Sean McDermott told reporters last week. Mills has seemingly earned the trust and respect of the offensive line’s leader, center Eric Wood, as Wood even went so far as to vouch for Mills in the offseason.
“All coaches will like coaching Jordan Mills,” Wood said. “He does exactly what he's coached to do every single play. He's very good with assignments, he's very good in meetings, he takes everything serious, he's here early. He's going to be tough for a rookie to beat out, because he's going to do everything right.”
While many assumed that it was a near-certainty that Dawkins was drafted to replace Mills, comments like McDermott’s and Wood’s seem to suggest a greater level of respect for Mills’ play than many fans and media have shown. Of course, this could be a case of a coach fluffing up a player in order to provide a little confidence, or even ruffling the feathers of a rookie in order to motivate him by praising his veteran teammate. Whatever the case may be, it’s nice to hear when players are working hard and improving.
Tyrod Taylor even chipped in to the discussion, albeit in a less-direct manner, in an interview with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. When asked about the team’s offense in minicamp, he specifically mentioned the return of the team’s nucleus from last year as a tremendous positive for the team going forward.
“Having a bunch of the nucleus back from last year, especially the offensive line, definitely makes the job easier,” Taylor said (emphasis mine).
Quarterbacks love it when they have the same five guys in front of them for as long as possible. This continuity leads to cohesion, which leads to a better effort from the unit. Communication is simpler when all members of the unit have worked together for a long period of time.
Does all of this mean Mills will have an All-Pro season? Of course not. Is it entirely possible that Dion Dawkins will win the starting right tackle job for the 2017 Buffalo Bills? Absolutely.
What seems abundantly clear, however, is that Mills is doing everything in his power to maintain his starting job, and his teammates and coaches have taken notice.