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Analysis: Is Ryan Groy the next man up for Buffalo Bills after Eric Wood retirement?

With Eric Wood’s unexpected retirement announcement, (with a heavy heart) we take a look at the possible next man up

Much of the Buffalo Bills’ fan base woke up Friday morning with thoughts of the approaching weekend set at the highest priority level. Before the morning coffee was completely finished we were faced with mysterious and ominous news. By now, you’ve probably heard that a concern with Eric Wood’s neck was discovered following the 2017 season which will force him into retirement. With fingers crossed, hands clasped in prayer, and other well wishes on their way to Eric, we hope for nothing but the best as he moves forward.

Wood has some big shoes to fill, and it’s with that in mind that we take a look to see if Ryan Groy is likely to be the next man up at center after this surprising news. Groy, who turns 28 in September, has been a Buffalo Bill since 2015, when he was signed off of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad. He was a backup and heavy-package lineman for his first year, and was set to fulfill the same role in 2016 until a broken leg ended Eric Wood’s season in Week 9 against the Seattle Seahawks. Groy started the final 7 games of the 2017 season, and he performed admirably in Wood’s absence.

During the 2016 season, Groy was not penalized, and he did not allow a sack, either. In fact, Groy has played 617 snaps as a member of the Buffalo Bills, and he has yet to allow a sack or commit a penalty on any of them.

After his contract expired at the end of the 2016 season, Groy was given a restricted free agent tender by the Bills at his original-round value. Since he entered the league as an undrafted free agent, his departure would have netted the Bills zero compensation. Groy signed a two-year offer sheet with the Los Angeles Rams, which the Bills decided to match; the offer included $3.5 million in guaranteed money, according to the Los Angeles Times.

With that price tag, it appeared that Groy would have the chance to compete for a starting job along the offensive line, and even though he had experience playing both guard and tackle, he was never inserted into the starting lineup as John Miller and Jordan Mills struggled. Miller was instead replaced by Vlad Ducasse, who was at least better than Miller, but he was not so dominant that his play warranted much praise.

Presumably, Groy will now have the chance to earn the starting center job outright, as he has been Wood’s primary backup since 2016. It certainly isn’t the way he’d like to earn the job, and we certainly aren’t happy that Wood will have to end what has been an excellent career far too soon. However, the team will need to press forward through this difficult circumstance, and Groy will have an opportunity to enter the starting lineup in a full-time capacity.

Let’s go back to his time in the starting lineup to see how he played.

One on one

Play 1 : Groy gets set up one-on-one with Jamil Douglas and loses to the spin move. This wouldn’t have been a TD or anything otherwise, but it ends what should have been a positive play. In his defense, it’s an odd direction to see a spin move, but faster feet and hands maintain the block

Play 2: This is a lot more encouraging. Groy maintains the block, never takes his eyes away from his responsibility and even tosses a right hand to help out early in the play. This is against Jason Jones.

Play 3: It’s a brief one on one, but it’s against Ndamukong Suh. Groy gets a good push and as a result keeps his part of the pocket clean. Note the hand placement is to the chest (to avoid a flag) and Groy starts low and rises to get the leverage in what looks like a clear mismatch on paper.

Agility and second level

Play 1: This starts off great. He extends both hands to make sure his guards are good to go and then moves up to seal off Kiko Alonso. If the play were developing behind him rather than to his left, Alonso would have easily gotten around him to make the play. Groy sees Alonso a split-second late and leans too far forward with his upper body, preventing him from shifting his weight correctly.

Play 2: There’s a lot to like here. Groy recognizes the defense well and passes the first block he needs to decide on to John Miller. Nick O’Leary has done his job and passes off a block at the second level to Groy, which would free Nick up to block even further downfield. This play could have been huge, but Miller loses his guy and you can see the result.

Play 3: Richie Incognito is maintaining his block but Groy gives him a clip as he moves to the second level. This opens up a big lane where Jerome Felton becomes a lead blocker. Kiko Alonso doesn’t bite on the right side like they hoped and LeSean McCoy doesn’t trust the lane. It’s possible he should have though.

Field General

Play 1: Groy calls out the pressure from his left side. Once the ball is snapped he moves well with his guards to form a wall and keep Tyrod Taylor clean. Groy’s call on the pressure was the right one and Felton was in good position to clean up that side. A bad pass dooms the play, with Shady vs. Alonso a winnable match in stride.

Play 2: Groy is still looking comfortable calling things out. As the play develops, he works well with Miller for another offensive line victory. I love this play because it shows Groy doing something you need to see to appreciate. Groy knows he might need to help either side and as a result, keeps his eyes ahead until he knows who he’s hitting. The human eye is actually better at tracking movement with the peripheral vision. This technique allows Groy to track both players at the same time and allows for a faster reaction time when he needs to make his decision.

Pretty good

Groy doesn’t have any decision to make here as he’s supposed to pull across the formation and hit anyone who tries to get across the edge. This play pauses in the middle to make absolutely clear where the block was missed. Groy could have taken his man out a little better (you too, Jerome Felton) but both got a big enough piece to make this a hell of a run if the rest of the plan worked out. Jordan Mills elects to help out Cyrus Kouandjio which allows Michael Thomas to limit this to a 5-yard pickup by Mike Gillislee.

Had to include this one

In a reverse to one of the plays above, Groy has his man pretty well maintained and Incognito turns it into dominance with a run-by slamming. The combination block from Groy and Incognito wipes out Jordan Philips and Ndamukong Suh and helps Kouandjio clean up Mario Williams in the blink of an eye. Shady trusts the lane this time and you see what happens as a result. Bonus fact: I don’t think Richie likes Alonso a whole lot as he repeatedly shoves him to the ground (even after Shady is clearly past him).

Final thoughts

The consensus on Ryan Groy’s time in temporary relief of Eric Wood was that he acquitted himself admirably. The examples above show that there’s a lot to like. Mistakes aren’t terribly difficult to find with Groy, but with less than a dozen starts to his name (and not all of those at center), it’s a safe bet that he’ll improve.

Groy was retained by Buffalo but only used in spot and reserve duty in 2017. It’s unknown what the current front office thinks about him as a starter. The recent change in offensive coordinator muddies things further. This is merely to say he may not cleanly fit the vision of the front office and an upgrade could be sought. By all appearances though, we have a player with an unknown ceiling and a heck of a nice floor.