When the Buffalo Bills first take the field during the 2018 NFL season, the team will field a very different looking offensive line than the 2017 vintage. With trades, retirements, releases, and position switches to account for, the Bills will have plenty of new faces in new places along the offensive line.
With this in mind, it’s understandable that the offensive line battles have been of great interest to Bills fans in the early goings of the offseason, and with OTAs underway, that focus only intensified. While the Bills have promised plenty of shuffling along the offensive line throughout the spring and summer months, a clear pecking order has been established early on in the workout period of the offseason.
At the tackle positions, not much has changed from last season. The Bills began last year with veteran Cordy Glenn at left tackle, but injuries limited him to five starts last season. Rookie Dion Dawkins stepped in and performed well enough that general manager Brandon Beane felt comfortable trading Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals in the chain of events that brought the Bills quarterback Josh Allen in the 2018 NFL Draft. Dawkins looks like a lock to open 2018 as the team’s left tackle, and he will try to add to his success from last season.
At the right tackle position, veteran Jordan Mills has begun the offseason as the team’s unquestioned starter. This may cause some consternation among Bills fans, as Mills’ play has ranged from horrendous to mediocre over the last three years as the starting right tackle. He leads all returning Buffalo offensive linemen in penalties and sacks allowed over the last two seasons, but the man they signed to serve as his competition, Marshall Newhouse, has also struggled to pass protect effectively, allowing 8 sacks last season. Newhouse has moved all over the offensive line, seeing time at both tackle spots and at guard. According to him, this is at his own request, which is a smart move for a veteran looking to show that he has some versatility, making him more valuable to the team overall.
On the inside, it appears that Vlad Ducasse will start once again, but this year, he will switch sides. He has lined up as the first-team left guard over the two weeks of OTAs after starting 13 games, including a playoff game, at right guard last season. Ducasse took some heat for his appearance in the starting lineup last season, but he was not nearly as bad as many made him out to be—Pro Football Focus graded Ducasse at a 75.5, good for 24th overall among all guards. Veteran Ryan Groy rotated in at left guard with the first team for a bit, but the job was mostly Ducasse’s for the better part of the last two weeks.
Speaking of Groy, he was the second-team center when OTAs opened, as free agent signee Russell Bodine had the first crack with the first team. The former Cincinnati Bengals center had a poor year in 2017, grading at a 46.8 by PFF’s metrics, but he was only whistled for two penalties last season while allowing 1 sack. This will be the most hotly-contested of the positional battles, as Groy performed quite well in seven games while replacing Eric Wood in 2016 before re-signing with Buffalo that offseason. Bodine has the early advantage here, but the position has been rotated, as Groy was the first-team center on May 23, just one day after Bodine took those reps.
At right guard, John Miller has regained a hold on the starting position that he lost last season to Ducasse. Miller started at right guard for Buffalo in 2015 and 2016, then opened the 2017 season as the starter again. He was benched after 4 games and did not take another offensive snap. Miller has worked hard to reapply himself to his trade, coming back this season in good shape. It appears that the benching lit a fire in him, and the team seems comfortable so far that he will be solid enough to start in 2018.
Rookie Wyatt Teller has been a fixture on the second-team, though he did take a rep with the first-team after Ducasse was called for a false start. Conor McDermott has seen time as the second-team left tackle, as well, which is a step up for the big man. He was a healthy scratch in nearly every game last season, although he was on Buffalo’s active roster each week after he was acquired from the New England Patriots.
Overall, the offensive line group will be one that all Bills fans will watch closely as the offseason unfolds.