In the latest edition of the Buffalo Rumblings Podcast, John Boccacino and Anthony Marino recap the latest news from One Bills Drive, including the announcement that Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly will be honored during this summer’s ESPY awards.
The duo also breaks down the state of the offensive line heading into the third and final week of organized team activities (OTAs). The pressure is high for players to step up and fill the void left by the retirements/departures of veterans Eric Wood and Richie Incognito.
During his 32nd annual Jim Kelly Celebrity Golf Classic at Terry Hills in Batavia, Kelly broke the news that he would be receiving the Jimmy V Award — named for the former college basketball coach, Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993 — during the annual ESPY’s, airing July 18 from Los Angeles. The award is given to a member of the sporting world who has “overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.”
Kelly recently underwent treatment for a third bout of cancer, after initially thinking he had the disease kicked in 2014 following radiation therapy and in 2013 after surgery. He returned from the treatment appearing to be in good health and was seen golfing alongside other celebrities during his tournament, which featured appearances from Bruce Smith, Chris Berman, Warren Sapp, Don Beebe, Steve Tasker, Cornelius Bennett, Eric Wood, Scott Norwood, Michael Irvin, and Anthony Munoz.
Kelly is the second member of the Bills to win the Jimmy V Perseverance award. Former tight end Kevin Everett was given the honor in 2008, less than a year after he suffered a career-ending injury that very nearly cost him his life.
When sizing up the state of the offensive line, Marino and Boccacino are both confident that the unit can return to playing at a high level despite the losses of Wood, the team’s starting center, Incognito, the starting left guard, and Cordy Glenn, who was dealt to the Cincinnati Bengals after an injury-plagued campaign at left tackle. But there is certainly cause for concern at several key spots along the line.
Our podcasting duo expects continued success from second-year player Dion Dawkins, who stepped in at left tackle for Glenn and immediately contributed as a solid run blocker and pass protector. Dawkins earned a grade of 74.5 from Pro Football Focus and was ranked as the second-best rookie offensive tackle.
Dawkins overcame a shaky start to the season to earn the starter’s job full time beginning in Week 10. In the span of nine games, Dawkins allowed 22 total pressures (20 hurries, two quarterback hits) across 331 pass-blocking snaps, good for second in pass-blocking efficiency (95.0) among rookie offensive tackles with at least 130 pass-blocking snaps.
Dawkins concluded his rookie season ranking 20th in run blocking among all qualifying offensive tackles. Pro Football Focus named Dawkins one of the second-year players poised for a breakout in 2018.
The right tackle position is cause for concern, as neither veteran Jordan Mills nor Marshall Newhouse, the free agent brought in as competition, inspire much confidence. Mills has the dubious distinction of leading the team in penalties and sacks allowed over the last two years, while Newhouse allowed eight sacks while serving as both a guard and tackle in 2017.
At center, veteran Ryan Groy seems to have the upper hand in the race to replace Wood, with Russell Bodine also expected to see repetitions at the center position. Bodine, who allowed only one sack while being whistled for two total penalties with the Bengals in 2017, was seen taking first-team reps when OTAs opened. Groy, a valuable swingman along the line, performed quite well in seven games as Wood’s replacement in 2016. Both Groy and Bodine have taken first-team reps at center.
While Bills fans were vocal critics of Vladimir Ducasse last year, it seems that Ducasse has done enough to once again crack the starting lineup. Ducasse started 13 games at right guard, including the Wild Card round matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year, and is crossing over to the left guard position. Ducasse earned a grade of 75.5 from Pro Football Focus, which ranked 24th overall among all guards.
At right guard, Boccacino and Marino both identified John Miller as a player with a lot of pressure to perform. It appears Miller has regained his starting job, one season after losing it to Ducasse and being benched after Week 4.
Fifth-round draft pick Wyatt Teller is expected to provide valuable depth along the line and has impressed so far during his time with the second team, while Conor McDermott has also earned playing time so far during OTAs.
Faced with the prospect of starting an unproven quarterback (regardless of whether AJ McCarron, Josh Allen, or Nathan Peterman earns the starting gig), the development and growth of the offensive line will be paramount if the Bills offense is to succeed in 2018.
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