Buffalo Bills fans got their first glimpse of rookie first rounder Ed Oliver last Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts. Oliver has been in and out of the first-team lineup throughout training camp but got the start in the Bills’ first preseason game on Thursday. The ninth overall pick had Bills fans and analysts watching closely.
He also started the team’s second preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. Let’s take a look at how he performed in his first two outings.
Oliver’s introduction to the NFL came in the form of the 6’5”, 325-lb Quenton Nelson and, for the most part, he held his own against the All-Pro guard. The first series on defense saw Oliver primarily double-teamed three out of his first five plays. Due to the attention Oliver was receiving from the offensive line, Nelson was late to pick up a blitz from Tremaine Edmunds who would make a play in the backfield. On the same drive, Oliver was able to split a double team and not allow either lineman to reach the second level—allowing Matt Milano to make a play for a short gain.
The few times Oliver went one-on-one, he showed the elite athleticism that made him a top-ten pick. Oliver was able to push the pocket and on a big third-and-long, drove Quenton Nelson into the lap of Jacoby Brisset to disrupt the throw. His motor was on display consistently throughout the game and it never seemed like he took a play off. Specifically on a third down where Jacoby Brisset had to step up in the pocket into Oliver who missed the sack but then proceeded to get back up and keep pursuit.
Oliver struggled to disengage from blockers in pass protection and lost some reps due to technical miscues. There were certain plays were he found himself getting caught inside and letting players under his pads. He doesn't seem to have much in his bag when it comes to pass-rush moves and hand fighting and, as a result, found himself getting taken out of pass plays early.
In his second preseason game against the Panthers it was more of the same for Oliver. Following a solid week of joint practices with the Panthers expectations were high for the rookie first rounder. In Oliver’s two series with the first team, he managed to bat a pass at the line on a third and long but did not record any other stats.
Once again Oliver showed his ability to bully opposing offensive lineman. He was double teamed on most of the snaps that he took and managed to hold his own in doing so. The attention Oliver was receiving allowed for other Bills lineman to create pressure and collapse the pocket. The pass breakup at the line was a great heads up play and showed Oliver’s awareness at the line of scrimmage.
Oliver once again struggled to disengage in pass protection. A lot of this has to do with his lack of length. Oliver again seemed to have one move and that was a bull rush. As a result Oliver saw himself stonewalled by the Panthers offensive line. In order for him to be successful at that spot he is going to have to adapt and continue to develop his technique as a pass rusher.
Due to his lack of size and surplus of athleticism, the Bills plan to play Oliver primarily from the three-technique position in hopes of disrupof disruting the line of scrimmage and generate an interior pass rush that was absent last year. All in all, he looked like a rookie but a rookie who is going to be able to play at a high level. His ability to push the pocket and the attention he's getting from opposing offensive lines is going to make life easier for guys like Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds at the second level. His motor and the raw talent was on full display against NFL-level talent. Oliver will have to rely on more than just freak athleticism to get by in the league. For a guy who saw triple teams in college, with time and coaching he may eventually demand that same kind of respect in the pros.