The Buffalo Bills didn’t make very many offensive line changes this offseason, at least on the surface. They return their starting five linemen plus their four reserves from a season ago. So how can they get better on the o-line in an offseason without any major additions?
“Yeah, good question,” said Bills head coach Sean McDermott in his press conference last week. “It’s interesting because you look at it and there is added value in continuity, right? You look at, we all hope we’re better in the second and third years of our job than we were in the first year. And I think if you’re a true pro that’s what happens.”
It was the complete opposite heading into last year. Left tackle Dion Dawkins was the only returning piece from 2019, and that season wasn’t great for him. There were legitimate questions at all five starting spots and the reserve.
Buffalo added Mitch Morse as the centerpiece of their line while signing Quinton Spain, Spencer Long, and Jon Feliciano to battle it out for the guard spots. Ty Nsekhe and LaAdrian Waddle were brought in to compete for the tackle jobs before they drafted Cody Ford in the early second round. They eventually traded for Ryan Bates at tackle after Waddle went down to injury.
With all the new pieces in the offseason and training camp, McDermott was pretty happy with the end result.
“When you have a group like we had last year that for the most part had not played a snap, or many snaps together as we headed into the season, I thought that they really did some good things and took some significant strides as a group,” said McDermott. “And now to be able to have that group back and then to add a piece or two in there is valuable to us.”
While they didn’t add a player in the draft, the Bills did re-sign Spain and add former Carolina Panthers All-Pro right tackle Darryl Williams. Williams is coming off a down year in Carolina, but will compete on the right side. Evan Boehm, who has played games in the NFL, was added as an interior option, as well.
That’s not to say the Bills wouldn’t have added someone in the draft. General manager Brandon Beane said as much in a radio interview in the days following the NFL’s annual selection meeting and McDermott hinted at it, as well.
“It is a veteran group that we do have. There’s a lot of work to do between now and the time we kick it off in September. So we recognize that,” said McDermott. “We did look at some things in the draft. But overall, we’re very comfortable with the group that we have, and I’m anxious and excited to watch these guys take another step under Bobby Johnson and the other coaches we have there.”
Ford is the big wild card in the situation. He is a high draft pick so they are committed to him, and the team has consistently said he’s playing tackle when lots of draft prognosticators had him listed at guard. He had problems in space a year ago and the team was so uncomfortable they took the unusual step of platooning him with the veteran Nsekhe during games in 2019. Still, McDermott is talking him up heading into his sophomore season.
“I think he’s off to a good start,” said McDermott of Ford. “He had the injury [and] the offseason surgery and whatnot, but when you look at I think we got what we thought we were going to get in the first season in particular, he played.”
While Ford didn’t play guard at all during the season, he practiced there for a day or two during training camp.
“He bounced in and out of some guard role as well in there which is not easy to do,” said McDermott. “Really what you try look at the first season is some of the intangibles with respect to what type of person he is, the toughness he brings to the table and the smarts.”
It remains to be seen what the final makeup of the offensive line will look like heading into 2020, but it’s sure to be a veteran group with experience blocking for the Bills’ playmakers.