Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Spencer Brown was a fan favorite during the 2021 season—that’s not a controversial statement. The 6’8” rookie who had some of the best recorded athletic testing numbers broke into the starting lineup partway into his rookie season, and he collected a handful of highlight-reel pancake blocks as he finished out the year.
But they call the NFL “Not For Long” for a reason, and it’s a new season with new circumstances for Brown. And, as of the second preseason game, he’s not playing with the first string anymore.
For one thing, it’s Brown’s injury situation. The Bills value one ability above all else on their roster, and that’s availability. Brown dealt with an injury throughout the offseason—one that required surgery, and he wasn’t able to return to practicing until partway through training camp. That missed time doesn’t help a player with only one year of experience.
But if that were the only explanation, then Brown should be back on the first string by now. He’s practicing, and he’s playing in games. But when the first string played on Saturday afternoon, only one man was lining up at right tackle, and it wasn’t the second-year player from Northern Iowa.
So it’s apparent that the situation has changed, and additional factors are affecting Brown’s standing on the roster.
Gone is offensive line coach Bobby Johnson and the powerful, slow-footed Daryl Williams. In place is Aaron Kromer and his zone-blocking scheme, and a new competitor at right tackle: David Quessenberry. Where the speed and pass-blocking comparison between Brown and Williams contrasted vibrantly, Brown can’t just win by default against his new teammate. In case you don’t recall him from the 2013 NFL Draft (where he was a sixth-round pick), Quessenberry is a remarkable athlete in his own right. His career line of 33 game appearances and 23 starts in nine years doesn’t tell the whole story, either. He missed nearly four full seasons battling cancer, and all of his starts came in the last two years. He’s ready and raring to extend that streak.
So this is the first serious test of Brown’s career. His run-blocking highlights are beautiful, but his pass protection needs to be more consistent than it was if he’ll be covering for a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. He also needs to avoid illness and injury and stay available week-to-week. And he needs to adjust to a scheme with much more movement and much less emphasis on blocking in a phone booth than he’d had as a rookie.
His ceiling is still tantalizing, but the Bills are clearly intent on making him earn the starting role this year. They’ve played him with the second string in both preseason games, just to emphasize that. Now it’s up to him to respond.