13 - Who will be the starting right tackle?

Posted Jul 15, 2017

It looks like a two-horse race for the starting right tackle spot with an incumbent and upstart rookie set to battle it out in training camp.

Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We’ll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 27th and the Sept. 10th opener at New Era Field against the New York Jets.

The Bills boasted one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL last season. This wasn’t due exclusively to the talent of LeSean McCoy. The Bills also had one of the better offensive lines in the league. Despite this fact, the play at right tackle was criticized at various points last season. With an incumbent starter and talented rookie, the battle at right tackle will be one of the highlights of training camp. Here are the two players who will be battling for the starting spot.

The Bills traded-up to draft Dion Dawkins in the second round of the 2017 draft. Dawkins played four years at Temple, where he showed his talent almost immediately. He was able to start two games as a true freshman before a foot injury ended his season. Dawkins started in 11 games his sophomore year, as he built on his early collegiate success.

Dawkins became a mainstay in the Owl’s offensive line during his junior and senior years. His solid play was awarded with a second team all-AAC honor his junior year, and first team all-AAC his senior year. Although Dawkins started almost exclusively at left tackle while at Temple, he will find his opportunity to start in the NFL at right tackle.

Dawkins stated that he doesn’t care where he plays, he just wants a chance to compete.

“I just know that nothing is given to anybody and I have to come and compete for everything that I’m doing,” said Dawkins, “I’m fighting and fighting every day in whatever spot needs to be taken or be filled. I’m just going to keep working and see what happens.”

Dawkins has experience in a zone blocking scheme, which is what the Bills will be deploying under offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. The rookie has noted upper-body strength, which makes him a very effective blocker in the run game. He also has a rather fluid kick-step, which gives him good balance in pass protection.

Although Dawkins has natural talent, there is still going to be a learning curve for the rookie.

“I’m just taking it day by day and just learning from all of the guys around because it is a totally new world,” said Dawkins. “I can’t just rush in and do things differently. I’m just taking it slow and learning from the vets.”

Jordan Mills, a five-year veteran, has had an up and down career in the NFL. Mills was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. He started in 16 games his rookie season, and appeared to have a bright future in the NFL. However, in the final game of his rookie season, Mills hurt his foot and never seemed to recover fully. He only played in 13 games the following year and seemed to be struggling with his confidence on the field.

The Bears waived Mills after his second season with the team. He was claimed, and later waived, by the Dallas Cowboys. The Bills claimed Mills during the 2015 season, and he started five games at right tackle. He entered the 2016 season as the starting right tackle, but building consistency in his game throughout the season seemed to prove elusive.

He enters training camp as the starter and to his credit, his play in the spring sessions was highly praised.

“Right now, Jordan is competing with Dion at the right tackle spot,” said offensive line coach Juan Castillo. “Jordan has had a great OTA practice period. I kept both of them afterwards the other day and told them they’re going to compete and split time with the first group in training camp. It’s been a battle. Jordan has made it a battle. He’s really playing very well right now.”

This sentiment was echoed by coach Sean McDermott.

“I’m confident honestly in the talent we have at that position [right tackle], the competition we have at that position and the options we have at that position,” said McDermott. “Jordan Mills has had one heck of an offseason.”

The drafting of Dawkins seemed to signify to many that the Bills were looking to replace Mills at right tackle. However, the veteran has put in the effort, and shown that Dawkins will have to take the starting spot from him in training camp.