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Bills feel more O-line size is wise in AFC East


Of Buffalo's seven draft choices last month, three were offensive linemen. Not one stood less than 6-4 and none of the three were less than 320 pounds. Size by no means ensures that an offensive line is going to be successful, but there's a reason the Bills set about improving their height, weight and length up front.

Facing some of the heftier defensive lines in the league right in their own division, Bills head coach Doug Marrone felt it was important to match size with size.

"We talked about this, Doug (Whaley) and I, and we talked about it with the scouts," said Marrone. "I think you can see it throughout the AFC East. I can't speak for the other teams, but you look at the defensive lineman that are in this division and you're going against everyone in New York to the guys in Miami and obviously the players in New England and then you look at the players we're getting. The people inside, everyone is getting bigger players at least in our division if you look at it. We're doing it for the matchups."

The AFC East presents Buffalo with two of the five opponents in 2014 that have defensive lines that average better than 300 pounds. Miami's average weight dropped to 287.5 pounds after the free agent departure of Paul Soliai to Atlanta, but the Bills will need to square off against the Jets stifling front which averages 311 pounds and New England's (301) twice each.

Add in Cleveland (318), Green Bay (303) and Kansas City (313) and nine of Buffalo's games will come against some of the bigger defensive fronts in the league. 

"Coach had a plan, we need big linemen and we got big linemen," said fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson. "There are many players out there, but we were lucky enough to be chosen by this coach and be able to play for him."

Running the football wasn't much of a problem for the Bills last season as they finished second in the league in rushing and their yards per carry average was middle of the pack at 14th in the NFL (4.23). However, it was against their own division where their rushing success didn't match up with the rest of the opponents on their schedule.

In 2013 the Bills ran for 152 yards per game and averaged 4.56 per carry. Against the AFC East the Bills still managed 131 rushing yards per game, but their yards per carry average was just 3.69. The Jets were the most formidable foe, as they were for every one of their opponents, finishing second in run defense last season.

Bills veteran center Eric Wood doesn't mind seeing more size coming through the door at One Bills Drive provided playing ability comes along with it.

"Just because an O-line is big doesn't mean it's good," Wood told "If you can be big and good then you can be really dominant. That's what everybody is kind of looking for. It's not easy to find guys who are super big and mobile and are able to do everything you want to do in your offense, especially at the tempo that we run it. I hope these guys can come in and really adapt to what we're doing and be good ball players for us."

Buffalo's personnel department believes Kouandjio, Richardson and Henderson will bring big time competition to camp along with their size.

"Prototypical right tackle, a very aggressive run blocker," said GM Doug Whaley of Kouandjio.

"He's a big mauler type guard who can gain movement," said Director of Player Personnel Jim Monos of Richardson. "We just love his power and his strength."

"The consistency is going to be the key," said Marrone of Henderson. "There's no doubt that he can play. There is no doubt about that."

Short yardage is another area where Buffalo wants to improve particularly down near the goal line. The Bills were pretty good on 3rd-and-1 conversions on the ground last year (76%), and although Buffalo was fifth in the NFL in red zone yards per carry (3.27) they stood 29th in the league in goal-to-go touchdown efficiency (61%).

"I think that's a group effort," said Wood. "With the way defenses are nowadays if they know you're going to try to jam the ball up the middle the odds are they're probably going to stop you.  So as an offense we've got to get better on short yardage with all 11 guys and having the pass options there, and then when we do run the ball be effective and have a multitude of plays. I'm sure we'll have that moving forward."

The 28th ranked passing offense certainly didn't help to create an element of unpredictability for Buffalo's run game either. That should improve as well as EJ Manuel enters his second NFL season as the starter.

No one is penciling in Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson or Seantrel Henderson into any starting roles right now. They'll have to compete for those. What they have done however, is raise the level of competition that will begin in earnest at training camp when the pads finally go on.

"It's going to be tough to make our team as an offensive lineman," Wood said. "It kind of reminds me of our receiver depth last year where you know you're going to cut some guys who are going to get picked up elsewhere. You can only keep so many guys.

"We've got a lot of talented bodies and a lot of big guys on our offensive line right now. It'll be interesting to see where everybody lines up and no matter who it is we get the best offensive line we can get out there. These new guys will come in and compete and we've got a lot talented guys here already. Competition makes everybody better so it'll impact the games from a positive standpoint."

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