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Bills Today: This Bills OL became a leader in 2018

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1 - This Bills OL became a leader in 2018

It was an unexpected and somewhat poetic end to what was a storied professional career - veteran center Eric Wood was forced to retire just days after participating in his first playoff game.

The anchor of Buffalo’s offensive line, Wood announced his retirement shortly after the conclusion of the 2017 season. A neck injury was discovered in his end-of-season physical, forcing the Bills to search for a new starting center for the first time since the turn of the decade.

Buffalo found its man in Russell Bodine, a former Cincinnati center who had started every single game for the Bengals since entering the league in 2014. He took over as the Bills’ starting center in Week 3, holding onto the job before going down with a season-ending leg injury in Week 13.

Bodine matched Wood’s level of play on the field, and in his own way, he was able to match Wood’s impact off the field, as well. Wood was renowned as a positional leader in Buffalo, someone who other offensive linemen went to for guidance.

According to veteran lineman Jeremiah Sirles, Bodine established himself as the leader of the Bills’ offensive line room early in the season. As the year progressed, Bodine continued to demonstrate leadership ability, with Sirles and center Ryan Groy attempting to pass their knowledge onto the team’s young linemen, as well.

“I’d say when I first got there, it was Russell Bodine,” Sirles said during a recent appearance on One Bills Live. “Russell really kind of stepped up to the plate. As the starting center, you assume that leadership role, just based off, you have to step into that, and I thought he did a really nice job with that.

“It was kind of leadership by committee, honestly, because it’s a very young room. You’ve got guys like Dion [Dawkins] in his second year, Wyatt [Teller] in his first, Ike [Boettger] in his first, Conor [McDermott] in his second, then myself, [Ryan] Groy, and Russell are all in our fifth. We all kind of took it, the three of us, Groy, Russell and myself, kind of took it amongst ourselves to try to help the younger guys learn. Groy and I weren’t in starting roles, but we knew that we played a role in helping the guys prepare . . . We kind of did a leadership by committee thing there.”

2 - PFF: Where Foster finished among rookie WRs

If Pro Football Focus grades are any indication, the Bills came away with one of the better receivers in the 2018 draft without even using a pick on him.

Undrafted wideout Robert Foster finished his rookie campaign with 27 receptions for 541 yards and three touchdowns, with all but two of those receptions coming over the final seven games of the season. He emerged as a reliable deep threat in the second half of the year, playing on at least 83 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps in each of its final four games.

According to PFF, Foster was one of the best rookie wideouts in the league in the 2018 season. He finished the campaign with an overall grade of 72.1, the second highest among all rookie wideouts with at least 25 targets. His 73.3 receiving grade was also good for second among rookie receivers.

Foster made life easy for his quarterbacks throughout the 2018 season. Per the outlet, quarterbacks had a passer rating 127.2 when targeting Foster.

Foster surpassed the 100-receiving yard mark in two out of his final four games. He was the only rookie wideout to hit the 100-receiving yard plateau on three separate occasions throughout the season.

3- Lorenzo Alexander’s unique relationship with Sean McDermott

Coaching continuity is not something that Lorenzo Alexander has been fortunate enough to consistently experience throughout his 14-year professional career.

“I think in my career, I’ve probably had a new defensive coordinator or head coach, I don’t think I’ve had one more than two years,” Alexander said. “Maybe three years. Three years might be the other one, when I was in Washington and I had [Mike] Shanahan and [Jim] Haslett for three years.”

In the results-oriented league that is the NFL, coaches are often let go if they are unable to produce. Players sometimes struggle to form strong bonds with their coaches due to the relentless nature of the business, their jobs simply aren’t guaranteed.

In Buffalo, however, things have been pretty consistent for Alexander. He’s set to enter his third year under head coach Sean McDermott, a defensive-minded signal caller who joined the Bills in the 2017 offseason. Throughout the past two seasons, Alexander has formed a unique relationship with his head coach, almost viewing McDermott as a role model.

“Obviously Sean and I have formed a great relationship, our families are close,” Alexander said. “It’s not too often, as a player, where you’re close in age. I think Sean is 44-ish, somewhere in there, so we’re very close in age to where he’s... I played with London Fletcher, and he’s kind of that to me, in a sense.”

Alexander inked a one-year extension with Buffalo on Wednesday. It was his friendship with McDermott that made re-signing with the Bills an easy decision for the 35-year-old.

“Our wives are close, our families are close, so the relationship’s a little different,” Alexander said. “That made the decision easier, because I like what he’s building, and the direction and how he coaches the football team.”

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