It’s a unique situation for the position group that has to work in sync more than any other on the roster. Buffalo’s offensive line is expected to have four of their five starting roles manned by different players in 2019 from that of a year ago. Combine that with a new offensive line coach and the only constant for the front line of the offense has been change.
For some fans all that change is welcome following the struggles of a season ago. But there is an important blend that must take place in training camp for the new quintet up front to excel as a unit.
How long will the blend take? Who will the starting five be? And how much better can they be than the 2018 group?
All of these questions will be answered in time, but here is what should be expected from Buffalo’s new offensive line.
The unexpected retirement of Eric Wood at the close of the 2017 season left a gaping hole in the middle of Buffalo’s offensive line. Who knew that the biggest deficiency in the pivot however, would be the veteran leadership that Wood brought to the unit.
The Bills front office made it one of their top priorities this offseason and signed Mitch Morse to the largest contract in their entire free agent class.
Though Morse did not get a ton of reps in the spring, he’s quickly established himself as an unquestioned leader and veteran presence on the line with plenty of playoff experience to match.
“It’s definitely good to have Mitch in there because since they brought Mitch in we all knew they wanted him as that guy,” said Dion Dawkins. “We knew once he was in there that it’s his show and what he says goes. We just put it on ourselves as a group to just hit the ground running.”
With Morse running things up front, it will also take some of the pre-snap decision making burden off of Josh Allen.
“He's the linchpin,” said offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. “He's been everything I thought. He's very, very intelligent. He's he approaches the game like a true pro. And that's what you really want. He is a true professional. He is working every day to make his craft top level.”
Much has been made of the position flexibility of many of the new additions to Buffalo’s offensive line. Through the course of the spring veteran additions like Jon Feliciano and Spencer Long manned all three interior line positions. Quinton Spain flipped from one guard to the other. Ty Nsekhe and LaAdrian Waddle switched sides routinely at the tackle position.
Even younger players like Ike Boettger and Jeremiah Sirles tried their hand at center in addition to guard and tackle respectively.
That versatility comes in handy when injury strikes.
“Spence and I have both played different positions and when you have guys like that you don’t miss a beat because it’s nothing for me to play the left or right side or go to center and I know Spence feels the same way,” said Feliciano, who was part of an Oakland offensive line that surrendered the fewest sacks in the league in 2017 despite being forced to change roles due to injury.
Perhaps even more important are the strengths of Buffalo’s offensive linemen vary as well. If offensive coordinator Brian Daboll wants to be a road-grading team in the run game he has drive blockers like Feliciano, Spain, Nsekhe and Cody Ford. If he wants a more mobile team that can attack the flanks he has more athletic options in Long, Morse and Wyatt Teller.
So as the offensive staff determines who their best five are, they also have the luxury of matching it with an offensive identity.
Click through to see the best black and white photos from the team's offseason practices.
More wins at line of scrimmage
If there was one prevailing problem with last year’s offensive line, it was their inability to win battles at the line of scrimmage, both individually and as tandems. It compromised everything on offense for much of the season and put undue pressure on the defensive side of the ball.
Buffalo’s front office made a point of acquiring veteran talent that not only has size, but a nasty on-field demeanor. Nsekhe and Spain are just a couple of examples of Buffalo’s free agent acquisitions who relish burying their opponents on every single play. Even the rookie Ford has some nastiness to his game.
As important as it is to have players that welcome the physical confrontations up front, there is more to it than that.
“You have to be a physical player and move people off the line of scrimmage,” said Daboll. “But you have to be a player that communicates well, particularly from inside out.”
But knowing the vast majority of Buffalo’s offensive line group enters training camp with an appreciable level of experience, the key communicator in the group is confident they’ll be able to function effectively together.
“What you have is a bunch of guys with such different perspectives on how to do certain things,” Morse said. “In the end we’re hammering down on the things that coach Johnson wants us to do. The nice thing is a lot of us have plays that we can correlate to our past. We’re learning how that goes and each person has a cool, unique identity and personality, and we’re learning how to mesh as a unit.”
All of that should result in a much more productive and successful offensive line in 2019.