Following last Thursday's fully padded practice, Cordy Glenn, after removing his pads, fell into the red cushioned seat at his locker and sighed. It was his 25th birthday and there were plenty of well-wishers. Glenn expressed thanks and cracked a polite smile to the players and employees who stopped by. Just a moment later in a rare instance of open dialogue, Glenn staring blankly ahead, uttered to neighboring teammates, "I'm getting old."
It's understandable why Glenn might feel that way. Being forced to sit out more than half of training camp with an undisclosed illness and then having to mentor rookie Seantrel Henderson, who is just two years his junior, is more responsibility than most third-year players have on their plate.
"It was tough because I never really had a long term injury before," said Glenn of the illness. "Just being sidelined you're kind of helpless. It was a different challenge, but I got through it."
About a week after he returned from his illness this past August he was back in the lineup and with the rest of his Bills teammates at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. It was day two of the inter-squad practices between the Bills and Steelers. Early in practice there was a one-on-one pass rush period where Pittsburgh defensive linemen were going against Buffalo offensive linemen.
Glenn has just two NFL seasons under his belt, but veteran Steeler defensive ends know what doesn't work against the Bills left tackle having faced him last year. That's why when a rookie Steelers defensive end lined up opposite Glenn and chose to bull-rush, his teammates on the sideline began shaking their heads. The rep was over quickly as Glenn stoned the young pass rusher without surrendering any ground.
One veteran Steelers' defensive lineman, who watched the play, looked at a teammate and said flatly, 'Well that's a mistake against him.'
One player who might consider such an approach is former NFL Defensive MVP J.J. Watt. He'll be squaring off against Glenn this Sunday, and has the size (6-5, 289) and strength to see if it works.
While NFL defensive ends are well aware of their limited options against Buffalo's large and talented third-year left tackle, the average viewer of a Bills game rarely notices Glenn. As Bills special assistant and former GM Buddy Nix sees it, that's just the way they want it.
"For me you measure a left tackle by a guy that does his job and you don't notice him," said Nix. "It doesn't look like he's in a strain or a panic. I've never seen him sweat. He does it with ease and you don't know he's over there."
Three years ago many NFL scouts and draft analysts didn't believe they would notice Glenn at left tackle either, but it was because they didn't think he was capable of playing on the edge at the NFL level.
When Glenn committed to the University of Georgia to play his college ball, he was fully expecting to line up at left tackle from the beginning, especially after the starter from the year before, Trinton Sturdivant, went down with a knee injury in a preseason scrimmage. The SuperPrep and PrepStar All-American, and number 10 prospect in the state of Georgia, soon learned there was someone the coaches felt was better equipped to man the blind side role.
Clint Boling, who had played right guard the year before as a freshman, would step in for Sturdivant at left tackle. Glenn did however see a lot of playing time as a true freshman.
He appeared in 13 games making 10 starts with three at right guard and seven at left guard. His play earned him Freshman All-American honors, followed by All-SEC second team accolades when he started all 13 games for the Bulldogs playing right and left guard and three starts at left tackle.
The move to left tackle came early due to injury in Week 2 of his sophomore season. Georgia's coaches believed Glenn was physically gifted, but he hadn't played on the edge since high school.
"With Cordy he's so athletic and so gifted, not to mention that he's a large human," said former Georgia assistant offensive line coach and current Coastal Carolina assistant Nick Jones. "He's a naturally big kid and athletic. He was a basketball player in high school. So the general thought among the coaches was that he could be a tackle. We just didn't think he was going to be that good at tackle. We knew he could be a very good guard for sure, but tackle we just weren't certain.
"When we moved him out there, we didn't feel he'd be out of place, we just thought it would take a little time for him to get used to handling the kind of athletes he'd face out on the edge. Athletically we thought he'd be fine, but changing from being an inside guy to an outside guy you've got a whole bunch of different circumstances."
Glenn performed well, but come his junior season he was back at left guard starting all 13 games in 2010 at that spot with Sturdivant and Boling manning left tackle. He earned All-American honors by season's end, but wanted to prove he could be a lineman who could play on the edge.
"It was one of those things that he expressed to the coaching staff," said Jones. "He came in and would say, 'Hey I can play tackle. I want to try tackle.' As far as Cordy was concerned he felt he could be more valuable as a tackle for the team and everybody knows that the left tackle position is a prestigious one."
"When I first went to Georgia that's where I thought I was going to play, and that didn't work out with Trinton there," said Glenn.
Boling had graduated, but Sturdivant was again standing in the way in Glenn's senior year, having earned a medical redshirt for the 2008 season that he missed. Unfortunately Sturdivant would succumb to another ACL knee injury and was out of the mix.
"I was to be in a competition for left tackle, but there was really no battle for it," said Glenn "I was the left tackle. I always knew I could do it, I just never really had the chance at Georgia until then."
Not easily convinced
Finally lined up on the edge Glenn excelled leading all SEC linemen with 20 touchdown-resulting blocks and 125 knockdowns in his 14 starts at left tackle. First Team All-SEC honors soon followed.
"Cordy was up to the challenge and we moved him out there and he did it," said Jones. "He took it and ran with it."
The NFL Draft Report named him a First Team All-American, but also labeled him the second-best guard prospect eligible for the 2012 NFL draft. Despite 18 largely successful starts at tackle, Glenn was still widely seen as a guard prospect.
His assistant offensive line coach dismissed those sentiments.
"When I heard that I went right back to his athleticism being a basketball kid and knowing how good his feet were I felt he could play tackle in the NFL," said Jones. "From my experience just from playing in the league and the caliber of people I played against I thought he could be a tackle. I just thought he was more than athletic enough to play on the edge."
There weren't too many NFL draft analysts who agreed.
"I think he's a guard at the pro level," said NFL.com analyst and former NFL GM Charley Casserly.
"Offensive tackle is not his strongest position," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.
"I would think he'll be moved inside to guard," said ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper.
Those analysts weren't alone. There were a host of NFL personnel executives who saw Glenn the same way. Buffalo's GM at the time, Buddy Nix, saw an opportunity to fill an important hole that had been largely unoccupied by a capable player since Jason Peters was traded to Philadelphia in 2009.
Seeing what others did not
"I never could understand why anybody thought he couldn't play left tackle," said Nix. "Sure he could play guard and right tackle, but he can also play a position that's hard to find. In fact needing one led us to him to find one. That position and quarterback offensively are the two hardest positions to get settled, and then you build around that."
Other clubs were concerned about Glenn's tenacity on the field. With a quiet and reserved personality some NFL scouts were worried that he did not have the 'fire in the belly' to excel in the NFL, much less handle the best pass rushers on the planet week after week.
"The thing I believe scouts got hung up on was he wasn't a super intense lineman," said Jones. "But if you know Cordy you know he's not the type of guy with that over the top personality. But if you started talking to him as an opponent or got him a little ticked off he was a different animal. I just think at times being so gifted some of the guys he was going against he was just better. Protecting the passer came easy to him. He was the type of guy who needed to be challenged before he played at peak efficiency."
Nix didn't think that would be a problem in the NFL every Sunday, and when he and trusted area scout Darrell Moody saw the way Glenn performed at the Senior Bowl against the best the college game had to offer they were sold on Glenn's skill set.
"He's blessed with size and athletic ability, which is the first thing you've got to have," said Nix. "But his temperament was the big thing with me. He just took to it."
To be absolutely certain about the Georgia product Nix went straight to Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt with his few remaining questions.
"I remember Mark Richt told me straight up that barring injury Cordy has the ability to play 15 years in the NFL at tackle," Nix said.
Nix knew then that Glenn would be one of their top targets in the 2012 draft.
In the two months leading up to the draft Nix publicly took a similar position to those that saw Glenn as a guard. It was an effort to keep other clubs from seeing the talented prospect the way they did. Buffalo had the 10th and 41st picks in rounds one and two. After the draft Nix admitted that Glenn was a consideration at 10, but they ultimately went with cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
As the picks came off the board and round one finished only two offensive tackles were taken and ironically a pair of guards. Come round two the Bills held their breath when it was announced that the Cleveland Browns had taken a tackle at pick 37, but it was Cal's Mitchell Schwartz. Then the pick right before Buffalo's at 40 Carolina took a guard, but it was Amini Silatolu.
The Bills could not have made their pick any faster at 41 with Glenn still on the board. Only ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden immediately approved of the pick of Glenn as a tackle.
"I like this pick," Gruden said. "He's a big guy, and I think he's a solid left tackle. I'm shocked he's here in the second round. He's handled SEC competition consistently."
Nix and Moody soon made their way to the Bills media room to comment on the selection of Glenn. It didn't take long for one reporter to ask if he was drafted to play guard.
"Hell no he's not a guard," Nix emphatically responded. "He started 50 games and the last 16 were at left tackle. We put it out there and tried to spread the rumor that he was a guard to hope somebody wouldn't take him."
Moody took it a step further when asked why the Bills were convinced he could play left tackle when many others saw him as a guard.
"I think football players are a lot like spouses, what looks good to one doesn't look good to another," he said. "Obviously he looked good to us and I'm glad he maybe didn't look good to some of the others."
Stepping in and stepping up
It didn't take long for the Bills to line Glenn up at left tackle and let him get adjusted to NFL caliber pass rushers. Fortunately for Glenn he was more adept at pass blocking than run blocking, which helped him early in his career. His talent, successful play and work ethic quickly gained respect from the veterans on the roster.
"The day he got in here we could tell how talented he was. It wasn't hard to see," said Eric Wood. "He's got a lot of rare God-given ability and that helps him, but he's also a hard worker and that helps too. He's always been quiet and just kept his head down and went to work."
Glenn earned the starting left tackle job and played pretty effectively as a rookie.
"I took it as a challenge and prove to everybody that I can do it, so when they gave me the chance I was going to make the most of it," he said.
His play was by no means error free, but the coaching staff and the personnel department felt good about Glenn's progress and upside.
In his second season despite playing 350 more snaps than he did as a rookie, Glenn reduced his number of sacks allowed from six to two and his quarterback hits from nine to five. And the left tackle accomplished that without much help up from teammates.
"If it's built into the protection then he'll get some help, but we don't ever plan for extra help," said Wood. "It's just never really an issue with Cordy. It's never a matchup we're overly concerned about and that's a good thing to have."
With Glenn often making it look easy even against some of the NFL's best pass rushing talents, it leads some to think that it all comes very easy to the physically gifted tackle. Glenn refutes that perception.
"I understand why people might see me play and say I make it look easy, but in my head I'm trying my hardest to play well," he said. "I know I'm gifted physically in a lot of ways, but it's not like my approach to the game is, 'Oh whatever.' I guess it's just how I'm built that makes the way I play look like I'm not working hard, but I assure you I am."
Still on the ascent
Knowing there's still a lot of football in front of him, there are many who believe that Glenn's career is very much on the upward side of the arc.
"I think if he could just keep doing what he's doing for the rest of his career that it would be exceptional and he'll play a very long time," said Wood. "But he keeps getting better and better and learns things over time. He's a student of the game so I think he'll just keep getting better."
"I think he can still get better, he does too," said Nix. "Playing against the best rusher the opponent has every week will get you better. He'll prepare too and work to be ready for those guys each week. I think the sky is the limit for him."
Glenn doesn't try to envision the pinnacle of his career. He's more concerned with what needs to be accomplished on the journey rather than the destination.
"I don't really try to think about that. I just keep trying to get better," said Glenn. "I don't think about looking at my game and saying I'm good enough now. You just keep trying to work at it. I always think there's something new I can learn or some aspect of my game that can be better. I'm never satisfied."