He's been at it since his uneventful rookie season came to a close. Cyrus Kouandjio packed up his belongings at One Bills Drive last December and committed to a rigorous offseason regimen in Scottsdale, Arizona to make sure his second NFL season would be far more fruitful than his first. With his second Bills training camp now on the horizon, Kouandjio believes he's capably positioned himself to compete for a starting role on Buffalo's offensive line.
Manning the right tackle position with the starting unit for the majority of OTA practices and all of minicamp, Kouandjio is currently ahead of draft classmate and incumbent starter Seantrel Henderson.
"I think the work that Cyrus has done overall in the offseason probably puts him ahead right now," said head coach Rex Ryan. "But again, the race isn't over by a long shot, so we'll see."
"He's been working really hard at learning the techniques and learning the plays," said Bills offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. "When we get pads on that's when things are really going to show up for the line."
Kouandjio admits he did not take the right mental approach to his rookie NFL season in 2014. The Bills second-round pick quickly found himself on the outside looking in as fellow rookie Henderson, a seventh-round pick, landed the starting right tackle spot. Kouandjio took the field briefly as a rookie in Week 10 for a few snaps on special teams the entire season.
"When I first came here I was kind of nervous," Kouandjio told Buffalobills.com. "My mindset wasn't ready for the commitment needed for the pro game, but things are different now."
In Scottsdale this past winter, Kouandjio worked with former NFL Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley at his 'LB O-Line Performance' facility. Lifestyle, proper nutrition and position-specific training are all part of the regimen. Kouandjio felt the program fixed his mental approach and improved his physical skill set.
"Physically I trained all the muscles I needed to train as an offensive lineman," he said. "A lot of muscles that offensive linemen need to develop. Mentally it was great. I learned a lot. I was around a lot of veteran players so I learned a lot and mentally I got to feed off of the veteran players."
Buffalo's offensive staff is new to Kouandjio with the exception of assistant offensive line coach Kurt Anderson. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has been around Kouandjio only for the better part of two months, but he sees progress.
"I think he keeps fundamentally doing things the way we want them done," Roman said. "And the way we want them done is the way that is going to allow him to be successful. He keeps making small inch by inch strides in that department. Every day, a guy either gets better or he gets worse. In his department, most days have been arrow-up days."
Kouandjio feels his game has improved the most when it's come to marrying his footwork with his hands both in pass protection and in the run game.
"I've felt a huge improvement in my balance," he said. "Being able to do what you want at a certain speed it takes a lot of balance, which requires a lot of core strength. It helps your game a lot. There are a lot of little things that I see in my game that I can fix. I still have a few things I can pinpoint that I need to work on during the break. It's a process."
Perhaps what helped Kouandjio the most when it came to turning the page on his rookie season was the team's hiring of Kromer. The offensive tackle clicked with Kromer immediately in their first phone conversation this offseason, and Kouandjio is a dedicated student.
"Without being politically correct he's probably one of the greatest coaches I've ever had because he tells us a lot of things that I didn't know, and they work," said Kouandjio. "A lot of coaches like to tell you a bunch of techniques that are basically like throwing a band aid on a problem, but those don't work. He tells you a whole bunch of things that do work. He's really detailed so there are no gray lines. He's a great coach so it's up to you to execute what he tells you to do. I'm just glad to have him."
Not seeing the field at all in 2014 still eats at Kouandjio, but he's re-directed that frustration into a determined effort to be lining up on Sundays this fall.
"It motivated me," Kouandjio told Buffalobills.com. "I've been an effective player for a long time now and that was the first year in a long time that I wasn't out there with my teammates and doing things with my teammates so that really ate at me. At the same time you reach a point where you have to let go of things. Keep the desire, but you've got to let it go."
With the offensive linemen still limited in terms of real football in the spring no one on Buffalo's staff truly knows how far Kouandjio has come until the players hit the field at training camp.
"With him, you certainly want to get the pads on and see how that projects," said Roman. "That's the final test. That's the final exam."
Kouandjio understands as well as any other NFL player that nothing will be handed to him. Armed with a laser focus on landing a starting role has him hopeful he can reclaim his status as a promising young NFL prospect.
"You've got to set that vision and go for it. You have to see it and you have to believe it," he said. "You never know in this game, so all you can do is your best. Whatever happens, happens. If they trust you enough to start you'll start. If they don't, you won't. As long as you give your all if it doesn't go in your favor you'll have no regrets."