It’s been 20 minutes since practice at training camp has ended for the day, but rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver, in a soaking wet gray tank top, is still soaking in knowledge. The knowledge however, is not coming from a teammate, his position coach or his defensive coordinator. It’s coming from the guy the Bills are counting on Oliver to effectively replace.
Kyle Williams spent five days with his former club at training camp, courtesy of an invitation from head coach Sean McDermott. A leader, a play caller on the field and capable of diagnosing an opposing offensive formation with the best of them, McDermott wanted Williams on hand to help shorten Oliver’s learning curve as he acclimates himself to the NFL game.
So there was Williams and Oliver in t-shirts and shorts going to work on a tackle dummy with arms. Williams slowly walking him through a series of counter moves one at a time.
Oliver would then try to replicate what he was being shown with heavy dialogue between the two of them.
“I can’t tell you all the secrets, but for him being a guy of his stature and us being similar he has a lot of tricks of the trade, whether it be little things with your hands, rushing the passer, shedding blocks,” said Oliver. “I’ve learned more in the five days with him…”
Oliver’s voice trails off. He can’t think of a time where he learned this much about how to win at the line of scrimmage in his entire football life.
And it’s a good thing that Oliver is tight lipped about the lessons he’s learning from Williams because the retired defensive tackle is just as vague.
“Anything he needs to work on, Ed and I will talk about,” said Williams. “He and everybody else has to get a little bit better every day and work on the things you might be struggling on. We’ll all work through it together.”
Some young players might feel compelled to take notes from someone with Williams’ NFL resume.
He would rather hear it, watch it, understand it and then physically rep it.
“It’s not about filling up pages in a notebook, but when he speaks to you it’s how you absorb everything,” said Oliver of Williams. “It’s more so reps on the field, or reps after practice that really mean the most. Reps before practice, telling me how to do things with my hands, going from a bad position to a good position. Those are the things that can help me win even as a young player.”
“Ed has been like a sponge,” said general manager Brandon Beane. “You see some things, just some little nuances, where Kyle was working with him on not giving away what he’s doing prior to the snap. There are tells and signs. Also helping with some of these cues on what he looks for from an offensive lineman to know if it’s a pass or a run set or if a guy is pulling. That’s something you can’t duplicate. For him to be willing to come up here and share with these guys is great. Kyle loves this team and this city and anyway we can use him he’s here to help.”
The three-technique position Oliver will play for the Bills is far different from the zero-technique nose tackle spot he played at the University of Houston, but his new role is far better suited to his skill set.
He’s called Williams his personal cheat code to being successful on the field sooner rather than later in his rookie season.
“He’s an explosive athlete and a powerful guy,” said Williams. “So it’s just about trying to figure out how to implement those into his base game play and how to accentuate those based on what he can learn and what he can see.”
And Williams isn’t only exposing him to the tricks of line play and hand usage to only win. There’s too much talent in the NFL to think you’re going to win your matchup on every snap. So the six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle is teaching him how to save himself when he’s losing on a play as well.
“We go out there before and after practice and he’s showing me just these little things, like a hand shuck, just to get your hands back in good position, or dropping your pads,” Oliver said. “So if you happen to get stacked at the line or punched in the mouth, how to come back after that. It’s going to happen. There are going to be times when you lose and you’re going to have to fight to get back in a good position.”
Oliver didn’t get much time one-on-one with Williams in the film room. He hopes there might be a time when Williams can break down all the little nuances he looks for when studying an opponent on film. For now he’ll apply the many lessons he picked up this past week. Lessons that should make a difference for him.
“Once he gets comfortable I think you're going to see him get a little bit better, a little bit better a little bit better,” Williams said. “And he's just going to continue to get better and he'll eventually take off because of his elite skill set.”
And though Oliver has position coaches who are eminently qualified to help develop his game and maximize his skill set in defensive line coach Bill Teerlinck and assistant defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton, it’s hard not to gravitate to a teacher who looks a lot like you.
“If I had to pick a coach, I’d pick him because he’s close to me in size and tailored to me,” said Oliver of Williams. “He’s been through it and he’s only just stopped playing football so it’s still fresh in his mind.”