Ed Oliver is known as a disruptive defensive tackle, who knifes through gaps and exploits holes in an offensive protection. Coming in as a rookie to One Bills Drive and a veteran defensive line room, however, the Bills first-round pick was as closed off as a rookie could be.
For Oliver, it felt strange lining up next to men pushing 30 as a 21-year old.
"It's crazy because when I was leaving the University at Houston I was considered a vet and an old guy and you come here and you're a rookie and the old guys are guys who have been in the league five or six years and they have kids," said Oliver. "It's hard to fit in as a guy who is 21. Some of these guys are 30-plus. It was weird at first. They've got different things they worry about at home. It's just different."
A little bit at a time, the veterans on Buffalo's defensive line would reach out to Oliver over the course of OTA practices and minicamp. They'd invite him over to their homes for team dinners and other leisure outings. Slowly but surely, Oliver came to recognize that the descriptions of Buffalo's tight-knit locker room were wholly accurate.
By the time the team broke minicamp for their five-week break before training camp, Oliver had developed some pretty good bonds with some teammates.
"Jordan (Phillips) was the first guy's house I went over to and he had the dog over there," said Oliver. "He had the bite suit on and ever since then he's been cool. He likes dogs and I like dogs too, so that's how we connect. He likes cars and I like cars. He's got a Raptor and I've got a Ford 250. That's another way that we're similar."
For Oliver it was new ground for him. The player with whom he was going to be in direct competition with for a starting job opened his home to him.
Going home to Texas after minicamp, it wasn't long before Oliver began thinking about his new teammates back in Buffalo.
"When I went home, you know you like a group of guys when you go home and you start to miss your teammates," Oliver said. "Two weeks into our summer break I was ready to go back. Even though we weren't that close yet, there were certain things about certain guys that I missed. I wanted to get back to those guys."
Oliver was back in Buffalo two weeks early, just to get around some of his teammates again.
At training camp, Oliver made more of a point to open up with his teammates, which was further enhanced when former Bills DT Kyle Williams spent five days at training camp to mentor the rookie.
"I think those days with Kyle were really beneficial for a few reasons," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "From a football standpoint the fundamentals and techniques were all important. He has a ton of respect for Kyle. I remember when we came down to visit him pre-draft he was asking us questions about Kyle. He was familiar with him. So when Kyle arrived he was hanging on every word. Everything that Kyle talked about, technique, preparation, it was all very beneficial. Hopefully we keep those two guys in touch."
Not surprisingly, as Oliver interacted more with his veteran teammates his personal game became more disruptive on the field.
"That's one of the things I complemented him on was becoming more open to talking with his teammates and integrating with his teammates," Frazier said. "There was a period where the wall was kind of up. Teammates can really help you, especially the veteran guys. So his guard was up for a while, but that guard is coming down now and he's listening to those guys and he's listening to his coaches and it's helping him."
Naturally, Oliver wishes he opened up to his teammates sooner, but like anything there's a level of trust that has to be attained in a relationship first.
"Relationships take time," said Oliver. "The more I hung around guys, the more we hung out outside of football and spent time at guys' houses… it's inevitable you get closer. You spend time in meetings together you get closer."
"No matter what we told him in the process of what our team makeup was, he was going to wait and see," Frazier said. "We'll see if these guys are really like they're saying. I think he's found out that these guys want to see him succeed. They're not worried about if he's going to take their job or if he gets all the headlines. Our guys aren't like that. They want to encourage him and help him. It speaks to him having a comfort level because of the way they treated him."
Photos from all the action during Buffalo's preseason Week 2 game against the Carolina Panthers on the road.
It also speaks to the selfless nature of the players on Buffalo's roster. They know how special Oliver's talents can be for their defense. So even a player like Jordan Phillips' whose playing time will be directly impacted by Oliver moving into the starting lineup has taken a mature approach to all of it.
"Jordan wants to be a starter. He feels like he has starter ability like a lot of guys do, but he's become much better at accepting his role," said Frazier. "He understands where Ed is now and where Ed is headed. To his credit, he's begun to embrace his role, which every guy on our defense has to be able to do. Jordan has fallen into that mainly because of his teammates and the locker room and culture that Sean (McDermott) has created here."
Now, whether he's working pre-snap pass rush games with Lorenzo Alexander or getting a word or two of advice from Trent Murphy, Oliver sees the tremendous advantage he has in acquiring knowledge from teammates who only want the best for him.
"Me getting closer to those guys has helped me so much in my development," he said. "Guys like Trent (Murphy) and 'Big Phil' (Jordan Phillips) and Harry (Phillips), it speaks volumes to how much they've helped me."
"He understands more now about the speed of the pro game and how good some of these offensive linemen compared to what he saw in college football, so he's beginning to make that adjustment," said Frazier of Oliver. "He had a good week in Carolina and a good game as well, so we're seeing him make that move and the time is right for that to happen."