It’s far from a secret. The facts are the facts.
Come the first week in September there’s a strong chance that Buffalo’s starting five on their offensive line will be 80 percent new. Four out of five positions are virtually guaranteed of being manned by a different player than the one who occupied the role in 2018.
Even second-year player Wyatt Teller, who started at left guard the second half of the season, has been mainly at right guard this spring.
Head coach Sean McDermott has been deliberate in explaining that there is a lot to fit together with the revamping of the roster through the addition of almost 40 free agents and rookies. Almost a quarter of those new additions reside on the offensive line.
While there’s little debate that the talent level of the offensive line has been upgraded with proven talent that has NFL experience, fitting it all together to perform as one efficient and effective unit in the span of five months is a big hurdle to clear.
Philosophically, the Bills believe there are multiple facets to accomplishing a successful blend up front.
Knowing the pads can’t go on in the spring, the coaching staff has stressed making off-the-field connections with the players.
“As strange as it is you can build that cohesiveness just by getting to know a guy off the field. That’s a huge asset,” said center Mitch Morse, who was sidelined the first two weeks of OTAs coming off core muscle surgery. “I think when you see these really great offensive lines in the league they’re often guys who have been playing together for a very long time. So we have to expedite that process a little bit. It can be done.”
“We’ve been bonding, going out to eat together, communicating and getting each other’s background and history,” said guard Quinton Spain. “I feel like we’re doing better and we’re learning. Like everyone here we’re competing and that’s going to make our team better.”
Knowing the guy lining up next to you has been one of the key underpinnings of McDermott’s construction of this roster. But he and his staff, realize consistent play on the field is only accomplished by putting in the work between the lines.
“I think you give them as many reps as you can,” said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. “(Offensive line) coach (Bobby) Johnson has done a good job with them. You have to be a physical player and move people off the line of scrimmage. But you have to be a player that communicates well, particularly from the inside out so everybody's on the same page. You give them as many reps as you can. You go through it (in the spring) and training camp.”
The key in that communication process will be Morse, Buffalo’s premium free agent acquisition this past March. He was being eased back into the practice setting during the third week of OTAs and assures he’ll be “good to go” for mandatory minicamp. His calls will be every bit as important as those of Josh Allen.
Knowing he’s already lost some time on the field, he’s treating every instance where five linemen are shoulder to shoulder as an opportunity to jell.
“It’s about getting repetitions,” said Morse. “Then understanding even if we have walk throughs every rep we take counts. And every rep we take in practice we make it full speed and make the communication like it’s live because we want that to be second nature.”
Morse and most of his new line mates have all had to learn new blocking techniques and offensive schemes before. What they don’t know is how to play off of one another. That currently is, and will be, their top priority going forward.
“It’s just learning how everyone plays,” he said. “Each person brings different things to the table, but once you figure that out you can kind of work with each other and enhance each other’s strengths and cover up each other’s weaknesses.”
Through the course of the spring there was a lot of position shuffling, due in part to injury and partly so coach Johnson can best assess who fits best where. It might be viewed as a negative knowing the ultimate goal is to find the best five as soon as possible and go. Jon Feliciano, who has played both guard positions and center through the OTAs, has a different perspective.
“I think it’s actually a benefit with us switching positions,” he said. “Quinton Spain is playing left and right guard. Me and Spence (Long) are playing left and right guard. It’s a benefit because we’re getting to work with other tackles and other guards. It’s going to help us come together quicker.”
Spencer Long, who was Buffalo’s first offseason addition up front, has already seen dramatic progress from the group.
“We have a bunch of guys who are similar in experience and age and we’ve jelled really fast,” he said. “Faster than I’ve ever seen it before. So that’s another positive. As far as how it’s going to shake out all of us are just trying to control what we can control and come out here and compete. There are no predictions here. We’re just trying to do the best we can with what we’re given each day.”
And though the degree of change the Bills offensive line will experience is uncommon, the players do see a way to make it all work in the allotted amount of time that they have.
“This year we have such an influx of new guys that it presents an interesting dynamic that not many people around the league have ever seen,” said Morse. “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.”
Check out photos of the Buffalo Bills working out during week 3 of OTAs. Bills weight room photos are presented by Crunch Fitness.