The starting five on Buffalo's offensive line know time is of the essence to pull the unit together. They're determined to operate as one cohesive group come the regular season. And while they all readily admit that they will need time on the job to make that happen, there is one particular area where they will be instantly better.
The screen and draw game has been a struggle for the Bills for the past few years, and it's had very little to do with Buffalo's running backs. Screens have appeared slow to develop the past few seasons as Buffalo's linemen sometimes struggled to get out in front of the backs or get downfield to execute their blocking assignment.
Some of the interior linemen of the past also had trouble at times executing draw plays when it came to sealing off the edges to allow a back to get through the hole.
As a result offensive coordinator Turk Schonert had fewer options when it came to play calling last season as screens and draws were not yielding the positive yardage they should.
That doesn't figure to be an issue anymore. With Andy Levitre, Geoff Hangartner and Eric Wood across the interior of Buffalo's front there has been a noticeable improvement in the unit's mobility on screens and draw plays in the practice setting. All three get out to the edges quickly on screens and are aggressive when it comes to taking on defenders.
"I think we've been successful identifying the right guys and bringing in the right guys," said offensive line coach Sean Kugler. "There's been a lot of change over not just at guard, but at center too. We're really happy with the progression those guys are making. We feel real good about that."
"I've been surprised at how fast it's developed for us," said Trent Edwards. "Usually, these first couple practices, the screen game really isn't there. It takes some time to get the timing down, but I feel like our offensive line is doing a good job of getting out there. We're setting up the screen game really well with our running and passing game and I'm really happy with the way it's going right now."
When a team has fast moving guards and a mobile center it gives opposing linemen something else to be aware of defensively, and that indirectly helps Buffalo's offensive tackles.
"If you become a successful screen team you kind of slow down those defensive ends and you can run your draws more frequently and it opens up a lot of things," Kugler said. "It puts a little more pressure on the defense. If you're not a good screen team or a good draw team with guys in space they can tee off on you, which can become difficult in protection."
That was a factor last year as Buffalo allowed 38 sacks ranking just 22nd in the league in pass protection.
"It's a lot easier on me," said Edwards. "It's easy yards that I can get in the passing game and it's easy first downs. It keeps defenses guessing and that's what's nice about it."
The offensive staff made a point of seeking players in free agency and the draft that can adjust on the move, maintain their blocks downfield, keep their feet running and are good at identifying space.
Hangartner, Levitre and Wood appear to have a lot of those qualities, and though it's in the early stages the screen and draw game already is showing marked improvement.
"It's to our advantage to become a good screen and draw team," said Kugler. "With our backs as good as they are catching the ball and as good as they are in space we have to be a good screen and draw team and that's what we're working toward."