Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Hefty Bills O-line must size up on field
By Mike Rodak
How much does size matter?
To the Buffalo Bills, quite a lot. On Tuesday, we noted how the Bills have the NFL's tallest group of receivers. That's just one position, but it's not the only spot where the Bills top the league's charts -- at least on paper.
The Bills also have the NFL's heaviest offensive line, and it's barely even a contest. The average weight of their 15 offensive linemen is 325.2 pounds, far and away the biggest group in the league. Only the Oakland Raiders, at 320.3 pounds, come close.
Unlike at receiver, where most of the team's height is concentrated in players at the bottom of the depth chart, the Bills have both starting linemen and developmental blockers who break the scales.
Left tackle Cordy Glenn, who has started 29 games since being drafted in the second round two years ago, is listed at 345 pounds, making him the fourth-heaviest offensive lineman currently on an NFL roster. He's tied with rookie Seantrel Henderson, the Bills' seventh-round pick, who also checks in at 345 pounds.
In addition to Henderson, the Bills added 343-pound Cyril Richardson in the fifth round earlier this month. Ideally, Richardson and Henderson will both stick on the 53-man roster and could have eventually have potential to start.
The two draft picks are the latest in a pipeline of massive offensive linemen that general manager Doug Whaley has brought to Buffalo. They're projects for coach Doug Marrone, a former offensive line coach, as well as Pat Morris, the Bills' current offensive line coach.
The Bills ended last season with a trio of developmental guards who are on the larger side: Antoine McClain (336 pounds), Mark Asper (325 pounds), and J.J. Unga (320 pounds). Whaley plucked Unga off the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad, while McClain was claimed off waivers from the Raiders. All three may have an uphill battle to make the cut this season.
No matter who the Bills keep of their current bunch of 15, the size of the group will be striking. It's Whaley's vision to beat his opponents with superior size, and he'll have plenty of it along his offensive line this season.
But will it make the difference? Much like the Bills' ongoing expedition to find a productive, tall wide receiver, the Bills' super-sized offensive line will need to show that their eye-opening height and weight figures printed on the roster are more than just numbers.
The results will need to come on the field before Whaley's strategy can be given the stamp of approval. Take last season for instance. The Bills gave Colin Brown -- a mountain of a man, at 6-foot-7 and 326 pounds -- the nod at left guard to start the regular season. He struggled in five starts and was finding new work by October, replaced by an undersized Doug Legursky.
The Bills should be leery of a similar outcome with Chris Williams, a free agent whom they signed to a four-year deal in March. Williams, who is 6-foot-6 and 326 pounds, has a shaky track record as an NFL starter. He'll slide in at left guard. Could Buffalo be a good fit for him? Of course. But if it isn't, Legursky will be the likely fallback option.
Pass protection will be another consideration. Size and brute strength work well in the running game, especially in power blocking schemes, but technique and athleticism come more into play in the passing game. Glenn handled EJ Manuel's blindside well last season but there were breakdowns elsewhere. With new starters possible at both left guard and right tackle, keeping Manuel upright will be key this season.
In the meantime, the Bills have another distinction to celebrate. With rosters nearly complete after the draft, the Bills have emerged with the NFL's premier size at both receiver and offensive line.
Now they have to show why that matters, on the field -- where it counts.