The identity of this Buffalo Bills offensive line, to Richie Incognito, is clear.
“We’re a blue-collar group,” he said. “We’re a lunch-pail group. We’re going to come to work every single day to get better. And then when you line up against us on Sunday, we’re going to beat you up. We’re going to be physical with you. We’re going to do what we want.”
In other words, the exact opposite approach of the pushover outfit from last season.
The Bills added firepower on offense. They named a new quarterback. There’s a palpable excitement on this side of the ball.
Yet it’s all for naught if the middle of the line doesn’t hold, if the dam breaks as much as it did last season. Buffalo’s powerful rushing attack disintegrated in 2014 to the tune of 3.7 yards per carry. So in come two new guards to “beat you up” — Incognito and rookie John Miller — and one embattled position coach in Aaron Kromer. They’re the ones Buffalo is counting on to change the attitude up front.
The Bills plan on reinforcing the interior with nastiness.
“You show up and work every day,” Incognito said. “You perfect the little things. You get better at the things you’re not doing well. You grow and it, honestly, takes on a life of its own. Everyone buys in, everything falls in place. If you’re working hard, in the right mindset and getting better every day, everything else takes care of itself.”
To Incognito, it’s contagious. One pancake block feeds another.
In Buffalo’s 43-19 win over Pittsburgh in the third exhibition game, Incognito was blocking to his left on a third-and-3 pass play, peered to his right and slid over to absolutely light up defensive end Matt Conrath.
This is the type of play the Bills’ offensive line plans on rewinding in the film room.
“That’s the stuff that gets guys going,” Incognito said. “You start putting people on the floor and everybody feels that. That’s going to be our trademark: being physical.”
Because last season, the line was not. After churning out 144.2 yards per game on the ground in 2013, the Bills averaged 92.6. It didn’t matter who ran the ball, either. Fred Jackson (3.7 yards per carry), Boobie Dixon (4.1), C.J. Spiller (3.8) and Bryce Brown (3.5) all ran into a wall behind guards Cyril Richardson, Erik Pears, Kraig Urbik and veteran Chris Williams.
“We don’t pay attention to what happened in the past,” Incognito said. “We’re all new here. We all got here at the same time — the coaches, the new guys. So we all just press forward.”
That’s true. This is a new-look group.
Coach Rex Ryan deemed the risk worth the reward with Incognito, a player known for his mean streak, for playing through (and beyond) the whistle his entire career. Even before he was banished by the Miami Dolphins, Incognito drew 38 penalties in four seasons with the St. Louis Rams, including seven unnecessary roughness calls.
Miller was taken in the third round and blew the coaches away immediately with his knowledge of the game.
Then, there’s Kromer.
The team’s new offensive line coach was arrested on misdemeanor battery charge for punching a minor and threatening to kill his family. The case was settled outside of court and Kromer kept his job here in Buffalo, albeit with a six-game suspension. Players all rave about the coach in Buffalo, saying he has helped them fine-tune the complicated combination blocks in this scheme.
On the outside, it might’ve seemed strange to keep Kromer on staff — why even bother? — but the linemen view him as a detailed teacher.
Above all, he gives them “different tricks” to use play to play. Options. He’s demanding, too.
“He really hits home on the technique,” Miller said. “He’s very technical in that aspect. He expects everything to be perfect. He expects you to know it, to do it. He teaches every day whether it’s on the field, in the film room. If you get beat on this play, we watch it in film and he says ‘Why did you get beat?’”
A run or pass set can change based on the alignment. Miller and Incognito both use the word “tools” — they feel well-equipped for any situation because of Kromer.
Like everyone else, Miller wasn’t sure who his coach would be before training camp. He called the case “shocking.” Then, he was thrilled to get Kromer back.
Adds Incognito, “What ‘Krome’ is really good at is teaching the base of it, and then teaching the nuances and what we call the different rules about it. He just gives you a lot of different stuff technique-wise to constantly be thinking about, instead of just going out there repetitively doing the same thing against the defensive line.”
So here’s the Bills’ motley crew.
A guard whose career seemed over after a “bullying” scandal. A coach whose career was in limbo. And a soft-spoken rookie who held his own all camp against two of the best defensive tackles in the game.
Rex Ryan wants to run the ball. It’s on them to get it done.
“It’s a task we can accomplish,” Miller said. “We’ve got five guys up front and five guys trying to accomplish one thing.”