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Dion Dawkins' emergence gives Bills security at tackle

It was common to see Dion Dawkins a long way from his left tackle position when the whistle blew on running plays this season.

When the Buffalo Bills rookie got leverage on a defender, he pressed it down the line, toward the sideline or however far he could take it.

"My coach preached finishing at Temple, but I always had the extra oomph," Dawkins said late in the Bills' season. "It's the only gladiator sport in the country, why not be as physical as you can be?"

"Dion is the king of finishing blocks here," said Bills fullback Patrick DiMarco.

A physical mentality was one of the best assets Dawkins displayed during a strong rookie season in 2017.

The Bills could have faced a disaster at left tackle due to the chronic foot problems that plagued Cordy Glenn. He managed to play only 4 1/2 games before shutting down for the season.

Instead, Dawkins played well in Glenn's place. He excelled in run blocking and did well enough in pass protection to show he can be the Bills' long-term answer at left tackle.

Glenn underwent surgery on his left foot in December. He's still only 28 years old, and he's two years into a rich, five-year contract. He would be expensive (though not impossible) to cut, costing the Bills $9.6 million in dead cap space.

If Glenn can return to full health and top form, Dawkins can play right tackle next season, and the Bills will have two cornerstones on the edges of their offensive line. If Glenn can't stay healthy, the Bills don't have to invest a first-round pick in the near future on the hard-to-fill, critical left-tackle job.

"It's interesting because a lot of people going into the draft thought he wouldn't be a left tackle, that he had to be a guard or a right tackle," said Bills offensive line coach Juan Castillo. "He's probably played left tackle better than any of the rookies who got drafted this year."

Dawkins, at 6-foot-3 and 7-8ths, is a tad shorter than the NFL prototype for a left tackle. However, his arm length of 35 inches is above average and ideal for the position. Glenn is 6-5 with 35 3-4-inch arms. Long-armed tackles cause pass rushers to take a wider path to the quarterback.

"It's numbers," Castillo said. "He's shorter than most left tackles. You can see why people would say that. The thing is, he's a heck of an athlete and he does have long arms. That makes a difference."

"He kind of reminds me of Jason Peters a little bit," said Castillo, referring to the 6-4 former Bills All-Pro who he coached in Philadelphia. "Jason's not that tall, but he has long arms and he's explosive."

Dawkins played 75 percent of the snaps as a rookie and gave up only three sacks, two at Cincinnati and one against Denver. Glenn gave up six sacks as a rookie in 2012.

Dawkins had some struggles in pass protection in two games in particular, at Kansas City and in the playoff loss at Jacksonville. But overall, he was not exploited by pass rushers. His footwork and 320-pound frame kept him from getting bull-rushed. His long arms usually allowed him to push rushers behind Tyrod Taylor.

Pro Football Focus graded Dawkins 22nd among offensive tackles this season.

"The other point about Dion," Castillo said, "is how quick he picked up the offense. He's a bright kid, a football kid. I'm happy for him. His parents did a great job with him. He's a class individual. He's a gentleman. He works hard. It's important to him. Those are qualities that come from the parents."

Dawkins said he wanted to prove pre-draft doubters wrong about his viability at left tackle.

"That was my goal," he said. "Coming in, there were doubts. Dion's a right guard. He's a left guard. But I knew what I was capable of, and I kept confident in myself and did what I had to do to play left tackle."

He never viewed his height as a problem.

"Football is a game of imposing your will on another opponent," he said. "Regardless of size, I'm going to do it at a high level, as if I'm 6-7 or 6-8."

That speaks to his on-field mentality.

"He does a great job in the run game of being able to finish and accelerate his feet," Castillo said. "He's got a little bit of that 'it' in him. He's got a little bit of toughness. Temple tough."

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