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Kugler places reputation on the line

He's in his first season as the head offensive line coach of an NFL team. The Bills are off to their best start in 15 years. So what's the most gratifying thing for Sean Kugler? That's easy. His parents get to see his two sons play football for Orchard Park.

"I'm from here," said Kugler, a Lockport native. "My wife's from here, too. So my family gets to see them play each week. I've seen friends I hadn't seen since high school. It means a little more, when you're from here, to step on the field and represent the Bills. I was as die-hard as anybody else when I was a kid."

Kugler also knows how intense the scrutiny can be for a Bills coach in this town. His predecessor, Jim McNally, was a Buffalo native. McNally came home to coach the Bills' O-line late in his career, and anguished about the pressure he felt to succeed for the home folks.

That doesn't bother Kugler, who joined the Bills last season and took over for McNally when he retired after the season. Kugler said he holds himself and his line to the highest standard. So if fans think the Bills aren't running the ball well enough, you can bet the line coach feels the same way.

"Yeah, we're not pleased with where it's at right now," Kugler said Wednesday. "We need to be more efficient. But these guys know what needs to be done. They're working hard at it, and that's really all you can ask of them."

No line coach is pleased when his team is averaging 3.6 yards a rush. The Bills are 24th in the NFL in rushing. Marshawn Lynch is averaging 3.5 a pop. It's not good enough. Kugler knows it. His linemen know it. His friends and family know it. The guy behind the counter at the gas station knows it.

But it's not exactly cause for panic. The Bills are winning and scoring about 10 points more a game than a year ago. And Lynch and Fred Jackson have been one of the most productive tandems in the league.

Lynch (19 catches) and Jackson (17) have combined for the most catches of any running back duo in the league. They've combined for 822 yards of total offense, which is quite respectable.

"That's very productive from the halfback position," offensive coordinator Turk Schonert said. "That's what we look at, the halfback position."

For some reason, the line has been better in pass protection since Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker hit town. When Trent Edwards went out with a concussion against Arizona, the line took it personally. The Chargers never laid a hand on Edwards in last Sunday's win.

"Trent is the one guy we're paid to look after," said Walker. "You could sort of call it baby-sitting. Though he acts more adultlike than we do."

The line is being paid handsomely -- in the $100 million range for the entire O-line -- to open up holes for the running backs, too. Maybe it's a matter of time.

Lynch didn't have his first 100-yard day until Game Eight last year. After six games, he was averaging 3.6 yards a carry. Lynch averaged 4.3 the rest of the way. If the run blocking improves, and if the line keeps Edwards upright, there's no telling how good the offense can be.

The Bills ran for 85 yards in the second half against San Diego. They ran for 93 in the second half in their previous win at St. Louis. Maybe this will be the week for Lynch. A week ago, Willis McGahee went for 105 against the Dolphins, his best week of the season by far.

"You get better as you go," Kugler said. "So our focus is looking forward. During the bye week, we tweaked some things that fit the line and the backs. We just need to hone it all up.

"But I'm confident in that group. We have excellent backs. We've just got to do a better job blocking up front and get them more lanes. I don't know when it's coming, but it'll click in."

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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