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Learning curve steep at tackle

PITTSFORD – Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone pulled no punches when it came to the performance of his rookie offensive tackles in their preseason debut Sunday.

“I think both those guys have a lot of work ahead of them,” Marrone said, referring to second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio and seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson. “It’s tough to play tackle in the National Football League.”

In Henderson’s case, the Bills do not have the luxury of allowing him to learn at a comfortable pace. He’s been thrown right into the starting lineup at left tackle from the start of training camp in the absence of third-year veteran Cordy Glenn – who is out of the lineup with an illness.

“I’m holding it down until Cordy gets back,” Henderson said. “Whatever the team needs me to do, that’s what I’m doing. I wish no harm on any of my teammates, so I hope he gets better and he gets back as soon as possible.”

Henderson came to the Bills as an atypical seventh-round pick. The massive, 6-foot-7, 331-pounder was the No. 1 offensive line recruit in the country coming out of Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minn., in 2009. His college career at Miami, however, was marred by multiple suspensions, reportedly for marijuana use. He also flunked a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said at the time the Bills selected Henderson that he has the size and ability of a first-round talent.

In terms of a seventh-round pick, Henderson has been a tremendous find. But as a player who may be called upon for meaningful snaps starting with the season opener, he’s got work to do.

“I don’t really focus on what round I got picked in. I feel like I can play with anybody,” Henderson said. “I’m up for the challenge, but I never thought I was going to be able to play this fast. … I didn’t think that I’d be able to be running with the ones this soon, but I had to be ready.”

Henderson said Glenn and center Eric Wood have been two of his biggest supporters.

“Cordy helps me out all the time. Every day he’s either texting or talking to me, telling me exactly what to do and exactly how things are going to be,” he said. “It’s like a big-brother type relationship. So I most definitely appreciate that. And Wood, he’s the center, he knows everything.”

Having five preseason games is a big benefit for the Bills this year with the possibility of having to get a new left tackle ready to play.

“He’s really made great improvement from OTAs until now. He’s really made a big jump,” Marrone said. “Basically, I just want to see if he’s someone that can go out there and play 16 games at tackle in this league.”

Another benefit is that Henderson gets to go up against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL on a daily basis.

“I mean, we have some great battles in practice, especially when we get to the one-on-one work – we go after it. I like the fact that every day at practice, he comes hard,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “It’s great competition. Someone of his size and the way he’s able to move, it’s impressive.”

As a former offensive lineman, Marrone works closely with the Bills’ big men in practice. Henderson said his focus has been on refining his technique.

“Little stuff as far as staying low, keeping my hands on a guy’s chest, not outside of his shoulder pads, things like that,” he said. “Coach works with us hands-on every day, so I learn something new every day. I try work on one aspect of the game every day just so I can get better. It’s always the little stuff as an offensive lineman that you’ve got to work on the most.”

Hughes said he’s noticed an improvement in Henderson’s technique.

“He’s showing me something different every day that I haven’t seen previously,” he said. “When you’re doing that, it shows that he’s finding ways to work on his game.”

Glenn has appeared to be doing more work with trainers in the past week on the sidelines, but the Bills have not had any update on his condition since the beginning of camp. He’s on the active/non-football illness list. The longer he remains out, the likelihood increases that Henderson will start the Sept. 7 season opener at Chicago.

“I’m feeling good about that,” he said. “I’ve got my teammates helping me out, and as far as knowing the calls, I’m getting way better.”


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