For a player who contributed very little last season, the Buffalo Bills are counting on Cyrus Kouandjio to give them a lot in 2015.
Kouandjio, the team’s second-round draft pick in 2014, appeared in just one game as a rookie, playing all of three snaps on special teams. No other second-round pick from last year’s draft played as little.
“Honestly, it was tough,” Kouandjio said Wednesday of last year, perhaps understating things a bit. “That’s the past, you know? I’m not really worried about that. You can’t live in the past.”
If there was one positive to what was otherwise a lost season, it was that Kouandjio got work in practice at both tackle and guard.
“It taught me how to be versatile,” he said.
The other thing he took from the season was just how difficult it is to make it in the NFL.
“I learned that you can't mistakes,” he said. “You've just got to work really hard in the NFL. In college, you could make a mistake here, make a mistake there, you're stronger, faster, smarter than the guy, you can get away with it. But here, it's professionals. It takes a lot of work, and this is my job.”
Kouandjio, who is still just 21, started his offseason by attending former Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley’s offensive lineman school in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“It was great for me because I was surrounded by a lot of offensive linemen in Arizona,” Kouandjio said. “We were able to feed off each other and learn from each other -- understand what the NFL is about, understand what it takes.” Being “surrounded by those type of guys 24-7 made a big impact on me.”
Since getting back to Buffalo for voluntary workouts, the 6-foot-7, 322-pounder has been practicing solely at tackle.
“I can’t tell you what happened last year, but what I can tell you is I see the work ethic and enthusiasm that he hits the practice field with and that has been impressive,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “In the weight room, we have this kettle bell walk where you take the weights and you go for distance and he outperformed everybody on this team. So to say have I been impressed by him? I absolutely have been impressed by him.”
That’s good news for the entire organization, since there is plenty riding on Kouandjio living up to his draft status. General Manager Doug Whaley undoubtedly wants to see that high draft pick pay off, while Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are going to need depth at tackle.
Backup Chris Hairston wasn’t re-signed, which means the Bills have an opening at “swing” tackle – the primary backup to starters Cordy Glenn and Seantrel Henderson on game days.
“You can't really think about that type of stuff,” Kouandjio said of the team’s current depth chart. “You never know what's going on upstairs. You’ve just got to come in with the attitude that you're going to do your best, you're going to touch your potential, and whatever happens, happens. You never know, somebody might get hurt. We might pick somebody else up.”
Of course, with Roman and new offensive line coach Aaron Kromer declaring all five positions on the line up for grabs, Kouandjio would be limiting himself if being a backup was his goal.
“I see a guy that seems extremely motivated,” Ryan said. “Our coaches are excited that we have him.”