The Buffalo Bills are looking for two good offensive tackles. If they can be great, that’s even better. For now, though, good will suffice, given how bad the line played as a whole for most of last year.
Can the Bills find good (or great) talent from the tackles on their roster?
The coaches are a long way from that answer. What they do know, or at least are discussing internally, is that the starters will likely come from the following: last year’s incumbents, Seantrel Henderson and Cordy Glenn, and second-year man Cyrus Kouandjio, who didn’t play after the Bills made him a second-round draft pick.
In the estimation of the Bills’ previous head coach, Doug Marrone, Henderson consistently performed the best of all of the team’s offensive linemen last season. Marrone, whose football pedigree is rooted in offensive line play and coaching, is now the offensive line coach and assistant to the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
How much is his opinion worth after his dubious decision to give up a head-coaching job to ultimately take a lesser position? Very little, one might be quick to conclude. Marrone was roundly criticized for not doing what was necessary to help make the line better. Still, it’s worth noting that Rex Ryan and the rest of the Bills’ new coaching staff are strongly considering an idea that Marrone had: moving Henderson from right tackle, where he started all 16 games after the Bills made him a seventh-round draft pick from the University of Miami, to the left side.
Henderson and Glenn have alternated at tackle throughout offseason workouts, which resume with Wednesday’s organized team activity practice, while Kouandjio has impressed coaches with his first-unit practice reps at right tackle.
Much of the focus has been on the 6-foot-7, 331-pound Henderson, because new Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman sees freakish athleticism that could allow him to make a fairly smooth transition to left tackle, the most vital position on the line.
“Oh, man, I’ve been right tackle this day, left tackle this day,” Henderson told reporters recently. “And that’s fine with me. I need more reps on both sides anyway just so I can get that comfort back.”
If Henderson does end up starting at left tackle, Glenn will probably either become the starter at right tackle or, if Kouandjio wins the job on the right side, serve as a backup for both spots.
What’s the biggest difference if Henderson does switch places?
“Just kicking with that opposite leg,” he said of the vital backward kick step a tackle must make with his outside leg to establish favorable position in pass protection. “I’m more comfortable kicking with my right leg just because I’ve been playing on the right side since my freshman year in college. So just the more reps I take on the left side, the more comfortable I get playing both sides.
“I honestly don’t care whether I play left or right, just as long as I’m on the field.”
Henderson insists he’s in no particular hurry to find out the side on which he’ll eventually line up. And he fully expects the process to intensify once training camp begins on July 31 and the Bills start practicing in pads.
“I know, once camp starts, that’s when it matters the most,” he said. “Right now, everybody’s just trying to get back in the groove of things.”
Henderson feels far more comfortable than he did during the 2014 offseason. A year has made a major difference in educating him about what to expect from the NFL and what he needs to do to make himself the best player possible.
“No more being nervous,” he said. “You know what you’re coming into and what you’ve got to do to be successful in the game as far as workouts and drills and just being around the team and what the coaches expect from you and everything like that. It’s not like leaving college and you don’t know what you’re about to get into.”
Still, Henderson does have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator in Roman and a new offensive line coach in Aaron Kromer. There is a new scheme to learn, one that puts greater emphasis on zone blocking and gap plays where it’s important to get a strong push for the running game. There is a new playbook to study.
Mostly, there are different technical aspects to playing offensive tackle that he is learning from Kromer.
“He’s good at teaching techniques, as far as staying low and getting your hands on guys as soon as possible,” Henderson said. “And as far as how to kick and what angles to take, he’s been teaching us all of that right now. So we’re going to be well prepared.”
For Henderson, that preparation figures to lead to another season of him being a starting tackle. The only question is, on which side?
The Bills said goodbye to one former New England Patriots linebacker when Brandon Spikes, who was with them in 2014, returned to the Pats as a free agent. Now, they are saying hello to another – Michael Buchanan, a defensive end/linebacker who made a free-agent visit to One Bills Drive last week.
Buchanan spent the past two seasons with the Patriots, whom he joined as a seventh-round draft pick from Illinois in 2013. In 18 career NFL games, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Buchanan has four tackles, two sacks, five quarterback hits, and two tackles for loss.
The Bills will see if he is able to help provide some needed depth behind two of the NFL’s best edge rushers in Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes. At Illinois, he was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2011 and 2012.
To make room for Buchanan on their 90-man offseason roster, the Bills waived punter Spencer Roth.