After a disappointing rookie season in which he never saw the field as an offensive lineman, Cyrus Kouandjio might be finally making a breakthrough with the Buffalo Bills.
Coach Rex Ryan said Thursday the performance of the 2014 second-round draft pick from Alabama during offseason drills “probably puts him ahead” of Seantrel Henderson at offensive tackle. Kouandjio has worked at right tackle, where Henderson started for all 16 games as a rookie last season, during the three-day mandatory minicamp that ended Thursday while Henderson worked as a backup.
“But, again, the race isn’t over by a long shot, so we’ll see,” Ryan said.
Henderson clearly put himself in the coach’s dog house by missing the start of the minicamp, the final phase of the team’s offseason workouts, on Tuesday because of a missed flight. Although Ryan said Henderson’s demotion was not for disciplinary reasons, he did say, “It is his responsibility to be here, and he understands that.”
The rest of what Henderson has to do is make a favorable impression on Ryan, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer between now and the start of the season.
“Seantrel has got to show that he can handle it, you know, mentally, physically all of it,” Ryan said. “Obviously, he’s a guy that started 16 games last year, so I think competition is going to be good, and you know, Kouandjio has got to show that when the pads come on” during training camp “that he can handle the physical aspect of the game.”
Kouandjio feels he has made major strides since his rookie season.
“I felt a huge improvement in my balance,” he said. “Being able to do what you want, at a certain speed, it takes a lot of balance, it takes a lot of core strength, and it helps your game a lot,” he said. “That, and a lot of other things, a lot of little things I see in my game that I can fix. I still have a ways to go, I still have a few things I can pinpoint,” and say, “‘Hey, I need to work on this during the break.’ And I’ll do that, so it’s a process.”
Kouandjio said he has been helped by Kromer’s instruction. He also said he has benefitted greatly from working with LeCharles Bentley at the camp the former NFL offensive lineman has in Arizona. He said he planned to work with Bentley a few weeks before the start of training camp on July 31.
“It helped me a lot,” Kouandjio said of working with Bentley. “It was huge piece of the puzzle.”
He acknowledged that not playing as a rookie, and often being criticized for that, was a tremendous challenge.
“It was tough, it was probably one of the toughest things I’ve been through in my life, especially camp,” Kouandjio said. “But I know what to expect. We’re humans, we can adapt.”
Ryan said the Bills plan to sign former New York Jets free-agent offensive lineman Wayne Hunter, who was brought in for a tryout Wednesday and Thursday. Ryan guided Hunter during his first three season, 2009-11, as head coach of the Jets.
“He is a guy that did a tremendous job for us early,” Ryan said. “I think in an ideal world there are some players for whatever reason that are better in multiple roles and being almost like a utility guy, playing guard, tackle, tight end. Giving you a lot of that versatility, a smart athletic guy. That is why he is here.”
Hunter participated in individual drills during practice the past two days.
“Just so he gets his feet wet and picks up some terminology and things like that,” Ryan said. “Where he will have a better chance is when we get back out there in training camp. It is good for a veteran player just to get out. I think he has impressed some coaches with how athletic he is. And he looks like he is in great shape. It will be fun watching him compete.”
The Bills signed free-agent tight end Matthew Mulligan Thursday.
The 6-4, 267-pound Mulligan joined the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent from Maine in 2008. He spent that season on the Dolphins’ practice squad, then signed with the Jets in 2009. In 2012, Mulligan joined the St. Louis Rams.
He also has had stints with the New England Patriots (2013) and the Chicago Bears/Tennessee Titans (2014). In 69 career NFL games, Mulligan has made 26 starts and caught 16 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bills also announced they have released defensive back Merrill Noel.
During minicamp practices, the Bills’ wide receivers wore game jerseys while all of the other players wore their practice shirts.
The reason, according to Chris Hogan, is that the receivers were getting tired of having defensive backs grab their looser-fitting practice shirts during OTA workouts.
After a pass that was intended for him was intercepted during Thursday’s practice, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin stayed on the ground for a while and got up slowly before walking along the sideline with a trainer.
Ryan didn’t express even the least bit of concern about the physical status of Goodwin, who has frequently missed playing time because of injuries.
“No, I have seen him do this a few times,” the coach said. “You know, he’s alright. I looked at him. He’s OK.”