The left side of the Buffalo Bills' offensive line made bank this off-season. A team without money to spend found money to spend.
In March, guard Richie Incognito inked a three-year, $15.75 million contract. In May, tackle Cordy Glenn re-upped at five years, $65 million. So, yes, count on offensive coordinator Greg Roman scheming many of his 25-30 runs a game behind these two.
But what about that right side? Buffalo is counting on a healthy John Miller taking a step in Year 2 at guard. As for right tackle, it appears the job will be Jordan Mills' to lose when players reconvene at St. John Fisher College. Mills started at right tackle through OTA's and minicamp with Seantrel Henderson rehabbing from his two off-season surgeries and Cyrus Kouandjio still lagging behind.
"Right now, it's a case where Seantrel's sick and Mills has started at Chicago for me and started for us this year," offensive line coach Aaron Kromer said. "He's doing a solid job. He understands what to do and how to do it."
Mills, a fifth-round pick in 2013, started 29 of 29 games in Chicago and then five of 10 with the Bills last year. Not necessarily overpowering nor athletic, he functioned in Buffalo's No. 1-ranked rushing attack whether it was stalemating end DeMarcus Lawrence on a 26-yard run against Dallas or blocking down on linebacker Sean Lee in allowing Karlos Williams to waltz in for a 1-yard touchdown that same drive.
In pass protection, it wasn't always pretty. That sack-fumble during Buffalo's implosion at Washington must be hard for coaches to watch — Ryan Kerrigan burnt him around the corner in a blink.
"Jordan gets the best out of what he has," Kromer said. "He's a smart player. He knows what to do and how to do it. He knows his own limitations and that's key for an offensive lineman. Know what you can't do so you don't put yourself in a bad position. Nobody's perfect but he studies hard and plays hard and works hard."
Mills it is again.
One other key factor here is that the Bills do not utilize a simple, straight-ahead, man-on-man, power rushing attack. Roman and Kromer ask a lot out of linemen mentally, constantly pulling them left and right.
Even at 33 years old in July, Incognito is one of the best pulling guards in the NFL and he's not alone. Center Eric Wood pulled right to take out a defender on a 30-yard run by Mike Gillislee against Houston. Or take the 48-yard touchdown dash by LeSean McCoy vs. Miami when Miller pulled wide right and the athletic Glenn walled off a linebacker 15 yards downfield. The Bills are hoping they can get by at right tackle again, opting not to even draft one.
This isn't what General Manager Doug Whaley ever expected when he drafted the mammoth Kouandjio 44th overall in the 2014 draft. But whether it's the former Alabama tackle's knees or talent level, he hasn't latched on. Last summer, coach Rex Ryan plugged Kouandjio in with the first-team offense to start training camp but that proved to be more of a metaphorical kick in the pants to Henderson than anything else. One week in, Henderson — the 2014 starter — was back in.
The two surgeries in relation to his Crohn's disease took a lot out of Henderson. As his agent explained, Henderson needed to wear a bag after one and then have his intestines reattached after another. Henderson was back in Orchard Park from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for minicamp but must put weight back on before returning to the field.
Kromer cautions not to count out Henderson yet. He just doesn't know when he'll be ready.
"But what I do know is he wasn't in great shape last off-season and he came back in good shape for training camp," Kromer said. "So who knows if he can do it again. He has done it before so he might do it again. I wouldn't count him out.
"He's lighter. But, like I said, I wouldn't count him out."
No conclusions are drawn without pads because there's only so much linemen can do in June.
Mills looked like a player who wanted to hit, getting into a post-play scuffle with linebacker Preston Brown. This spring was about proving you can handle a complicated offense and, in that respect, Mills is the clear front-runner.
"This period is to learn what to do and how to do it," Kromer said. "When it comes to training camp, it's time to do it. ... Right now, it's about learning how to be successful in training camp. But what you are proving is you know how to do it and what to do."