The first significant bit of news to occur at the start of the Buffalo Bills’ mandatory minicamp Tuesday was observed before the team had even gone through stretching.
Watching from the sidelines was franchise left tackle Cordy Glenn. That he wasn’t practicing was expected – coach Sean McDermott had said that would be the case minutes before – but seeing Glenn with a walking boot on his left foot caught the attention of reporters observing the workout.
Officially, the word from the Bills is that Glenn is “week to week” with an ankle injury. Given that the team has just two more practices before taking about six weeks off, it’s a safe bet that the next time Glenn takes the practice field, it will be at St. John Fisher College during training camp.
In the meantime, however, someone has to fill the starting left tackle job. That someone has been rookie Dion Dawkins, the team’s second of two second-round draft picks in April.
“I’ve learned over a 20-plus year career in the NFL not to get overly excited at this time of year,” coach Sean McDermott said Tuesday. “That said, I’ve been very impressed with our entire rookie class, specifically Dion in this case. … He’s taking the approach – learn the playbook, earn the respect of his teammates and in this case, earn the right to move on to that left side.”
That Dawkins is playing tackle at all might come as a surprise to some draft gurus. Websites like ESPN, Pro Football Focus and NFL.com all viewed Dawkins as a guard coming out of Temple.
Positional versatility is something that McDermott has shown he craves.
“It's extremely valuable. I'm a second-round pick, so I have to be able to play wherever they need me to, whether it's at guard or tackle,” Dawkins said. “The only thing I haven’t really learned is center yet, but I’m down for that if they ask me to.”
Dawkins played in 44 college games with the Owls, and almost every one of them was at left tackle, so he feels at home in Glenn’s spot.
“Left tackle comes a lot easier than right,” he said. “I’m definitely thankful that I'm getting plenty of reps at left, because I'm showing my true colors early. It's pretty cool.”
Of course, his time at the position could be short lived. Provided Glenn is healthy, he figures to regain his starting role. When he was drafted, it was widely assumed Dawkins would push Jordan Mills for the starting job at right tackle – but he says the coaching staff has yet to inform him of that.
“There is a lot of rumors,” he said. “I just stick to taking it day by day. I didn't know if they were going to throw me at guard or tackle. Before I got here, I was practicing both, because I didn't know what was expected. I wanted to be prepared when I got here. “I knew when my opportunity came, I just wanted to conquer it. Right now, I'm playing left, so I'm just going to conquer what I'm doing now and if I have to go to guard or right tackle, I'll be good there.”
It’s one thing to line up at left tackle in the American Athletic Conference, and quite another to do in the NFL. Dawkins got beat outside for what would have been an easy sack by Jerry Hughes during Tuesday’s workout inside New Era Field. Going against a player with Hughes’ speed and ability is more jumping into the pool than it is Dawkins getting his feet wet.
“I respect everything about that guy,” Dawkins said. “He has truly gotten me better over these four weeks. I've gotten so much better just from practicing against him. I fear no one, but I respect him. … I know he's the real deal.”
The strength of the Bills is on both lines. Next to Hughes are a pair of Pro Bowl defensive tackles in Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, along with a first-round draft pick in Shaq Lawson. Lining up next to Dawkins is Pro Bowl left guard Richie Incognito, and calling out the blocking assignments is veteran center Eric Wood.
It’s easy to see how stepping into that setting could be nerve wracking.
“At first you have butterflies, like holy crap, these are my first practices in the NFL, and everybody around me is a Pro Bowler,” Dawkins said. “It was just like toughen up and let's go. The biggest thing about it is they care about me. They're going hard on me, but they're teaching me everything I need to do to be where they're at.”
There will be an expectation that Dawkins does become a meaningful starter for the Bills. After all, they invested three draft picks to acquire him in a trade up with Atlanta. “Of course there's pressure, but I put the most pressure on myself,” he said. “I know it's not college anymore. They drafted me for a reason. I have to come in here and do what I'm supposed to do.
“At the end of the day, I'm just going to get it done. I know that they want me to be a guy – whether it's starting the first week, or starting by Week Three, it doesn't matter – eventually they want me in. When that time comes, I'm going to be ready and get the job done for the Bills.”