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Jordan Mills has had 'one heck of an offseason' for Bills

The words understandably raised some eyebrows.

"Jordan Mills has had one heck of an offseason," Sean McDermott declared Thursday, before the Buffalo Bills' final practice until they open training camp on July 27.

Jordan Mills? The guy who struggled so much at right tackle last season, allowing seven sacks and being called for holding four times, that the Bills invested a second-round choice in Dion Dawkins?

Yes, that Jordan Mills.

And McDermott wasn't the only one who noticed how well the fifth-year NFL veteran had performed through voluntary organized team activity and mandatory minicamp workouts.

"I think he's been playing better and better, and he'll continue to develop as a player," center Eric Wood said.

It's tough to assess exactly how well anyone is doing in drills when pads can't be worn and contact isn't made. That's especially true with offensive and defensive linemen, whose No. 1 job requirement is to exchange blows.

There are other traits that can be observed, however, such as footwork and hand placement. How well do they understand the scheme? What's their movement like?

Do they stop or get around the man in front of them?

Since the end of April, Mills has done these things well enough to leave his coaches and teammates with a favorable impression for at least the next six weeks while the Bills get some down time.

"Jordan's an extremely hard-working guy," Pro Bowl guard Richie Incognito said. "He works hard in the weight room, he works hard on the practice field, he works hard in the class room. So it's nice to see it all come together for him."

Mills also has had the benefit of being the team's best option at right tackle while Dawkins filled in on the left side for Cordy Glenn, who is dealing with a persistent ankle problem.

Late last month, the Bills released Cyrus Kouandjio, the tackle they selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Seantrel Henderson is due to miss the first five games of the season while serving the rest of a suspension he was given last year for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Still, McDermott has seen no reason to be discouraged by the Bills' tackle situation. "I’m confident, honestly, in the competition we have and the talent we have at that position and the options we have at that position," he said, mentioning Michael Ola as well. "The work that those players have put in, in addition to the players behind them, has been tremendous to this point."

Wood didn't actually need OTAs or minicamp to recognize what Mills had to offer. The center saw enough from Mills' 16 starts at right tackle in 2016 to conclude that he was more of an asset than a liability.

Wood even made a point of putting in a good word for Mills with the new coaching staff. The endorsement must have helped, because the Bills signed him to a two-year, $4-million contract extension in March that included a modest bump in pay.

"I said, 'You're really going to like him,'" Wood said. "All coaches will like coaching Jordan Mills. He does exactly what he's coached to do every single play. He's very good with assignments, he's very good in meetings, he takes everything serious, he's here early.

"He's going to be tough for a rookie to beat out, because he's going to do everything right. And someone's going to have to truly outplay him to beat him out, because he's just so dependable on a day-to-day basis. And that often is overlooked on Sundays. Ultimately, we're only judged by what we do on Sundays, but on the day-to-day grind of a training camp, someone, to beat him out, is going to have to be on their stuff every day."

Mills finds it easy to be motivated to stay at the top of his game. He doesn't have much of a choice when facing the likes of Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus in practice.

Mills, who joined the Bills midway through the 2015 season after being released by the Chicago Bears, looks to hone his game by studying some of the best tackles in the NFL. He'll spend hours watching video of Trent Williams of the Washington Redskins, Tyron Smith of the Dallas Cowboys, and former Cowboy Doug Free, "taking bits and pieces away from them."

Although the offensive line helped the Bills lead the NFL in rushing for a second consecutive season, Mills saw reasons for disappointment "here and there" with how he played last year. He admits there are plays he wish he could have back, but he saw no need to panic.

When the season ended, he proceeded to work at correcting his mistakes.

"You've just got to in the lab in the offseason, learn from it and get better," Mills said. "And I felt like I did that every single day that I came back. It's a different coaching style (with the new staff). They expect different things out of us, but mostly my footwork in the run game and pass game, just keeping my hands up, using my hands better and stuff like that. And mentally, too, studying my opponents and looking at other offensive linemen around the league."

What about the fact the Bills used a premium pick on a player at his position? What about all of the criticism directed at him by media and fans?

"I feel really solid with myself," Mills said. "I don't worry about anything. I'm in a happy place and I'm competing every day. God gave me talent to come out and do my best, and that's what I can do and just focus on what I have to do and nothing else. I'm going to give my all every day. That goes for anybody that I go against on defense.

"Nobody's going to outwork me and I'm going to push myself to make my teammates better and they push me to make me better. All that (the drafting of Dawkins and the criticism), I don't pay attention to it. I just focus on what I have to do and execute to the best of my abilities, and I felt like I did all spring."

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