This is the fifth in a series previewing each position on the Buffalo Bills before the July 25 start of training camp.
It has been a decade since the Buffalo Bills have had a training camp competition on the offensive line like the one they are about to conduct at St. John Fisher College.
The Bills’ mission is to find four new starters on the front five. The last time that happened was the 2009 season.
The Bills might have five new starters on the line if Dion Dawkins doesn’t hold onto his left-tackle job. Dawkins faces a challenge from free-agent signee Ty Nsekhe.
Buffalo has opened a season with four new O-line starters only four times in their history (2009, 1972, 1971 and 1961). They never have opened with five new starters on the line.
Aside from quarterback – which almost always is the focal point of the team – offensive line is the position to watch this summer.
How quickly the Bills settle on the front five will be key.
“I think the earlier the better, but you don’t want to push it to where you don’t have the exact answer that you think is best for the football team,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “It will all play out, but obviously the sooner the better so you got a cohesiveness working together with those guys because that’s an important aspect to it.”
Returnees: Dion Dawkins, Wyatt Teller, Vlad Ducasse, Russell Bodine, Ike Boettger, Conor McDermott, Jeremiah Sirles, De’Ondre Wesley
Newcomers: Mitch Morse (Chiefs), Cody Ford (draft, second round), Quinton Spain (Titans), Ty Nsekhe (Redskins), Spencer Long (Jets), Jon Feliciano (Raiders), LaAdrian Waddle (Patriots), Garrett McGhin (undrafted)
Departures: Jordan Mills (Dolphins), John Miller (Bengals), Ryan Groy (Saints)
Key numbers: One reason for the overhaul is the fact that Bills running backs averaged a franchise-worst 77.3 yards per game and just 3.53 yards per carry last season. LeSean McCoy averaged a career-worst 3.19 yards a carry, down from 3.96 in 2017. The Bills are on a mission to be more physical in the run game.
What to expect: The lone lock to start is Morse, the new center lured from Kansas City with a contract that averages $11.1 million a year.
Dawkins, who has started 27 games at left tackle the past two seasons, worked with the first team at that spot all spring. He was disappointing in 2017 but has gotten himself into much better shape this offseason.
Nsekhe, 33, started 11 games at left tackle for Washington over the past three seasons. If he starts getting extended first-team snaps in training camp it will be a sign the coaches are pushing Dawkins harder or that his grip on the job is loosening.
Nsekhe also figures to be the Plan B option at right tackle. Plan A is second-round draft pick Cody Ford, the 329-pounder from Oklahoma. Ford worked with the first team at right tackle all three days of minicamp.
The guard positions shape up as a four-way battle among Spain, Long, Teller and Feliciano.
Spain started 48 of 50 games for Tennessee over the past four years and looks like the favorite at right guard. That’s where he practiced during the spring before he suffered a broken thumb. He’s burly and physical, qualities the Bills are seeking under new line coach Bobby Johnson.
Long worked mostly with the first team in spring at left guard. He has started 44 games over the past four years — 26 at center and 19 at left guard — for the Redskins and Jets. He was released in February after just one injury-plagued season with the Jets. When healthy, Long has been a solid contributor.
Teller, a fifth-round pick a year ago, started the last seven games last season at left guard as a rookie for the Bills. He worked both guard spots in the spring.
Feliciano started eight games the past four years with the Raiders, and he worked with Johnson as a rookie in Oakland in 2015. He can play all three interior positions. He worked at center in the spring while Morse was recovering from injury. As with Long, versatility gives Feliciano an edge in the battle for a job.
Waddle, signed from the Patriots, gives the Bills more depth at the swing tackle position.
Holdovers Bodine and Ducasse both lost their starting positions last season. They’re probably odd men out unless injuries strike the line in preseason.
Story topics: 2019 training camp preview