This is the third in a series of 10 questions facing the Buffalo Bills as they prepare for training camp, which begins July 24. Today's question: Is there sufficient depth along the offensive line?
The Buffalo Bills' latest addition to their offensive line could serve as a clue to answering one of the big questions entering training camp.
Does the team have quality depth along the offensive line?
The Bills signed former Jets guard Greg Van Roten last month right before the start of mandatory minicamp. That move showed that General Manager Brandon Beane hasn’t stopped looking for pieces up front. While the defensive line’s makeover has been more extreme, the Bills have also done a fair amount of shuffling up front on offense. While there is just one new projected starter – left guard Rodger Saffold – it’s entirely possible the Bills’ primary backups are mostly new.
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In addition to Van Roten, the Bills have also brought in veterans Greg Mancz and David Quessenberry this offseason. Combined, those three players have played in 175 games, starting 105 times. Add in returning veteran Cody Ford, who has played in 38 games with 29 starts over his first three seasons, and the Bills have four-fifths of a second unit that has made 134 starts.
After Van Roten signed, former Bills offensive lineman and current NFL podcaster Ross Tucker tweeted that Buffalo’s second-team offensive line “might be better than a few team’s starters.”
Coach Sean McDermott said the Bills didn’t necessarily pinpoint veteran experience up front as a need this offseason, but did want to add to the depth and competition.
“The game is won up front on both sides of the ball,” McDermott said. “So we were able to do some things offensively with that up front. You've got to be able to control that line of scrimmage. You've got to know what you got coming out of training camp. We've got to A. establish the line of scrimmage and B. protect our quarterback.”
The Bills started and finished last offseason with nine offensive lineman on the active roster, eight of whom were active on game day. The assumed starters heading into the 2022 season include Saffold, along with returners Dion Dawkins (left tackle), Spencer Brown (right tackle), Mitch Morse (center) and Ryan Bates (right guard).
Of those players, the only spot that might be remotely up for grabs in training camp is right guard, given that Bates is still new to the position, having only become a full-time starter last season in Week 16.
“I believe those are the guys that need to develop the most, just in general,” new offensive line coach Aaron Kromer said of the projected depth players up front. “The guys who can learn and adapt are the ones who end up being successful backups in the NFL, and then sometimes become starters. The guys who just go totally off of talent, they don't last. They're not good backups. Everyone right now is in on working to get to that spot. We'll see in training camp.”
The Bills value versatility, and that’s something most of the Bills’ depth offensive linemen possess. Van Roten and Mancz can play guard or center, and Ford has experience at tackle and guard.
Another advantage of having so much experience on the bench is what it can mean for the starters, particularly Brown and Bates on the right side given their inexperience.
“My first two years, when I was an undrafted guy in Houston way back when, we traded for a guy named Chris Clark. He was an old guy from Denver who had been around eight, nine years, and he taught us everything,” Mancz said. “It's paramount to have guys who have played, who have experience in different systems, who have played all these different teams, just to have an open line of communication. There is a way you do things, but little tips, little tricks, 'I've played this guy this way.' It's important, and also in the unfortunate circumstance where guys have to rotate in, it's nice to have guys who have been in the game.”
The Bills also re-signed Ike Boettger this offseason, although it remains to be seen when he’ll be ready to play after suffering a torn Achilles' tendon against the Patriots in Week 16 last season. It’s possible Boettger starts the season on the physically unable to perform list. When he does make it back, though, he brings with him 33 games of experience, including 17 starts over the past two years. When healthy, Boettger will compete with Van Roten, Mancz and Ford.
At tackle, Quessenberry’s main competition is second-year veteran Tommy Doyle and rookie Luke Tenuta, a sixth-round draft pick from Virginia Tech. The Bills could try and sneak Tenuta onto the practice squad, but given the need for tackles across the NFL, that comes with some risk.
As it stands, the offensive line does look deeper and much more experienced behind the projected starters.