BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
The Buffalo Bills selected three offensive linemen in the 2014 NFL Draft: Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson. It appears that all three have the opportunity to carry significant roles as rookies this season. Along with veteran guard Chris Williams, the Bills added four linemen this offseason that are expected to find their way onto the 53-man roster.
Having already played in the Hall of Fame Game against the New York Giants and on Friday against the Carolina Panthers, the Bills have had two preseason games and will still play in three more, which gives the players more opportunities to demonstrate what they are capable of on the football field. Kouandjio, Richardson and Henderson all currently project as backups, but could they work their way into the starting lineup as the preseason progresses? We can take a look at what each of them has done so far and how each could fit into the team’s plans up front.
As a second-round pick (No. 44 overall), Kouandjio was the first offensive lineman selected by the Bills in this year’s draft. He has also been far and away the most disappointing.
Lining up as the second-team right tackle thus far this preseason, the Alabama product has struggled to pass protect and maintain blocks, and is simply not ready to step in and play at the NFL level.
Heading into the draft, I had major concerns about Kouandjio’s technique, particularly his balance, bend and hand placement to the point that I projected him as an offensive guard with a fifth-round grade. Those are exactly the issues he has shown through two preseason games.
At 6’7” with 35 5/8” arms, Kouandjio has outstanding length for an offensive tackle, but that length means nothing if it’s not used when blocking. He has been lazy with his hands and hasn’t extended his arms to control his opponents as a pass or run blocker. Most concerning is how uncomfortable and unnatural he’s been in pass protection.
It’s not fair to say after a rookie’s first two preseason games that he doesn’t have a future in the league. The Bills invested a fairly high draft choice on Kouandjio and it would be a major shock if he wasn’t on the roster this season. That said, it’s hard to imagine him being one of the 46 players who will dress on Sundays for the Bills.
It doesn’t appear the Bills are overly content with either left guard Chris Williams or right guard Kraig Urbik being in the lineup. That gives Cyril Richardson, the team’s fifth-round pick (No. 153 overall) a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job at either spot.
Richardson has received first-team reps in practice and was worked in at right guard with the first-team offense on Friday night against the Carolina Panthers.
Richardson has been as advertised. He has displayed the abilities to generate movement as a run blocker and set the proper depth of the pocket as a pass protector. Richardson’s issues come when dealing with players who have quick lateral ability, as he doesn’t have the foot speed to compete and stay in front. With improvement in that area, Richardson has the potential to become a starting-caliber NFL guard and could excel in a power scheme like the Bills employ.
Richardson should make the roster and be the primary backup at both guard positions if he does not win a starting job.
Seantrel Henderson was the last selected of Buffalo’s three rookie draft picks on the offensive line (seventh round, No. 237 overall), but he has clearly been their most impressive on the field thus far.
The reason Henderson was a seventh-round choice didn’t have anything to do with his ability on the field but rather whether or not he would be reliable off the field. During his collegiate career at Miami, he was suspended three times for failed drug tests and then tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
So far, so good for Henderson. Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn was activated from the non-football illness list on Saturday, but while he has been away from the field and as he remains a limited participant in practice, Henderson has been working in his place with the first-team offense.
Once Glenn is fully healthy, he will be firmly entrenched as the Bills starting left tackle. Henderson’s best opportunity to earn a starting role would be unseating incumbent starter Erik Pears at right tackle.
On the field, Henderson has held his own. While not perfect, Henderson has shown power as a run blocker and has properly used his natural athletic ability and length as a pass blocker. He looks comfortable and his technique has been better than anticipated. He has shown good attention to detail to win matchups.
I expect Henderson, at worst, to be the Bills’ swing tackle who can adequately fill in at either tackle spot, if he doesn’t win the starting right tackle job outright.
How Will the Lineup Look?
Pears and Urbik have combined to start 81 games over the past three seasons for the Bills, but neither has a solidified starting role for the team entering the 2014 season. Richardson and Henderson should be right on their heels.
The only two certainties on the Bills offensive line are Eric Wood at center and Cordy Glenn at left tackle. They will be the starters and are high-level NFL players.
It can be looked at as a concern that three of the five starting spots are up for grabs, but the reality is that the Bills have an influx of young offensive line talent that is challenging for spots. The Bills coaching staff is giving the young blockers that opportunity.
The Bills have the best offensive line depth that they’ve had in many years with a good mix of experienced starters and young talent. Over the next three weeks, the position battles will begin to shape up and it will be interesting to see how many and which offensive linemen the Bills have on their week one roster heading into the regular season.