The line has been, well, offensive through the first five games of the season. Finding the right combo from the 5 tackles on the roster should help get the ground attack back on track against a stretch of susceptible run defenses.
Heading into the 2017 season, the offensive line was supposed to be the cornerstone of the Buffalo offense. Every starter returned from the NFL’s top rushing attack in 2016. There was a concerted effort to retain quality depth players. Reinforcements arrived via early rounds of the draft. Sure, there would be a bit of a learning curve as the unit implemented new OC Rick Dennison’s zone blocking concepts, but continuity on the offensive line is paramount. Right?! Not quite. Starting LT Cordy Glenn lost time in the preseason rehabbing an ankle injury, and inconsistency has reigned supreme up front ever since. Five games into the season, the team has yet to settle on their “best five” linemen, and, unsurprisingly, the running game has suffered as a result.
Through five games, the Bills are way off the pace they set for themselves over the previous two seasons, averaging 106.6 yards per game, good enough for just 17th in the NFL. Uglier still, they currently sit 29th in the NFL at a dismal 3.4 yards per carry. Highlighting the issues up front has been the unconventional situation at OT. After being inactive in both weeks 3 and 4 with the aforementioned ankle injury, franchise LT Cordy Glenn was active in the week 5 loss against Cincinnati, but was relegated to just four special teams snaps. The likeliest explanation is that the stalwart tackle is still working his way back from the injury, and Sean McDermott didn’t want to risk him reaggravating it before the bye week (McDermott indicated he wanted to get Glenn in the mindset of playing by having him dress and warm up). Nonetheless, Glenn’s situation raised a couple eyebrows across Bills Nation this week (or something). On Tuesday, The Buffalo News’ Chris Trapasso speculated that the Bills could try to trade Glenn to a tackle-needy team like Arizona in exchange for a receiver like John Brown, Jaron Brown, or J.J. Nelson.
While this may very well have been nothing more than bye week speculation, it presents an interesting proposition, mostly because it’s plausible. Arizona’s OT situation is a disaster, and their inability to keep Carson Palmer upright is in danger of sinking their season. They could also really use someone to block for the newly-acquired Adrian Peterson. But where would the Bills be without Glenn? Trading away roster staples has yielded a mixed bag of on-field results so far this season. The secondary is doing just fine without Ronald Darby, but the WR corps has looked positively zombie-like since trading away Sammy Watkins, for reasons that have nothing to do with Halloween approaching (not that Watkins has exactly set the world on fire in LA). Any trade, especially one potentially involving a starting caliber LT, would carry a significant risk, even if it netted the Bills both a player and draft pick, as both the Darby and Watkins’ trades did.
And while a Cordy Glenn trade remains unlikely, the mere existence of speculation on the subject speaks to the uncertainty swirling around the offensive line at the bye. Jordan Mills’ struggles at RT have been extensively documented both by the local media and national sites like ProFootballFocus, and a Glenn departure would make rookie Dion Dawkins Tyrod Taylor’s permanent blindside protector. The prospect of trading (no pun intended) the relative stability of Glenn for the rookie Dawkins largely depends on which of his three starts you look at. In his first NFL start, Dawkins was absolutely abused by Von Miller on the second play of the game en route to a sack. It looked like the kid was in for a long day, but he dug in and turned in a solid performance against one the league’s elite pass rushers. In the Week 4 win in Atlanta, Dawkins availed himself quite well, especially in the run game, earning a score of 83.7 from Pro Football Focus (with a 92.0 run blocking score). His strong performance and hustle recovering a late Mike Tolbert fumble was noticed by Bills Twitter.
The next week, however, Dawkins was making waves on the Twitterverse once again, for all the wrong reasons. After getting thoroughly dominated by fellow rookie Carl Lawson (who, to be fair, has dominated everyone he’s lined up across from), Pro Football Focus gave Dawkins a grade of 42.4 (with a run blocking score of 38.2). On Twitter, the fickle internet showed Dawkins what a difference a week can make.
In fairness, the entire Bills offensive line had a rough outing in Cincinnati, so it’s not as though Dawkins was the lone weak link. That said, fans and brass alike should expect up and down from play from the rookie should he in fact become the guy watching Tyrod’s back.
The intrigue at OT doesn’t end there. One wildcard in all this is Seantrel Henderson, who just came off a suspension for a second violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. If the Bills brass thinks he’s finally gotten his Crohn’s disease (and treatment thereof) under control, it’s easier to imagine that they would be comfortable trading Glenn, installing Henderson at RT, and demoting Jordan Mills to the swing tackle role. For his part, Henderson says he’s in shape, has a handle on his Crohn’s disease, and is tipping the scales at a formidable 340lbs. Replacing Mills with Henderson at RT could provide a shot in the arm to an offensive line that has massively underperformed expectations thus far, particularly in the ground game, without sacrificing much in terms of experience (26 starts as a Bill). The main question is how quickly Henderson can be game ready, given his extended absence from live football. Also waiting in the wings is the massive, but raw, Conor McDermott. At 6’8 and over 300 lbs, McDermott represents the fifth tackle active on the roster, a highly unconventional move by traditional NFL roster standards. What that means for the future of the position, though, is anyone’s guess.
As of this posting, the Glenn trade talk has been much ado about nothing, bye week speculation born out of a disappointing offensive start for a team that otherwise looks ahead of schedule with The Process. Then again, the McBeane Regime has made it crystal clear that it won’t hesitate to make the moves necessary to build the Bills in its own image.