The gift that Mike Pettine gave the Bills during his one-stop hop to Cleveland was proof that the proper feeding and nurturing of the defensive line would showcase the existing talent that was dormant under George Edwards and Dave Wannstedt. It was certainly clear to this Bills fan that both Edwards and Wannstedt were in over their heads in an ever-changing NFL environment.
Since Pettine showed in one season what kind of talent exists along the Bills defensive line, now it is time to focus on fixing the offensive line. Look at any team in the NFL that has created a dynasty; both lines are usually solid with little turnover for years except for injury. When was the last time the Bills had both lines playing at a high level for any extended period of time? That would be back in the Super Bowl era of the 90’s.
“It’s what’s up front that counts” is not just an overused truism in professional football. The best teams in football history have both offensive and defensive lines that are/were “best in class.” No one questions the talent along the defensive line in Buffalo. However, the offensive line remains a work in progress as it has been for more than a decade.
The only two players who are ripe to anchor the Bills offensive line at a level necessary to win championships are Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood. The left guard position was a disaster most of the last season. Many fans blamed the loss of Andy Levitre for the obvious hole created at that position. However, it is this fan’s belief that paying $8 million per year for a solid but not quite elite offensive guard was not the prudent way to go.
Cordy Glenn is as good as gold at left tackle, regardless of Mike Mayock’s take that he would not project him to be a success at the left tackle position. Has Mayock ever commented on his ‘error’ in his assessment? The most impressive thing about Cordy Glenn last season was that his name was rarely, if ever, mentioned. As any football aficionado knows, the lack of attention being drawn to that position is a very good thing.
What more needs to be said about Eric Wood? I hope to see the day Eric Wood’s name goes on the Bills Wall of Fame. He’s the best center the Bills have had since the late Kent Hull served it up for Jim Kelly during the ‘Glory Years.’ Eric is a team leader, team captain, and ready to assume the role of anchor of what we can only hope will become a solid line for years to come.
As far as any position group on the team, this is the position group that is in the greatest need of attention during the draft and free agency. The Bills must add two starting guards and a right tackle. Fortunately, the Bills have a head coach who played as an offensive lineman for several NFL teams. No one understands the need to fix this offensive line more than Doug Marrone.
That is something that should be reassuring to Bills fans. The team will hopefully get it right this off season and fix an offensive line that has been at best average, and mostly below average in performance for the better part of the last 20 years. Getting the right pieces in place on the offensive line is arguably the most pressing issue facing the Bills during this off season.
Many Bills fans are naturally curious about bringing in Jonathan Martin to improve the offensive line. Although this is an interesting suggestion, and could prove to be something the front office might consider, I hope they also have a psychologist around to evaluate him.
This issue is cringe worthy and important for Bills fans because of the trauma experienced with the “Big” Mike Williams debacle. How in the world did the Bills brass miss the head case that became Mike Williams? His NFL career was a pinnacle of embarrassment for Bills Nation. The pain of those horrid drafts in the 2000’s remain in the forefront of the minds of many Bills fans.
That is why this draft and free agency are critical to get it right. Outside of the linebackers, Buffalo’s offensive line is the one position group in greatest need of upgrading. The Bills need to be able to run the ball down the throats of the opposition.
Buffalo will need to depend on the run in 2014 so EJ Manuel and his receivers can continue to develop without feeling the pressure of carrying the load on offense. This is why having a strong line is a must. So many fans focus solely on EJ in terms of what he needs to do to develop into a successful NFL quarterback, but they often fail to realize that task is nearly impossible without a solid, consistent offensive line. Yes, it is “what’s up front that counts.”
For the first time in many years, it appears the staff at One Bills Drive are full of professionals who understand the importance of developing a first class offensive and defensive line. With many of the pieces already in place along the defensive line, it is now imperative that the Bills have a successful year filling the left guard, right guard, and right tackle positions with players who will be able to enjoy success for many years to come.
My confidence in Doug Marrone is sky high in this regard. If anyone can help the rest of the staff identify the right players to round out this group, it is Coach Marrone. As Bills fans, we should feel fortunate when we see the head coach out on the field showing players how offensive line play should be done. It would not be surprising to this Bills fan to see the offense make a leap to the positive in terms of performance if they can get the offensive line to perform as well as the defensive line.
Without a doubt, this is the best staff in years in terms of developing offensive line talent. Getting the right three players to step in with Cordy and Eric is one of the most important goals of the upcoming season. The realization by this staff of the importance of having top talent along both lines is one of the greatest reasons for optimism for Bills fans.