Amid a flurry of questions facing the Buffalo Bills’ offensive linemen this offseason, one thing seems certain: They’re going to be in shape.
The Bills’ offensive linemen have been on the move during spring practices more than in recent years because the offense frequently has been running an up-tempo attack.
“You’re putting a lot more yards under your feet and just getting ready for an offense that’s not gonna stop,” said tackle Chris Hairston. “We’re going to try to put pressure on all the teams and dictate the tempo and pace. We’ve done that since we’ve gotten back here. You’re just really pushing yourself to go as fast as possible.”
“I think the thing that really stands out is you don’t have the break in the huddle to catch your breath,” said guard Colin Brown. “You need to be in the best shape of your life, more than likely. Just so you can keep doing it play after play after play. We’re getting them off faster than we ever have in the past. You have to get your second wind in a hurry.”
Just how much the Bills end up using a no-huddle offense remains uncertain. Will they be efficient enough on third downs to stay on the field? Will their defense be good enough to pick up the slack when the offense hurries up off the field? Will they really want to get into a race-horse game against high-powered opponents, such as division rival New England?
Those all are questions for late-summer and early fall. For now, they need to build up their conditioning, particularly among the big men on the line, to make running the no-huddle a viable option.
“Conditioning will be a key, and we’ve stepped it up already,” said center Eric Wood. “Since April 1 our strength training and conditioning has been completely different than it had been in the past. A lot more up-tempo, less about functional movements and stuff and more about just kind of getting after it. More sprints and more agility work.”
“I was joking around with them,” Wood said of the team’s conditioning coaches. “I said, ‘What is this, a cross-fit competition?’ But it’s good and it’s stuff we’re gonna need, and I think it’ll pay dividends.”
The Bills’ linemen are lifting mostly the same cycle of weightlifting exercise they have done in the past. A couple of them said they did more running in preparation for the spring’s voluntary, organized team activity workouts.
“I feel like in the weight room, they’ve cut down on the rest too,” Brown said. “So we try to get through the set quicker, give yourself even less rest time between the sets. You’re still doing the same reps. You’re still doing the same weight – or trying to. But you don’t have five minutes between each set to try to recover.”
“Running is running,” Brown said. “It’s just making sure you’re in as good a shape as you can be.”
When a no-huddle offense is running at a high efficiency, it helps the linemen neutralize speedy pass rushers. The defense doesn’t have time to substitute, and the pass rushers are not fresh enough to attack the quarterback to the best of their ability.
New England, with quarterback Tom Brady running the show, made good use of the no-huddle last season. The Patriots’ offense averaged a league-high 74.44 plays a game. Buffalo averaged 61.4 plays a game, 27th most in the league.
The Bills still have to sort out who is starting at left guard in place of Andy Levitre, who left via free agency. The backup jobs still are wide open.
Nevertheless, the linemen hope they can put some of that up-tempo heat on opposing pass rushers.
“We’re gonna put the defense in some compromising situations with our tempo and the different schemes we have,” Wood said. “It’ll be a little bit of an adjustment. The no-huddle brings a level of toughness for us. We have to be in better shape, we have to communicate quicker. It’s going to create its problems for us but that’s why we’re out here practicing.”
The Bills signed receiver DeMarco Sampson and waived cornerback Vernon Kearney. Sampson was a seventh-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2011. He played in 12 games as a rookie and was out of the NFL last season. He played collegiately at San Diego State.