Spain welcomes O-line competition
Eight players have starting experience
Quinton Spain is taking nothing for granted, even though his 48 career starts puts him in the driver’s seat to be one of the Buffalo Bills’ two starting guards this season.
Spain, signed on Wednesday as a free-agent from the Tennessee Titans, still feels the disrespect of entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2015. His Twitter handle is Mr. Undrafted.
“That’s going to motivate me until I’m the last lineman from that draft class still in the league,” Spain said Thursday. “When I went to Tennessee, it was a competition every year, coming in undrafted. I’ve just got to come in here and compete for a starting spot.”
Talk about competition. Spain was the sixth free-agent offensive lineman signed by the team. The Bills currently have eight interior offensive linemen who have started games in the NFL. Last year they went to training camp with four.
The subjective depth chart by position on the O-line (with games played) looks like this:
Tackle: Dion Dawkins (32), Ty Nsekhe (56), LaAdrian Waddle (61), Conor McDermott (11).
Guard: Spain (50), Wyatt Teller (8), Spencer Long (58) Jon Feliciano (48), Vlad Ducasse (110), Ike Boettger (4).
Center: Mitch Morse (49), Russell Bodine (74), Long.
Long has started 44 games combined for the Redskins and Jets. He easily could wind up as the backup center and the swing guard. Bodine and Ducasse both have been deposed as starters, and their hold on roster spots is tenuous at best.
Of course, the draft is three weeks away, and the Bills are likely to add another tackle to the mix, maybe even in the first round. Another guard? That’s less likely given the number of viable veterans in the fold.
The competition looks a lot more intense than last year. Ducasse and former right guard John Miller essentially went unchallenged as starters in training camp. Bodine ultimately won a tight battle at center with Ryan Groy. Ducasse was unchallenged at left tackle. The threat
to right tackle Jordan Mills from Marshall Newhouse never materialized.
Spain first visited the Bills two weeks ago. He said Bills new offensive line coach Bobby Johnson made it clear jobs will be earned.
“When I met with Bobby. he told me it’s great competition; nobody’s job is safe here but the center,” Spain said, referring to Morse, the big-ticket signee from Kansas City. “And I said I respect that. Because I told him I’ve been in competition my whole NFL career.
“Then he was telling me he was close to the O-lineman from New England,” Spain said, referring to Waddle, who played for Johnson in Detroit in 2013 and ’14. “And he told him the same thing. Nothing’s going to be handed to you. You’ve got to earn it. When he told me that, I felt like, OK, so he’s for real. It’s about competition. Nothing’s given. He’ll treat everybody the same.”
Spain, 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, has better feet than one would expect from a former undrafted player and has received generally decent reviews in his career. His best season was 2016 in the power-run scheme of former Titans coach Mike Mularkey.
The Titans opted not to try to bring Spain back this year, deciding to overhaul their middle three on the O-line. The presumption among Titans observers is he wasn’t an ideal fit for the outside zone scheme the Titans want to adopt. “I don’t buy that,” Spain said. The Bills like scheme versatility under coordinator Brian Daboll.
“I can play whatever system,” Spain said. “I played zone in college. I played power under Mularkey and had my best year there. People figure I can only play one scheme but I’ve just got to prove people wrong again.”
Spain was viewed as a good teammate in Tennessee. After he signed with the Bills, Titans tackle Taylor Lewan Tweeted: “The Bills got an absolute steal, not just as a player but as a teammate too.”
Asked what he liked about the Bills during his initial visit, Spain said: “The culture. When I came on a visit they speak of family, and that’s what I’m big on is family. I just recently got married. I felt like this was home. I felt welcome when I came here.”
Ex-Bills at the draft: Retired center Eric Wood will announce the Bills’ second-round pick in the NFL Draft, and retired receiver Stevie Johnson will announce Buffalo’s third-round pick.
The NFL released the lineup of current and former NFL players who will reveal the selections on the second day of the draft, April 26, in Nashville. Hall of Famer and ex-Bill James Lofton will announce Green Bay’s second pick.
Quinton Spain, left, then with the Tennessee Titans, helps out in blocking Chicago’s Akiem Hicks in a 2016 game.