Spain wel­comes O-line com­pe­ti­tion

Eight play­ers have start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Mark Gaughan NEWS SPORTS RE­PORTER

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

Bills

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.

Getty Im­ages

Quin­ton Spain, left, then with the Ten­nessee Ti­tans, helps out in block­ing Chicago’s Akiem Hicks in a 2016 game.

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