The Buffalo Bills have rarely been able to start a game with all of their best available offensive linemen. Rarer: Finish with the line intact.
They could at least have a chance to do so on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, thanks to the return of Jon Feliciano from the Reserve / COVID-19 list.
Feliciano, right tackle Spencer Brown, left tackle Dion Dawkins and main reservists Ike Boettger and Cody Ford have each missed games this season due to injuries and / or COVID-19 outbreaks, sometimes disrupting the roster.
All except Boettger, who is on the injured reserve list after injuring his knee, will be available on Sunday, barring further setbacks.
Dawkins’ play after being sent back into the fire as an emergency replacement after Boettger fell in last Sunday’s win over New England was particularly encouraging. He allowed Spencer Brown to return to the side he had practiced and played for most of the season and Daryl Williams to come back inside to guard.
Equally crucial was Ryan Bates’ play at the other guard post. The line didn’t allow a Josh Allen sack while also paving the way for 33 points against the NFL’s top-ranked defense.
Plus, the Bills became the first team Patriots coach Bill Belichick faced in his rich career that has never been punted. That’s 431 regular season games and 43 playoff games for a total of 474 games as a head coach.
What this portends for Bates is unclear. Perhaps he remains the starter now on Feliciano.
Either way, with Cody Ford also dropping off the Reserve / COVID-19 list, invoices will have options. That means they probably won’t have to deal with the scenario of having to use Bobby Hart, who has already been knocked out by three teams this year alone, in meaningful action.
Hart was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals in the offseason, had a horrendous training camp with the Bills before being fired, signed with the Tennessee Titans, then was cut after three games before being re-signed by the then desperate Bills.
Bates always knew he could play anywhere on the offensive line. But he may have been retained from his previous regular duties because of his value as a backup center for Mitch Morse and the need to keep him healthy because of it.
At this point in his career, the 24-year-old Bates says he doesn’t mind.
“I never really saw it as frustrating,” Bates said. “I’m just grateful to be in the situation I find myself in. They always tell you, ‘the more you can do, the longer you stay’, and quite frankly I consider myself one of those people who can play all five positions … and jumbo tight end. I played a little back. So I don’t look at it that is that frustrating. I’m just grateful for the situation I’m in. “
Obviously, the Bills are the best with Dawkins on the left tackle, Brown on the right tackle and Morse in the middle.
Guard points? How the Bills deal with a perfectly healthy rare body on Sunday will be interesting.