Bills 2020 Training Camp Injury Preview: Defensive Tackle

One of the healthiest position groups in 2019

This is Part 8 of the Buffalo Bills training camp preview revisiting injuries from 2019 & the impact it may have on their performance and availability in 2020. Part 8 consists of the defensive tackle room.

Not Returning

DT Jordan Phillips

16 games, 9 starts, 1 forced fumble, 9.5 sacks, 31 combined tackles, 25 solo, 6 assisted, 13 TFL, 16 QB hits

Phillips made quite an impact on the Bills defensive line in 2019 with 9.5 sacks & an overall career year that put the Bills into a tough spot on whether to pay him in 2020. The Bills clearly elected not to pay him and let him go get paid by the Arizona Cardinals in the open market. Beane has gone on record indicating that if a guy has earned the money through his play, then he deserves to go get paid what he feels he’s worth. 

One of the reasons that Phillips was able to be so productive was the ability to stay healthy. He appeared in all 16 regular-season games and only suffered some sort of knee injury following the Ravens game. He was limited that week in practice but ended up playing without issue. 

Phillips earned his contract and hopefully will continue to produce at a high level for Arizona in 2020.

DT Kyle Peko

4 games, 4 combined tackles, 1 solo, 3 assisted

Peko was brought onto the Bills following a stint with the practice squad as a result of the Harrison Phillips injury. He played for 4 games as a placeholder until the Bills later brought in Corey Liuget for reinforcements. 

Peko did not suffer any known injuries during his short stint with the Bills & was cut in early November, spending the rest of the season with Indianapolis & Denver practice squads. 

DT Corey Liuget

7 games, 1 sack, 10 combined tackles, 7 solo, 3 assist, 4 TFL, 1 QB hit

Liuget came to the Bills as a more permanent fixture on the defensive line as Harrison Phillips was injured and Kyle Peko & Vincent Taylor weren’t getting the job done. He came to the Bills as a former first-round pick by the Chargers with a lot of veteran experience which allowed him to adapt to the demands of the defensive scheme with greater ease than Peko & Taylor. While Liuget is on the tail end of his career, he still provided effective play and showed that he could still perform despite his previous torn quadriceps tendon in 2018. Fortunately, Liuget had a better 2020 injury-wise.

He only suffered a knee injury late in the season. Not much is known about Liuget’s knee injury sustained against the Ravens late in the season. He spent two weeks on the injury report limited in practice, missing only the Steelers game before coming back the next week.

Looking back now, it’s hard to say what he was dealing with at the time. Whatever it was, he eventually returned to finish the season but that second-half performance wasn’t enough for Liuget to earn another contract with the Bills in 2020.

Players Returning

DT Harrison Phillips 

3 games, 2 passes defended, .5 sacks, 3 combined tackles, 1 solo, 2 assisted, 1 QB hit

Phillips was coming into his own this past season as a rotational piece in the defensive rotation before his season ended prematurely. He is slowly coming into his own on the field & in the locker room, but missing most of 2019 did not help his progress.

Phillips’ injury below:

    • Left ACL tear

Phillips suffered a torn left ACL in the win over the Bengals during Week 3. This occurred due to a flurry of bodies flying around with 2 minutes left in the game & a body hit the lateral side of his knee, causing the mechanism of injury required for an ACL. Phillips attempted to play in the final defensive series but his knee buckled and he was unable to continue playing. He later had an MRI to confirm the ACL tear and had surgery shortly after. 

He has been incredibly transparent in his recovery process throughout the past year on Instagram & Twitter which does give hope to the fact that he can return to form sooner. He does play in a tighter space which requires less knee movement. This in turn should allow him to be more effective and rely less on pivoting and cutting, demands more suited for other positions. To note, he did have an ACL tear on the same side back in college at Stanford which unfortunately did give him a leg up on knowing what rehab entails. To read more about his ACL tear, check out the article at Buffalo Rumblings.

DT Ed Oliver 

16 games, 7 starts, 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 5 sacks, 43 combined tackles, 24 solo, 19 assisted, 5 TFL, 8 QB hits

Oliver had a productive rookie season, especially in the second half once he lost his starting position. He came back hungry and appeared to increase his game which really made people around the league notice, justifying his ninth overall draft selection. 

In addition, Oliver was relatively healthy during the season but we later learned that he was playing through at least one injury. 

Oliver’s known injuries:

    • Left foot/ankle

Oliver suffered a left foot/ankle injury late in the win over the Titans when he flipped over trying to tackle RB Derrick Henry. His foot slammed into the turf & he was visibly in pain as he got off the field and did not return. Due to the timing of the injury & lack of need for the defense at that point, he was not needed and likely used the bye week to fully recover.

    • Core muscle repair

He surprised everyone when photos of him in the recovery room of the Vincera Institute popped up following the playoff loss to the Texans. It was later revealed that he required core muscle surgery. There were never any indicators that he was dealing with the injury and he never appeared on the injury report with the issue. To read more on the core muscle injury, check out Banged Up Bills

Within a month, Oliver was snowboarding and participating in most regular activities as shown on social media. He appears to have healed up well and should be ready for training camp. As mentioned before, most players who require core muscle repair do very well & return to play with no drop off in action. 

DT Star Lotulelei  

16 games, 16 starts, 1 INT, 1 pass defended, 2 sacks, 19 combined tackles, 12 solo, 7 assisted, 3 TFL, 3 QB hits

There is a reason the Bills keep Lotulelei around. He gets paid a lot, he knows the defense, & he’s available. While he does not get the eye-popping statistics that some elite defensive tackles accumulate, he does eat up space and allow those around him to make plays. Despite being one of the older players on the team, Lotulelei continues to be an effective player. He also did not appear to suffer any known injuries in 2019 which makes him even more valuable.

The Bills did restructure his contract to essentially ensure that he would be guaranteed a spot on the roster in 2020. If Harrison Phillips comes back strong, Lotulelei could begin to fade into a backup role as Phillips increases his playing time. 

DT Vincent Taylor 

3 games, 1 pass defended, 6 solo tackles, 1 TFL

Taylor came from the Dolphins as a 6th round pick along with season-ending injuries in consecutive years. He was waived by the Dolphins following cut down day in 2019. Taylor quickly found a home on Buffalo’s practice squad where he resided until the beginning of November when he was activated to the roster following Kyle Peko’s release

He quickly did not become an answer to replace Harrison Phillips and quickly lost playing time to Corey Liuget. In fact, he only played sparingly against Washington and Pittsburgh with most of his action coming in the regular-season finale against the Jets. Taylor did not have any publicly reported injuries and will have a long shot to make this roster in 2020.

New to the roster

DT Quinton Jefferson

Jefferson comes from Seattle, appearing to finally come into his own after a slow start to his career including two ACL tears and having an inability to stick on a roster. He eventually did become a role player with Seattle & became quite effective especially last season. However, he is coming off a Jones fracture in the postseason which required surgery.

There is a chance that he could have complications from the Jones fracture surgery, but he may be better off as he does not have to run & jump as some of his wide receiver counterparts which could place extra stress on the surgically repaired foot. To read more on Jefferson, check out the article at Buffalo Rumblings.

DT Vernon Butler

Butler comes to Buffalo via that strong Carolina pipeline that so many others have traveled. Regrettably, Butler comes with inconsistent play and several injuries to his name. Defensive tackles do take some time to adapt and as a former first-round pick, he still demonstrates some talent worth giving another shot. To read more about his injury history, check out Buffalo Rumblings.

2020 Outlook

Phillips, Oliver, Lotulelei, & Jefferson are all locks for the roster in 2020. Taylor and Butler have legitimate shots at making the roster and could benefit from roster expansion if there is a need due to the pandemic. Overall, the group is incredibly healthy with the exception of Phillips’ ACL tear when compared to other position groups.

Oliver should continue to grow as a defender & the hopes that Lotulelei can continue to be an effective player while Phillips regains his football abilities following a lost year will be key for this group to be successful. There is the option that the Bills could bring in other talents, but for now, this is a formidable group that can put pressure on the quarterback & provides a strong force upfront.

Week 15 Bills Injury Preview- Steelers

What is going on with Liuget & Feliciano?

The Buffalo Bills haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 1993, a 24-3 win in their march towards a 3rd Super Bowl appearance. Regular season, they haven’t won there since 1975. To date, the Steelers have won the last 6 meetings with the last win coming in 1999. Safe to say there’s a lot riding on this game, a chance to make up for previous failures. To top it off, this is a Sunday Night game, the Bills haven’t appeared on Sunday night since 2007, an embarrassment by the Patriots. There’s so much at stake, we may need a priest to perform an exorcism for good measure. 

The one upside is that the Bills continue to be healthy heading into a win & in playoff scenario. Players are reducing padded practices per the CBA & trying to manage their health during the week to maximize their abilities on Sundays. Below are the injuries & expected inactives prior to the Sunday game. 

OUT

OT Ty Nsekhe (right ankle)

Nsekhe will miss his 4th straight game following his severe sprain suffered in the win over the Dolphins. He continues to show progress, observed walking without a walking boot, but not practicing just yet. I had anticipated that he could come back in time for the Patriots game which is still realistic, but not a guarantee. Once he begins practicing, then a return to play timeline can be definitive.

QUESTIONABLE 

DT Corey Liuget (knee)

Liuget has been dealing with a knee injury all week that forced him to miss Wednesday’s practice, but limited Thursday & Friday. It is not known which knee is bothering him but there were several instances where he could have sustained a contusion due to hitting his knee on a helmet, getting kicked, or having bodies fall on him. Unless a clear mechanism of injury is identified or even which side, hard to really tell if he’s a guarantee to play. If he is unable to go, DT Vincent Taylor gets the nod.

OG Jon Feliciano (illness)

Feliciano was sent home Friday with an illness that affected RB Frank Gore this week & RB TJ Yeldon & OG Quinton Spain last week. It’s flu season & people are bound to get sick. He is truly a 50/50 on whether he plays Sunday night. Considering he has extra time to recover with hitting the fluids & resting, there may be a chance he plays. From the looks of what I’ve seen him do this season, he’s one tough dude. With the ability to clinch a playoff spot, I would think he could muster enough energy Sunday night. If he can’t go, OG Spencer Long would likely get the start.

CLEARED TO PLAY

DT Jordan Phillips (knee)

Like Liuget, it’s unknown which knee he is dealing with. He popped on the injury report as limited Thursday indicating he missed some drill at some point, reportedly receiving extra attention from the training staff at the beginning of practice. Looking back at Sunday’s game on replay, it was a brutal, physical game. It’s no surprise several guys are banged up, especially the big uglies in the trenches. Thankfully, Phillips is cleared to play & he will continue his rotation on the defensive line as they have every other game. 

QB Josh Allen (left ankle)

Allen suffered a mild left ankle sprain as the result of getting stepped on by C Mitch Morse which forced him to limp off the field briefly. He quickly got his ankle taped back up & was able to return to play without missing a snap. As he didn’t appear on the injury report this week, I don’t anticipate it being an issue. He will likely have either some bracing or have it taped up in order to provide extra support. I don’t believe that it will hinder his overall mobility. 

Probable Inactives:

TE Tommy Sweeney

OG Ike Boettger

RB TJ Yeldon

OT Ty Nsekhe

DT Corey Liuget

S Dean Marlowe

WR Duke Williams

The Steelers boast a talented defense, strong offensive line, beat up starting running back in RB James Connor, lacking their top wide receiver in WR Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster & playing their 3rd string QB Devlin Hodges. Heinz Field is not an easy place to play as Steeler Nation shows up every game & this will be no exception. It will be cold & the pressure will be on. The Bills appear to be the more talented team heading down to Pittsburgh to play on the national stage. They have shown they can hang with anyone; this is a winnable game & I expect Buffalo to end Sunday night with 10 wins. 

On a personal note, growing up in Erie, PA, I was surrounded by Steeler fans including many family members. It is incredibly satisfying to see Facebook meltdown after a Steelers loss. I plan on watching the game from the comfort of my own home, watch the Bills win, and then sit back, with a tasty beer as Steelers nation cries themselves to sleep. GO BILLS!

Top Photo Credit:

Sportsbookreview.com

Bills Season Injury Review: Defensive Tackles

Assessing the 2018 Bills injuries at the defensive tackle position.

OTA’s are nearly done and mandatory minicamp is approaching! This week marks the end of Phase 3 of organized team activities in which the Bills slowly ramp up incorporating game plans and molding each unit towards success in 2019. One group that experienced a high turnover from 2018 is the defensive tackle position. Only 2 players and 2 practice squad players come back to training camp that will be relied upon to pressure QB’s and disrupts the offensive line in order for the rest of the defense to do their job.

The first player reviewed is DT Robert Thomas. The journeyman saw time in 2 games early in the season, appearing in the loss to the Chargers, followed by the win over the Vikings. He was then cut and resigned to the practice squad later in the year. He did not record any defensive stats or suffer any injuries. As he has bounced around the league from the Redskins, Dolphins, and Giants, he will have an uphill battle to climb in order to make the roster in 2019.

DT Adolphus Washington was unceremoniously cut, leaving town after an overall disappointing career during his time in Buffalo. The former 3rd round pick appeared in the season opener for Buffalo, recording 2 tackles before being waived where he was later picked up by Cincinnati where he played sparingly for the rest of the season. He did not suffer any injuries during his time in Buffalo and won’t be returning to the team as he was yet another member of the previous regime that Beane & Co. removed.

Next is DT Kyle Peko who was a practice squad member all of last season. He did not get activated for any games, as a result, did not accumulate any stats or suffer any known injuries. Like Thomas, he will have a tough time making this roster unless he really shows something special in camp.

DT Harrison Phillips worked through a promising rookie season, appearing in 16 games, racking up 1 fumble recovery, 35 total tackles with 20 solo, 15 assisted, and 2 tackles for loss. He was the only defensive tackle on the team this season that played in every game and did not suffer any known injuries. While most of the fan base expects him to be the next Kyle Williams, right now he is just Harrison Phillips hoping to build off a promising rookie season. He is a lock to make the roster and Bills Mafia may riot if he’s cut/traded.

The other Phillips on the team, DT Jordan Phillips was a mid-season signing after he was cut by the Miami Dolphins. The former 2nd round pick appeared in 12 games, obtaining 1 fumble recovery, 19 total tackles, 12 solo, 7 assisted and 2 tackles for loss. Phillips also did not suffer any known injuries and re-signed in Buffalo for a one year, prove it deal that will allow him to get his 2nd contract if he plays effectively as a rotational/depth piece. He is a near lock to make the roster barring injury. 

Moving to the heavy hitters of the D-Line, DT Star Lotulelei appeared in 16 games with 17 total tackles, 10 solo, 7 assisted, and 1 tackle for loss. While he is one of the higher paid players on the team, many wondered why he produced so little. He was a big body that took up space in the middle and allowed others on the D-Line to do their job more effectively. The fact that he was relatively healthy didn’t hurt at all either. Injury-wise, he only suffered a back/neck injury which I believed was a trapezius strain in the preseason against the Panthers. He did not miss anytime as a result and that appeared to be an injury that healed up well without any long term issues as evident by appearing in all 16 games. He is a lock to make the roster and will provide leadership and act as a transition piece as the defensive tackle position gets younger.

Finally, the Bill of all Bills, DT Kyle Williams. While there have been many more skilled players to put on the Bills uniform, few played with the heart that he showed every week, year in and year out during his 13-year career. While he never won a Super Bowl or many team accolades, he really provided the leadership needed to get through some of the drought years and helped instill the new coaching regime’s message which had an immediate impact, making the playoffs for the only time in Williams’ career.

Stat wise, Williams appeared in 16 games with 16 starts, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 5 sacks, 35 total tackles, 22 solo, and 6 tackles for loss. He also appeared on the offensive side of the ball during his last game, hauling in 1 catch for 9 yards. Injury-wise, he suffered a Grade 1-2 MCL tear in his right leg during the preseason game against the Browns. Williams also suffered another injury to his right knee during the win over the Titans that appeared to be a contusion and he only missed 1-2 series before returning. Finally, he dealt with a back injury late in the season against the Lions, but did not show any signs of slowing down the last 2 games of the season. If he wanted to come back for another season, the coaching staff would welcome him back with open arms, but Williams does not appear to be a man who wavers on his decisions. He is finished, he can rest, and he can walk away knowing he gave everything to the Buffalo Bills. I wish him well in his retirement.

Overall, the defensive tackle position will have a lot of turnover, leading to fresh faces as the position gets younger. Only Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, newly drafted DT Ed Oliver, and quite possibly DT Jordan Phillips make the roster for next season. While there may be others who make the roster including DT Quindarius Thagard, DT Robert Thomas, and DT Kyle Peko, this doesn’t appear to be a position that has many surprises going into training camp or the regular season.

Continue to check back for the latest updates and news coming out of One Bills Drive. Follow Banged Up Bills on Facebook, on Twitter @BangedUpBills, on Reddit at u/BangedUpBills, and online at www.bangedupbills.com. As always, thank you for reading and GO BILLS!!