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.
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