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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.