Bills 2020 Training Camp Injury Preview: Offensive Tackle

Will Ford & Nsekhe come into 2020 healthy?

This is Part 5 of the Buffalo Bills training camp preview revisiting injuries from 2019 & the impact it may have on their performance and availability in 2020. Part 5 consists of the offensive tackle room.

Not Returning

OT LaAdrian Waddle

Waddle was a Buffalo Bill barely in name, having gone through OTA’s & 2 weeks of training camp before an awful quadriceps tear ended his 2019 season. 

This occurred on a routine practice drill in which Waddle took a step and went down hard, injuring his right leg. He had surgery shortly after suffering the injury and was done for the year. While he was best suited as a swing tackle, the depth on the offensive line for 2020 indicates that he will not be returning. He has yet to find a home this offseason. 

OT Conor McDermott

McDermott appeared to be a favorite of the. Ills coaching staff over the previous two seasons. He was too good to be exposed to the practice squad, but never good enough to garner any playing time on the field. 

During training camp with the Bills, McDermott suffered a concussion during the win over the Panthers. This head injury, unfortunately, cost him a chunk of the preseason, finally playing against the Vikings. 

He then spent the first month of the season with the Bills, not seeing any action before getting waived to make room for WR Duke Williams. Unfortunately, N.Y. Jets needed offensive line help & grabbed him off waivers. He ended up playing 7 games with them and appears to be staying. 

Players Returning

OT Dion Dawkins

1 reception, 1 yard, 1 TD, 16 games, 16 starts, 1016 snaps, 3 holding, 3 false starts, 1 fumble recovery

Dawkins had a bounce-back year in 2019 that firmly established himself as the franchise left tackle. As evident above, Dawkins was durable, not missing any games and showing versatility in the offense, catching a TD pass. He has quickly become a leader in the locker room as this young core continues to develop.

As for injuries, Dawkins has been incredibly healthy during 2019 and relatively over his career. There were no instances of known injuries & he proved to be a valuable anchor in a supremely improved offensive line. He is a lock for this roster in 2020 & while his lack of injuries does not prevent him from suffering future ones, he does not have anything known that may restrict him this fall. 

OT Ty Nsekhe

10 games, 1 start, 359 snaps, 1 holding, 4 false starts

Nsekhe didn’t quite have the 2019 season he wanted to. As an aging veteran, he split snaps with rookie Cody Ford through the season to help reduce the burden as Ford transitioned to the NFL. Unfortunately, Nsekhe suffered several injuries which forced the rookie into action more frequently than the coaching staff likely wanted. One particular injury cost him nearly half of the season.

Nsekhe’s injuries below:

    • Knee tweak

He suffered a knee sprain towards the end of preseason that kept him out of the final game that was described as a “tweak”. It was not known which knee he injured and it did not prevent him from playing Week 1.

    • Left Knee

Nsekhe suffered another knee injury, this time in the win over the Giants. He injured it during the 2nd quarter where he slipped and fell on the knee. He required some time to sit out but was able to return to play to finish the game. The one thing that was never established was whether this was the same knee from preseason and if it was a re-injury or a new occurrence.

    • Right ankle

The veteran lineman suffered yet another injury, this time against the Bengals where he was bull-rushed backward, appearing to ham the right ankle. Like the knee injury, he was able to return to play in that game, getting 83% of the total snaps offensively.

He returned to play in the Patriots game the next week, re-injuring the area again, though it was not clear when he suffered the re-aggravation or it was the same side. He once again split snaps with Ford at the position and finished out the game. 

This ankle injury became so tough to deal with that Nsekhe ended up missing the following week against the Titans. He was unable to practice that entire week and sat out as injuries started piling up just prior to the bye week.

Regrettably, this is not the last instance of ankle injuries for Nsekhe.

    • Grade II-III Right low ankle sprain

Nsekhe was not finished with injuries for 2019 when he injured his right ankle yet again. This time midway through the 3rd quarter. His foot was caught from behind by a Dolphins defender, landing on the back of his heel, forcing the ankle to roll under violently.

He was in obvious pain and was quickly put on a cart for imaging and acute pain management. The initial thought was that he dislocated and fractured his distal fibula, but tests came back negative and was determined that he suffered a severe sprain.

Looking back over his early-season struggles with the ankle, it’s possible that the ankle injury could have contributed to this, but it may have also saved him. There was no way that Nsekhe could have prevented getting his ankle rolled on as bad as it did. But the previous laxity in the area along with the heel sliding out on video replay may have allowed the ankle joint to take the brunt of the forces rather than his distal fibula breaking. Check out the video of the injury below.

Nsekhe ended up missing 5 games due to that injury and while he looked healthy enough to play, his troubles were not over. A more detailed timeline of the ankle injury can be found at Buffalo Rumblings.

    • Right ankle

Nsekhe suffered yet another injury to the right ankle in the season finale over the Jets. Similar to his previous injury, he had a Jets defender fall on the back of his foot which took him down to the ground. He was observed wearing an ankle brace which helped support the area and limits inversion/eversion movement. His shoe also fell off during the play which prevented his foot from getting caught in the turf. As a result of that injury, his day was done in a meaningless game.

Looking back on all the injuries Nsekhe suffered during the season, it’s incredible that he continued to play. His knee injuries are not all that concerning and didn’t appear to cause him issues later on. However, it’s evident that his right ankle will be a big concern moving forward. It is not known whether he had surgery to the area, but it is expected that he required rehab to the ankle to tighten and strengthen it back up.

The risk for a re-injury for a lateral ankle sprain is as high as 80% in athletes which isn’t surprising considering the demands of the position. The re-injury to the ankle alone wasn’t a huge deal early on in the season. The fact that he missed 5 games with the severe ankle injury is the concern moving forward. 

It would not surprise me at all if Nsekhe continues to battle ankle issues. Prior to 2019, he did not have any documented NFL ankle injuries, though his path to the NFL was unusual, so it’s expected that there is an incomplete public record. Ideally, he rehabbed his ankle, will have bracing, and come into the season healthy. There is concern that he now has chronic ankle instability due to the repeated ankle injuries of 2019. The downside of that is he will be more likely to suffer an injury to the area. The upside is that if he does, he will miss time, but he may not miss as much time due to the laxity of the joint. This is similar to what Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette deals with dating back to college.

OT Cody Ford

While Ford is a lock to make the roster heading into 2020, he is one player that got beat up a lot during his transition to the NFL. Splitting time with Ty Nsekhe as he adjusted, Ford held his own at times as the season progressed, but several injuries could have made that transition more difficult. 

Listed below are Ford’s known injuries:

    • Concussion

Ford suffered a concussion following the win over the Titans in Week 5. Like many other players that got injured in that game, the bye week was timed well to allow everyone to recover. Ford likely was a beneficiary of the bye week as he did not miss any games with the concussion, able to progress through the NFL concussion protocol on a tight timeline.

    • Left elbow

Ford injured his left elbow late in the loss to the Eagles during Week 8 where he had his medial elbow struck while trying to maintain a block. While there are bumps and bruises during each play, this injury lingered for the rest of the season indicating that Ford may have injured his UCL, similar to the injury Josh Allen suffered in 2018. 

Due to Ford not having to throw the ball and repeatedly stress the area, the team was able to put a brace and wrap on the area to protect it while he continued to play through the season. He essentially missed the next week against Washington, playing only special teams with Ty Nsekhe getting all the offensive snaps. How much it restricted him could be up to discussion when reviewing film from last season but it certainly didn’t help make his job any easier.

    • Right trapezius/neck strain

In the regular-season finale against the Jets, Ford came off the field grabbing at his right neck/trapezius area following a play where he took on a Jets defender before losing the battle and getting hit into Spencer Long. This could have presented more like a minor whiplash injury which required some brief rest, but Ford was eventually able to return.

    • Right shoulder surgery

Following the conclusion of the season, Ford quickly had shoulder surgery on his right side with little information available. My thoughts can be found at Banged Up Bills, but he either had a rotator cuff or labrum repair based on the timeline and position he plays. He is a player who should be healthy coming into training camp, but may not quite be 100% as the season starts. 

OT Ryan Bates

8 games, 78 snaps

Bates proved to be valuable to the Bills this past season despite not playing a lot. After coming over from the Eagles during a training camp trade, he quickly found himself on the roster as insurance in case injury occurred. 

He only played in 78 snaps during his rookie year over 8 games, most of those games in the second half of the season, but his versatility is valuable as he can play every position if needed. He did not have any known injuries during 2019 & his versatility along with health suggests that he has a strong case to make the roster in 2020.

New to the roster

OT Trey Adams

Adams is an incredibly unique player in that he has the ability to play at a first-round talent level. However, his injuries are documented throughout his time at Washington. Stinger, herniated discs, torn ACL, hamstring strain. Along with a poor combine performance, he went undrafted and signed with the Bills. 

To understand his injury history, go read the article over at Cover 1. At the time, this was a purely objective analysis of the player & his injuries. For a briefer, more Bills-centric view on Adams, check out the article at Buffalo Rumblings.

Adams has a legitimate shot to make the team. If he stays healthy in this truncated training camp, he could find a home on the 53 man roster. It’s possible that he drops to the practice squad, but there is concern losing him to waivers. 

There has been discussion of putting Adams on PUP or IR and stashing him there all season to allow his body to acclimate to the NFL. Since he suffered these injuries during college football, he would be put on the Non-Football Injury list instead of PUP.  As for IR, the Bills have been known to get creative to hold onto their guys, but Adams would have to have a documented injury that could prevent him from playing, allowing them to hold onto him that way. Never want to wish injury on a player, but also want to protect all your assets.

OT Daryl Williams

The Carolina connection is strong! Williams is yet another former Panther to come up north to help bring the Bills to the promised land. Regrettably, Williams also comes with several notable injuries that have cost him considerable playing time over the years including all of 2018. His versatility on the offensive line and ability to return from the 2018 injury indicates he may still have something left. To read more about the torn right MCL & dislocated patella from 2018, check it out at Buffalo Rumblings.

Williams isn’t a lock to make the roster, but he’s a pretty close one. He could be an excellent trade candidate if the Bills suffer an injury elsewhere or could just be excellent depth at a strong tackle position. Even if he doesn’t grab a tackle job, his versatility allows him to move to guard in order to find a home for 2020.

OT Victor Salako

Salako is a well-traveled man who like McDermott mentioned above, is good enough to stick around on teams but not good enough to play. He is likely a camp body but does have health on his side as evident by this injury review at Banged Up Bills

OT Brandon Walton

Walton, a UDFA out of FAU, comes to the Bills as a developmental piece following the 2020 NFL draft. He doesn’t carry with him any serious medical injuries & he does have familiarity with RB Devin Singletary from their time together. Due to the depth at this position, Walton may have a better shot at the practice squad as he adjusts to the NFL. You can read his injury history here at Banged Up Bills

OT Garrett McGhin

McGhin is a familiar face to the Bills going through training camp with them last year before an ankle injury led to an injury settlement release. He eventually found a home in Carolina where he got some playing time before another ankle injury ended his season on IR.

In the Buffalo Rumblings article, it goes into further detail regarding the thoughts on the injury and impacts it may have in 2020. McGhin may have more of an issue cracking the depth chart than worrying about previous injuries in order to make this roster.

Outlook for 2020

This tackle position is a deep position and may stay deep even with the threat of premature roster cutdowns due to the ongoing pandemic. Dawkins, Ford, Nsekhe, Williams and Bates are likely to make this roster due to previous experience. There is a strong chance that Adams makes the roster due to the potential; this will be determined if he has a strong preseason & the team cannot risk exposing him to waivers. 

McGhin has a chance at the roster but will more likely find himself on the practice squad along with Walton and if Salako has eligibility and upside left. The two big question marks heading into 2020 will be the health of Ford’s right shoulder and Nsekhe’s right ankle. If both are ready to go, then the depth chart is set. If they are not ready or have setbacks, expect Williams, Adams, or McGhin to find a bigger role on this team. Tackle is such a vital position that the Bills have begun to lock down, but setbacks at either position on the line could result in unfavorable outcomes on the offense.

2020 FA Roundup: OT Victor Salako injury analysis

Will 2020 be the year Salako cracks a roster?

OT Victor Salako is a well-traveled man. His latest stop is with the Bills and will hopefully be his final stop in his NFL career as he attempts to find a home. He joins a Buffalo team with lots of talent & depth, making his journey even more difficult. However, he has shown the ability to adapt to the ever-changing cuts and demands of each NFL team.

Below is Salako’s known medical history:

UAB 2013-2014:

Played 2 seasons for them appearing in 24 out of a possible 24 games over the two years without any known injuries. He appeared to be on the rise as a prospect before UAB shuttered their program.

Oklahoma State 2015-2016:

Appeared in 26 out of a possible 26 games over his two seasons as a starter with the team without any publicly known injuries.

2017:

Signed as a UDFA by the Philadelphia Eagles following the draft and was a training camp casualty prior to the regular season. He was added onto the practice squad before getting picked up by the Cleveland Browns to their practice squad for the season.

2018:

Signed a reserve/futures deal with the Browns before finding a new home with the New York Giants and was with them through training camp. Following training camp cuts, he spent the season on the practice squad. 

2019:

Salako picked up where he left off with the Giants, making it through the offseason and training camp before suffering a shoulder injury. He was ultimately waived with an injury settlement due to the shoulder injury sustained in the preseason. 

There is little information regarding the shoulder injury with most reports indicating that it was an undisclosed injury. There are no reports on which side or the type of injury. 

He was later signed to the Buffalo Bills practice squad roughly 6 weeks following getting cut by the Giants. This would indicate that the injury was likely minor and that he did not require surgery. He spent the rest of the season with the Bills on the practice squad before signing a reserves/futures contract with Buffalo.

Bills Injury Impact:

Salako has been relatively healthy despite playing in a very physical position. He appears to be on that level of talent where he regularly gets shots at the NFL, but doesn’t stick as an active roster member & is more of a developmental piece. 

Considering the practice squad size was increased following the new CBA, Salako could continue his development at the next level with the Bills for the 2020 season. His health could also play into his favor as some players including G Jon Feliciano & T Cody Ford continue to rehab from their offseason surgeries. 

With Salako being healthy, he could be a trade piece or depth in case of injury as there is little concern for the shoulder injury from 2019. While he doesn’t have the NFL pedigree yet, he has shown the ability to stick around in an NFL locker room. 

Week 11 Bills Injury Review- Dolphins

How severe is Nsekhe’s injury?

Another week, another win. The Bills move to 7-3 on the season with a convincing win over the Miami Dolphins in Miami Sunday afternoon. This is the best start for the Bills since 1999 & 10th time in franchise history that they started 7-3, all previous Bills teams made the playoffs with varying degrees of success. While the Bills are continuing to march towards the postseason, they will be without a key contributor moving forward. This & other injuries will be detailed below. 

WR Isaiah McKenzie (left knee)

McKenzie suffered a left knee injury when he caught a pass going out of bounds with :55 left in the 2nd quarter. CB Nik Needham was close by but unable to break up the pass, instead falling & hitting McKenzie’s lower leg. It appeared to hyperflex his left knee, causing McKenzie to get up & limp off the field. 

Thankfully this was close to halftime where he was able to get some rest & get a quick assessment to ensure he could play in the 2nd half. This injury appeared to be minor & is not something I expect him to show up on the injury report with later this week.

S Siran Neal (concussion)

Neal suffered a concussion midway through the 2nd quarter on the kickoff with 7:41 left following Hauschka’s FG. Unfortunately, the video is not available yet as there was a touchback & the camera followed the ball & not the players. It was reported he was shaken up on the play, but once All-22 comes out, we may get a clearer view of what exactly happened. Neal enters the concussion protocol with no guarantee he is cleared for next Sunday. 

OT Ty Nsekhe (right ankle)

Nsekhe suffered a rather severe right ankle injury with 9:14 left in the 3rd quarter. This was a routine run play by Singletary up the middle when Nsekhe’s foot was caught from behind by Dolphins DE Avery Moss, landing on the back on Nsekhe’s heel, forcing the ankle to roll under the big man violently before his body caught up & he falls down in obvious pain. 

He was immediately placed into in an air cast & carted off, waving to fans but in significant discomfort. The result: a likely ankle dislocation with fibula fracture. There is a concern that he suffered a tibia fracture as well, but he may have spared the more significant bone due to the ankle rolling as much as it did before he fell over. 

300px-Fibula_Fracture
Credit: physio-pedia.com

According to Monday’s press conference, more tests were being performed on Nsekhe’s ankle with no definitive answer at this time. 

This could be for several reasons: 

  • The swelling may have been so great that imaging did not show the true extent of the damage.
  • There isn’t an actual break but significant ligament damage on the lateral portion of the ankle.
  • The Bills know exactly what is going on (they likely do) & are sitting on the info because they have no reason to release it until they feel they’re ready or can sign someone to replace his roster spot. 
images (1)
Credit: physiodirectnz.com

Looking at an alternative video angle from Thad Brown, there is the possibility that Nsekhe avoided a break but dealing with quite a severe inversion ankle sprain. He would have injured the anterior talofibular & calcaneofibular ligaments when Moss landed on his ankle. There is a slight chance he avoided a fracture due to observing the heel sliding out, relieving pressure off the fibula as he went down. 

The sheer fact that he was placed into an air cast & carted off without the ability to place weight through his leg isn’t ideal. His season is possibly done, heading to IR for surgery & rehab if my original suspicions are confirmed. I am not certain but if you go on NFL Gamepass & watch the replay, it appears as though the snap of the bone is audible. I’ve played it multiple times in a row. 

This may be a similar injury to what LB Matt Milano suffered last season. if so, a recovery timeline for Nsekhe would be 6-9 months with my guess being closer to 8-9 months. There are several factors including: 

  • Nsekhe is 34 years old, Milano was 24 during his injury.
  • Nsekhe is 6’8”, 325 lbs. Milano is 6’0”, 225 lbs. 
  • Nsekhe’s bones are thicker & are required to accept more weight than Milano’s, requiring a longer healing time & associated recovery.

While 34 is still a youthful age, it is getting up there when it comes to the NFL. Nsekhe can & should make a full recovery, but considering the mileage on his body, it’ll be interesting to see whether he is able to return to full form in order to compete for a roster spot next year. He should be close to, if not fully ready for training camp & should be able to participate in OTA’s in 2020. He is clearly a talented player, the Bills have him under contract for another year, it may come down to how he looks in camp.

For the interim, OT Cody Ford slides into the starting role he has alternated with Nsekhe all season. OT Ryan Bates will likely move to back Ford up. Once Nsekhe moves to IR, the team may elect to fill his roster spot with practice squad players OT Brandon Hitner or OT Victor Salako. The other option is to find a street free agent or another player off another team’s practice squad. Either way, GM Brandon Beane already has a preliminary plan in place. 

Other observations from today’s game injury-wise include noting Nsekhe’s replacement OT Cody Ford is still wearing a hinged elbow brace with a compression sleeve on the left elbow from the injury in the Eagles game. Each week he wears this brace further confirms that he suffered some type of injury to the UCL ligament in the right elbow & the brace provides protection as the ligament heals. 

Other injury news to note is that DE Jerry Hughes was active & played his usual snap count, highest among the DL group. I had originally stated that Hughes would miss the game & I was wrong. While I did not observe every single snap, he did not appear to be compensating or limited. This also creates the thought that the team is not sold on rookie DE Darryl Johnson. While no one expects that Johnson can be an effective player such as Hughes, it shows that an injured Hughes is still better than a healthy Johnson. 

The loss is Nsekhe is going to hurt. While he is older, he showed the ability to play very well with the offensive unit. Ford is able to step in & contribute, but his play has been marred by penalties & inconsistent play. He will suffice, but the quality of play at the position will suffer. However, the Bills are 7-3 & even with a 3-3 finish to the season will give the Bills double-digit wins for the first time this millennium. The Bills are still very much in control of their destiny & can make noise in the playoffs if they played like they did Sunday.