On the first play of the second quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bills had an injury scare to left guard Richie Incognito. Incognito had his leg rolled up on, which forced rookie Dion Dawkins in at guard, but only for one play.
Dawkins is a talented lineman who has seen time at right tackle and left tackle throughout the 2017 season. But backup center Ryan Groy had taken reps as a guard during bye week, so to see Dawkins being sent into the game on 3rd-and-1 was surprising. The decision was due to an NFL rule.
The rule may have helped the Bills execute this third down conversion. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison planned a crack toss play that called for the left tackle and left guard to pull and lead. The Bills got two guys, Glenn and Dawkins on the perimeter, both of whom are lineman that you do not want to see in space, as both move really well. I’m not sure if Groy is able to get in space to take out the linebacker as well as Dawkins did on this play. Let’s take a look.
As Dawkins and the offensive linemen get to the line of scrimmage and settle in, you hear a player scream “tight split, tight split”. It is unclear who says it, but it does have some importance. If you look at Dawkins’s split (distance between him and the adjacent lineman), it’s tighter. Typically, the split is reduced for a reason. Sometimes it to make a block easier for the lineman, and sometimes to make a block easier for an adjacent lineman. Remember, how wide or tight an offensive lineman lines up affects the defenders, as they are aligning based on the linemen.
Defenses have been using a lot of 2i techniques (just inside Dawkins) on run down-and-distances to prevent weakside runs, which Dennison loves. So they tighten Dawkins’s split on this play just in case, making a ‘reach block’ for Wood easier. This is still a very tough block for Wood because the defender is on a tilt, making it difficult for Wood to work to the play side of the defensive lineman.
The other key block to help get Glenn and Dawkins along the perimeter was the crack back block by Thompson. This is a block that WR Kaelin Clay was unable to execute in prior weeks, but Thompson executes it flawlessly.
The misdirection or eye candy to hold the speedy linebackers was executed by WR Zay Jones. They motion him across the formation to create split flow. This slight delay will allow Glenn and, more specifically, Dawkins to get into a position to block the frontside LB.
Post-snap, the crucial blocks are executed and the two talented linemen get out in front of Shady.
Shady shows patience, lets the blocks develop, and then explodes into the secondary for a 23-yard gain.
The play design was very good, but one wonders if the play is executed as well if Groy was in at left guard. Dawkins is a much better athlete. Some have argued that he actually is better suited to play guard, and I would agree with that. He has played averagely at both tackle positions, but I believe his ceiling is much higher at the guard position. But seeing as he is a rookie, has already played multiple positions, and had an uphill battle playing tackle after coming from Temple University, I would be surprised if they move him to guard right now.
After the 23-yard gain, the staff then sent Groy in to play left guard up until Richie returned to the game.
Dawkins as a guard in the future would definitely give the Bills a much better front five, especially seeing as how right guards John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse have struggled. But you gotta hand it to the rookie; he showed off some incredible mental toughness on this play, given the situation.
In my opinion, he has shown to be an average tackle, but could be a top-ten guard if moved.