After two solid, yet unspectacular seasons to begin his career, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver made a big leap in 2021. Now entering his fourth season with the team since being selected with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Oliver is ready to put it all together as a key cog in Buffalo’s revamped defensive line.
Oliver’s 2021 campaign was his best to date. The 2017 Outland Award winner tallied 41 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four sacks, three pass breakups and one forced fumble. His 48 pressures were tied for 12th most among defensive tackles, while his 12 hits were third-most at the position. On the surface, four sacks isn’t much to write home about, but the 6-foot-1, 285-pound wrecking ball had a handful called back due to penalties. Entering year four, it isn’t a stretch to believe that number could double.
Bills General Manager Brandon Beane once again made a concerted effort to bolster Buffalo’s defensive line during the offseason, signing a stout one-technique in DaQuan Jones, and adding future Hall of Fame edge rusher Von Miller to bring ferocious pressure off the edge. Both signings will greatly benefit Oliver, the undersized, yet powerful and twitched-up defender that’s improved in each of his three seasons with the team.
Jones’ presence will allow Oliver to thrive as a one-gapping three-technique, where he’ll thrive in one-on-one situations. Miller’s presence should attract significant attention from opposing offenses, leaving favorable matchups for Oliver and the rest of the defensive line. This dominance has already been evident through Buffalo’s first two weeks of training camp, as the team’s offensive line has struggled to slow down the relentless pass rush by the new-look unit.
“To be honest, it’s cheating when we’re on the same side – it’s definitely a win,” Oliver said about lining up with Miller during training camp. “But when we’re on opposite sides it’s even better. I know Mitch (Morse) says when they’re on the same side, it’s like “Okay, take care of them” but when we’re on opposite sides (the offensive line) is like “okay, which one do we take care of?” Either way, it’s fine with me.”
While Oliver will obviously enjoy being able to feast upon interior linemen as a result of the extra attention paid to Miller, the two-time Super Bowl champion sees more of a symbiotic relationship with his new teammate. When addressing the media following Buffalo’s first day of training camp, Miller pointed to Oliver as a player he’s excited to line up with, explaining that he’s always had a quality three-technique alongside him when he’s been at his best.
“That feels good, to have a guy of that caliber who has been in the league and earned those stripes to be like, ‘Yeah, I got some help,’ and embrace me,” Oliver says of Miller’s praise. “Like that’s Von being happy to play with you, excited to play with you, and line up side by side to go to war with you. That just means a lot to me as far as confidence and knowing that I can count on him and he can count on me.”
Expectations were high for this unit at this time last season, though. Former second-round pick A.J. Epenesa looked like he was ready to break out, while Star Lotulelei’s return to the lineup was a cause for excitement as well. However, this year’s unit is more talented from top to bottom and boasts more depth than the group from a year ago. And while Miller is the star of the group, Oliver sees a cohesive group developing right before his eyes.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not only Von,” Oliver said of the talent along the defensive line. “But Greg (Rousseau) and his growth, and Phil (Jordan Phillips) being back and DaQuan, like all of us rushing together and getting a feel. It’s not just Von – he can only do so much – but us as a unit and coming together and rushing. It doesn’t matter who’s winning, but is everyone in position and ready to make each other right? That’s the thing this camp that’s been standing out. It’s not just one of us winning it’s all four of us winning.”
And they have been winning. A lot. At one point during a training camp practice, Head Coach Sean McDermott had to take the first-team defensive line off the field, just so the offense could execute plays without being disrupted.
McDermott actually removed the first team D-line at one point because the office needed to work on some stuff. We’re that good. Can’t wait until Tim Settle and DeQuan Jones are available on the same day. The Tag Team should be penetrators.
— Dean Kindig (@TCBILLS_Astro) August 1, 2022
Buffalo finished the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense last season and their 42 sacks ranked No. 11 in the NFL. But that No. 1 defense means nothing to Oliver if a Super Bowl doesn’t come with it.
“We didn’t win a Super Bowl,” Oliver said when asked about the defense’s chances of repeating their No. 1 ranking. “You always have to strive for something. Being No. 1 is good, and we want to repeat that, but at the same time, we have a championship mindset. We’re trying to go get something. We’re trying to earn the right to play in a game of that magnitude. So just being able to play good late in games at the end of the year, having everybody healthy, there are a lot of things that go into having a good defense, and just being No. 1 is not enough.”
A productive 2021 was a step in the right direction, but the stars are now aligned for a breakout campaign in 2022 for Ed Oliver. He’s got a talented group around him, he’s refined his technique and dedicated himself to improving during the offseason. Now, it’s about getting a feel for his new teammates and building a foundation for the season.
“Just tightening up, being more precise with my hands, more precise with my footwork and rushing together with other guys. We’re getting a feel for each other and carrying that over to the season is going to be key.”
Despite being just 24 years old, Oliver is experienced and knows the margin for error in the NFL is slim, particularly after being a part of the “13 seconds” meltdown during the AFC Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. To the Houston product, the key for this year’s Bills team is grinding it out and finding a way to persevere through difficult times in order to emerge as Super Bowl champions.
“You’ve got to find a way. A lot of these teams are evenly matched. Last year four teams lost by a touchdown in the second round of the playoffs. Like, it’s so close, you just have to find a way. There’s nothing really separating these teams besides a play or two.
“These games are so evenly matched, that you just have to find a way. Whether it’s out here (at camp) when it gets hot and pushing all the way through, or being back in Buffalo late in the season when it’s cold – just find a way.”