Bills need their 'franchise' center

The Mitch Morse injury worries me

Howard Simon
August 06, 2019 - 4:49 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

Get healthy, Mitch Morse, and soon.

I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever been worried about an injury to an offensive lineman before the first preseason game has even been played.

When word came out last Wednesday that the Buffalo Bills' big ticket acquisition from the offseason was in the concussion protocol, it really threw me for a loop. I was in a funk the rest of the day. That is how much importance I put in Morse’s presence on the under construction, new look offensive line. 

Having been able to watch two of the best centers in the history of the Bills, Kent Hull and Eric Wood, I’ve come to appreciate just how important that spot is to the success of the five-man unit.

As much as John Brown and Cole Beasley have impressed camp observers, I think Morse was the most critical signing in the slew of free agents. He is the guy who needs to be the glue for this rebuilt line.

The center is the leader of that group and Morse brings experience, football smarts, toughness and leadership to the group. He also comes from a winning football team that was the Kansas City Chiefs, and brings playoff experience to the Bills. A veteran center like Morse can also help a young quarterback like Josh Allen over the course of a game. Morse is on a short list of players the Bills can least afford to lose to an injury.

Morse’s concussion history just increases my level of concern. While playing for the Chiefs in 2015, Morse suffered a concussion on two occasions. The first came in Week 12 and he missed one game. The second came in Week 17 and Morse sat out the playoffs. Last season, he suffered, yet, another concussion in Week 6, and this time was sidelined for five games.

His concussion history was one reason why some teams were hesitant to give him a big money long-term contract.

If you’re looking for some good news in all of this, Morse was, at least, able to attend practices as opposed to being directed to stay in a darkened dorm room and avoid all interactions. He has been out doing some exercise while the Bills have been practicing, so it appears that Morse is already in Stage 3 of the five-stage NFL concussion protocol.

Assuming he has no symptoms from the jogging and other work, Morse can move to Stage 4, which includes non-contact football and position specific activities. If Morse checks out okay after that, he can be cleared for a return to practice.

The offensive line was one of the biggest questions going into training camp with the Bills looking at four new starters from a year ago. It was important for the coaching staff to figure out the five starters as soon as possible so that unit could have as many practice reps and as many game snaps to come together and form a cohesive group.

Unfortunately, the injury to Morse wasn’t the only setback to that plan. Quinton Spain, Spencer Long and Jon Feliciano have also missed time. Spain appeared to be entrenched as the starting left guard, while Long and Feliciano were battling it out at right guard. The line depth took a big hit when LaAdrian Waddle was lost, perhaps for the season, with a torn quad muscle. Waddle was going to be the swing tackle. 

Guys who were with the second-team unit had to practice with the ones, and the threes with the twos. Rookie Cody Ford has been getting reps at right guard this week, in part due to the run of injuries. I think Long would be a better option at center while Morse is sidelined, but Long missed some time, so Russell Bodine has had to take the No. 1 job. Long has started at center for both the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets. All of those injuries appear to have taken a toll on Josh Allen and the starting offense, which has had its ups and downs for the last few practices.

The Bills have talked about putting the best five guys out there to play on the offensive line. At this point, I think that lineup is (from left to right) Dion Dawkins, Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse, Cody Ford and Ty Nsehke. The problem is they haven’t lined up in those five spots during camp because Ford had been at right tackle prior to the run of injuries.

Ford hasn’t looked out of place at right tackle, but I think the Ford/Nsehke combination would be better than the Long/Feliciano winner at guard and Ford at tackle. We won’t be able to find out until/unless Morse is healthy.

Hopefully that will come sooner rather than later.

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