ORCHARD PARK — There were two major takes from the Bills 24-9 victory over Washington on Sunday afternoon at New Era Field, both involving rookie draftees.
First-round pick Ed Oliver and third-rounder Devin Singletary seem headed in opposite directions.
For Singletary, the 5-foot-7, 203-pound running back from Florida Atlantic, it was a coming out party.
Playing behind starter Frank Gore he had shown flashes that he deserved to be the feature back as he averaged nearly nine yards on 20 carries over the first seven games. But against the Redskins he made his case, totaling 95 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown and adding three receptions, including 49 yards on a screen pass, while contributing 140 yards total offense to Buffalo’s 268.
His star is clearly on the rise even as Gore, the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher, provides mentorship, leadership and tough yards for the team.
Oliver, not so much.
The 6-1, 287-pound defensive tackle, taken with the ninth overall pick, has been pretty much invisible even as coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier have touted his “disruptive” presence and how well he gets along with his teammates.
The numbers contradict his alleged impact.
In eight games, he has 20 tackles, half of them assists, with one sack (on a wide receiver trying to throw in a flea-flicker), four quarterback hits, a deflected pass and a tackle for loss.
Those are hardly the numbers of a difference-making first rounder.
And that’s why fifth-year pro Jordan Phillips replaced Oliver as a starter against Washington.
Phillips mid-season numbers are these: 16 tackles, 15 of them solos, a team-leading six sacks, nine tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
WHEN ASKED about Singletary’s increased role, McDermott allowed, “Every week is different, game plan-wise. Every week is different in terms of the flow of the game.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in Frank Gore. Frank’s a big part of what we’re doing here and his personality on our football team is important. That toughness. He’s played in a lot of important games over the course of his career. So, his role is an important one for us.”
To which offensive coordinator Brian Daboll added, “Each game declares itself. (Singletary) played a lot of snaps the week before. We gave him the ball early, he was producing, so you go ahead and adjust throughout the game. He was having a good game, so he was getting the ball.
“Each game plan we design plays (and) personnel groups for both of our backs. We have a lot of confidence in both of our guys. Sometimes it’s smaller groups, and Devin was in there on some of the smaller groups with the three receiver sets. We were getting some good production out of it.”
AS FOR Oliver’s benching, McDermott explained, “It was just really Jordan earning the right to get more opportunities, whether he started or not, he was going to get more opportunities.
“Ed is a young player that has to continue to develop. That comes down to going through his process during the week and I think Ed would tell you about the same. It’s not necessarily what he hasn’t done, it’s more what Jordan has done and about Ed’s development at this point.”
The coach added of Phillips, “He’s doing some good things for us, for sure. He did bring a lot of energy when we got him a season ago (off waivers from Miami last October) and he’s doing that now. He’s bringing a lot of energy to the table and making some splash plays for us that really make a difference in games. Hopefully he can continue that, but he’s done a good job for us throughout this season.”
Frazier added of Oliver, “He’s done a really good job for us. To come in and contribute the way he has through these first eight games, it’s been a gradual improvement for him. I think taking a step back like we did yesterday giving Jordan a start, which he’s earned that based on the way he’s played, he’s played really well … (and) it will give Ed a chance to have a different perspective.
“I don’t think it’ll put a detour in his progress. It should help him as we go along because he’s around a lot of guys that he can really learn from and he’s been learning from in practice. Now, without the demands of having to go out and start every game — not that he won’t necessarily get back in the starting lineup — hopefully it’s going to improve his play.”
Frazier pointed out, “I sense a guy who’s hungry to learn and just continue to develop. That’s the vibe I get from Ed, that he’s a guy who wants to take it all in and just keep getting better in his rookie season. I think that’s happening. He’s working extremely hard in the classroom. He’s doing what he needs to do off the field as well and he’ll get better as the year goes on. He’s gotten better and time on task is what he needs.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)