Some thoughts on the Bills, namely Ed Oliver, Ben Williams and Buffalo’s preseason schedule:
HOW CONSIDERATE of Ed Oliver to embarrass the organization that drafted him in the first round a year ago April.
On Saturday night in Houston, the 22-year-old defensive tackle was arrested for driving while intoxicated and unlawfully possessing a weapon.
Oliver was stopped wearing a Bills T-shirt with an open beer between his legs after another motorist spotted his truck, towing a trailer, driving erratically through a construction zone.
He failed a field sobriety test and was taken for a mandatory blood draw before being arrested and charged with DWI and being in possession of a pistol which was found in his vehicle.
Oliver was released on bail.
Buffalo fans might tend to dismiss the arrest as a youthful, knucklehead transgression that caused no real harm.
But it did.
The former Houston star put a black mark on Buffalo’s already dysfunctional offseason, courtesy of coronavirus, even as general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott have preached togetherness in the face of separation due to the pandemic.
There are already questions whether the Bills erred taking him with the ninth overall pick in 2019, though he was projected to go as high as No. 3.
His rookie numbers were modest, at best. Oliver started the first seven games before losing his job to Jordan Phillips, who replaced him for the last 10, including the playoff meeting in Houston. He was ninth on the team in tackles (43), tied for third in sacks (5) and sixth in quarterback hits (8) and tackles for loss (5). In fairness, he saved his best performance for the biggest stage, the 26-15 win at Dallas on Thanksgiving afternoon when he logged five tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
Still, Oliver hardly presented himself as the second coming of the Rams’ Aaron Donald and loomed as the defensive tackle under the most scrutiny for improvement come training camp.
The light on him merely got brighter given the current incident, as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could suspend him for up to three games without pay. And though this is a first offense, and seemingly not vulnerable to such severity, the gun charge becomes an X-factor.
This has to be McDermott’s worst nightmare. Two years ago he admitted that the time he worries most is the six weeks when they’re on their own between when players depart from minicamp and return for training camp. COVID-19 has forced a longer period of distance from the team, and this was the result.
The Bills’ official statement after Oliver’s arrest was: “We are aware of the situation and we are gathering more information. We will have no further comment at this point.”
Both Beane and McDermott talked up Oliver’s rookie performance, despite his modest numbers. But you wonder if that view has softened for two men who preach “culture and character” as a team cornerstone and are now tested with a player’s self-inflicted crisis in an already-chaotic offseason.
When the Bills traded for Stefon Diggs, Beane was asked about rumors that the wide receiver’s criticism of his quarterback precipitated the deal.
He responded, “One of the misnomers out there is that we’re looking for all choir boys and that’s not accurate … we’re looking for professionals.”
Maybe so, but Oliver failed the test.
IT WAS WITH sadness that I noted the passing of Ben Williams, the Bills’ 1976 third-round draft pick, on Monday in Oxford, Miss.
He was the first African-American to play football at the University of Mississippi and a total class act.
The man whose nickname was “Gentle Ben,” died of natural causes, at age 65, in his home state.
Williams played his entire 10-year career in Buffalo; his biggest contribution, aside from 45½ sacks, was tutoring the player who replaced him, Hall of Famer Bruce Smith.
Ben was the antithesis of the stereotypical NFL defensive lineman. He had no “mean streak,” instead playing hard and fair, an extension of his personality.
Maybe that lack of angry aggression kept him from being a more productive player, but it absolutely made him a greater person.
IF YOU’RE a cock-eyed optimist and feel the NFL season will go off exactly as planned, you still might have missed the Bills’ 2020 preseason schedule release.
Presuming training camp opens somewhere near when it’s supposed to, Buffalo will begin the exhibition campaign Friday, Aug. 14, at Baltimore (7:30 p.m.). Next will be two games at New Era Field, Friday, Aug. 21 against Atlanta (7 p.m.) and Saturday, Aug. 28 versus Indianapolis (4 p.m.). The usual finale against the Lions is set for Thursday, Sept. 3 in Detroit (7 p.m.).
But the message that seems to apply to any event at this point is especially apt: These dates are subject to change.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)