Ryan Groy couldn’t help but take notice a couple weeks ago when Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and ex-Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore got into a training camp scuffle and coach Bill Belichick kicked both of them off the practice field.
Groy, the Bills’ backup interior offensive lineman, knows what that’s like because two years ago, he made Belichick’s dubious list of camp practice ejections when he got into a scuffle with rookie defensive tackle Malcolm Brown.
“I had just gotten traded there (from the Bears) like the day before, and I guess he’s got this big speech at the beginning about how he doesn’t allow fights and this and that,” Groy said recently, recalling the incident. “We were in shells, so normally there’s a no bull-rushing rule, it’s just kind of a get fit up thing. I had a rookie who was coming in and kept bull rushing, so I yelled at him once. Next time he did it again, we started fighting. All of the sudden I was getting yelled at by everybody and getting kicked out and had to do some conditioning afterward. I didn’t hear the rule, didn’t know, sorry, whatever. So that was tough.”
Groy lasted less than a month with the Patriots as he was waived at the end of training camp with an injury designation. A month later he signed on to the practice squad of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and a month after that, on Nov. 25, 2015, the Bills signed him to their 53-man roster where he has since become an important cog on the offensive line.
Groy won the backup interior job last summer, and when center Eric Wood broke his leg in the game at Seattle, Groy took his place and started the final nine games, performing better than anyone could have imagined.
The analytics website ProFootballFocus.com took notice. In using deep dive data to break down every aspect of football, the purveyors of the information determined that Groy had an outstanding year.
In early July, PFF posted a story where it named a “Secret Superstar” on all 32 NFL teams, and Groy was that man for the Bills, based on the fact that in 2016, Groy was on the field for 291 snaps in which he was asked to pass block, and he didn’t allow a single sack.
Now, PFF has its devout followers, but it also has its devout critics who doubt the validity of some of the data, so when Groy saw this, he kind of rolled his eyes because, like the rest of us, he isn’t sure how PFF determines these things. The biggest critique of the site generally relates to its grading of offensive linemen, because they don’t know what a players' responsibility is on each line call. Thus, how can they truly grade how a lineman run blocks or pass protects?
They don’t, so, as Groy said about his “Secret Superstar” status, “That’s great, but I’ll take that with a grain of salt. I’m just going to focus on what I’m doing, focused on getting better and helping this team with whatever I can.”
Modesty aside, Groy was very good for the Bills when he stepped in for Wood, and with Wood in the final year of his contract, the Bills made a decision to invest in Groy in the off-season. He was a restricted free agent in March who received a two-year, $5 million offer sheet from the Rams, $3.5 million guaranteed, and the Bills decided to match it in order to retain the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder.
“I didn’t know what to think,” said Groy. “I was excited because I’d never really had a real offer like that before. So, I was excited, thought I was going to go (to Los Angeles), didn’t know for sure, and once the Bills matched, I was very happy.”
New coach Sean McDermott made that call because he liked what he saw on tape when he evaluated the roster.
“I watched what he did last year on the field, and when Eric went down how he stepped in and did a nice job,” said McDermott. “He has the versatility of playing the center position and also the guard position; extremely intelligent individual, adds value in that regard, makes a lot of the calls for us. I feel real good about our depth at that position.”
Groy said he believes he would have become the starting center in Los Angeles, but he’s as blue collar as it gets, a big outdoorsman who enjoys hunting and fishing, and he likes it in Buffalo.
“I’m meant to be in this position,” said the former Wisconsin standout who went undrafted in 2014 and spent that season with the Bears and earned three starts in the four games he played. “(Last year) built confidence in not only me, but the coaches on this staff and the players, proving that I can play and be one of the guys. I can take another year as a backup and learn under Eric and Richie (Incognito), those kind of guys, then so be it. Whatever happens is going to happen.”