ORCHARD PARK – Running back LeSean McCoy had the perfect opportunity to juke the question at the line of scrimmage, bounce it to the outside and run for daylight.
You know, say something politically correct that would sugarcoat the loss of center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito from a Buffalo Bills offensive line that paved the way for the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack in 2015 and 2016, and was No. 6 last season.
That losing his top two bodyguards means nothing.
Instead, McCoy hit the hole and ran straight into an unblocked linebacker. Still, it was the correct read. An honest read.
“I mean, losing Richie and Eric, I’d be lying if I told you that it didn’t matter,’’ McCoy said Tuesday as Bills mini-camp got underway at New Era Field. “Some people might say that to kind of nip it in the bud and get it out of the way, but those guys are great players.’’
Leaving two very big holes to fill.
Maybe free agent center Russell Bodine, 25, a four-year starter for the Cincinnati Bengals, can make the line calls and snap the ball on rhythm.
Maybe Ryan Groy, 27, is ready for his shot at either center or guard after three seasons of backup work. Perhaps John Miller can regain a starting spot or rookie Wyatt Teller turns out to be the next Wyatt Erp.
Maybe someone named Tom, Dick or Harry emerges that we just don’t know about.
But McCoy isn’t lying.
The Bills offensive line suffered two very unexpected hits when Wood, a fixture for nine seasons, was forced to retire due to a neck injury and Incognito’s confusing retirement saga ultimately led to severed ties with the team.
Incognito played some of his best football the past three seasons in Buffalo.
Those seasons coincided with McCoy’s arrival via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Kiko Alonso that should have resulted in an NFL investigation.
Thanks to terrific blockers, what was a devastating move for Shady has turned out just fine with three Pro Bowls.
He has averaged 1,100 yards rushing per season in Buffalo, helping him pad his Hall of Fame resume and helping the Bills snap a 17-year playoff drought.
But the fact of the matter is, the Bills offensive line is not nearly as good on paper entering training camp at St. John Fisher College as it was in coach Sean McDermott’s rookie year.
Not exactly what a soon-to-be 30-year-old running back wants to see.
“Eric is very smart, plays hard, he’s a veteran, been in different scenarios and having that leadership is big,’’ McCoy said. “We don’t have that if he’s gone.
“And Richie, say what you want, but he’s one of the best blockers I’ve played with. Aggressive, tough, I’ll miss him also. A lot of my best runs were behind him.’’
Don’t get the idea Shady is running for cover. The man thrives on challenges and his 10th NFL season will overflow with them.
Along with running behind a remodeled line with two tire patches, he’ll be working with his fourth offensive coordinator in four years in Brian Daboll, the Buffalo-area native and University of Rochester product by way of many NFL teams including the New England Patriots.
Keeping the train on the tracks with either Nate Peterman or AJ McCarron at quarterback until No. 1 pick Josh Allen is ready (and a shallow receiving corps gets deeper) will be Daboll’s main mission.
To do that means leaning on McCoy more than even predecessors Greg Roman, Anthony Lynn and Rick Dennison did. McCoy had 287 carries last year, most in his Buffalo career.
And then there is this: Without Tyrod Taylor, the greatest running quarterback in Bills history to keep defenses guessing, McCoy will be counting eight-man boxes in his sleep.
“It’ll be tough without Tyrod,’’ said McCoy, who is 29th on the NFL’s career rushing list with 10,092 yards, who, with an average season, could pass O.J. Simpson, who sits at No. 21 (11,236).
“He was special when he was here. We’ll be different. Change up some plays, not as many read options, and we’ll see how things work. The good thing is that Daboll is a helluva coach and he’ll figure it out. I have a lot of confidence in that department. And as for the quarterbacks, I’ll say this, each has something special, they really do.’’
With judicious use of newcomer Chris Ivory, McCoy could reach his goal of playing another four seasons. By then, he’ll know if Allen turned out to be the franchise quarterback the Bills hoped he’d be as the No. 7 overall pick.
“From a talent level, he’s going to be really good and I want to be part of that when he takes over eventually,’’ McCoy said. “They took him early in the draft so that’s common sense, but he’s special, that’s for sure.
“I don’t want to make him Jim Kelly already,’’ McCoy added. “He has so much to learn and a lot is on his plate. But talent wise and intelligence wise, he’s got it to be a franchise quarterback.’’
Someone who can carry the load with 35 to 40 passes per game? Hold on there.
“Dudes like that, they get carried away,’’ McCoy quipped. “We got to get Shady the ball 25 times and then you can throw it here and there.’’
The loss of Wood and Incognito aside, McCoy wants the ball, his 30-year-old legs be darned. The Bills will happily oblige. Out of necessity.