Coming into the 2009 season, the Buffalo Bills offensive line underwent an extreme makeover. Pro bowl left tackle Jason Peters was traded to Philadelphia. Derrick Dockery was released. Buffalo decided Melvin Fowler and Duke Preston didn’t fit into their plans and were not brought back.
Tackle Langston Walker was tabbed to replace Peters as the starting left tackle, only to be released in the days leading up to the season opener. Virtual unknown Demetrius Bell was thrust into the starting left tackle role. Geoff Hangartner was signed as a free agent from Carolina. Buffalo decided to move Brad Butler back to his normal position at tackle and the Bills drafted Eric Wood and Andy Levitre in April.
With an infusion of youth and inexperience, it was naive to expect this unit to morph into the Electric Company as the season progressed. They’ve endured their fair share of penalties and drive killers. But they can’t be blamed for their age or lack of NFL playing experience. The trio of Bell, Wood and Levitre are learning on the job each week.
Rookies take their lumps and bumps by doing, it’s part of the game and it’ll always be part of the game. They don’t work in the front office. I promise you Wood nor Levitre pulled the trigger on the Peters trade or Walker’s release. They also can’t be held accountable for the relentless injuries the offensive line has suffered.
Suddenly, the Bills had one of the youngest and most inexperienced lines in all of football. 80 percent of their starting unit (Bell, Hangartner, Levitre and Wood) had never made a start in a Bills uniform before Week 1. Money, performance and youth have all played key factors in the Bills’ offensive line changes and woes, but injuries have ravaged the group particularly at tackle.
Butler was placed on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury in Week 1 against New England. Reserve Jonathan Scott saw his first action against Jacksonville in over a month after dealing with an ankle injury. With both Butler and Scott missing action, the Bills have had to turn to veteran Kirk Chambers and rookie Jamon Meredith. Meredith, however, suffered a knee injury two weeks ago against the the Titans, as did Demetrius Bell. Bell is considered week to week, though it’s unclear when he’ll return.
Now we add in the latest devastating injuries to Wood and backup Seth McKinney, both of whom were lost for the rest of the season. Wood suffered a broken leg in Sunday’s loss and McKinney suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee. Both players will join Butler on injured reserve. With the losses to Wood and McKinney, Levitre becomes the Bills’ only healthy guard.
Development has been hampered. Bell has shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, starting in only half of the 10 games this season. Reserves (McKinney, Meredith, Chambers, Scott) have had to take on increased roles. Wood will now miss the final six games of the season, losing out on valuable playing time and experience. Hangartner is the only offensive lineman to start every game this season at one position.
While it’s no secret the Bills need a franchise quarterback, I think with the shape and sheer chaos the offensive line is in at this particular point, it seems as though the offensive line priorities may have leap frogged the quarterbacking need.