State of the Bills Roster: Guards/Centers


Butler still can't stay healthy (buffalobills.com)

The "State of the Bills Roster" series trucks on! If you're new around these parts within the past nine months or so, this series is an off-season progression of posts in which we'll break down Buffalo's roster in-depth. From these discussions, we'll put together a "Community Needs List" in priority order, then begin researching potential free agent and draft acquisitions that will satisfy all of the Bills' needs as we perceive them.

Hey - at least this way, we're doing the job right. Right? Unlike a certain front office we're forced to support.

And now, we continue our foray into heavy-duty off-season work at Buffalo Rumblings. It's our "State of the Roster" series, off-season mode, and we'll continue the discussions by breaking down the Bills' situation on their interior offensive line - the much-maligned centers and their wingmen.

  Previous installments: QB :: RB :: TE :: WR :: OT

Opening statement
There isn't a lot to be said here that hasn't already been thoroughly discussed throughout the season. Buffalo's center play has been lackluster for a number of years now, and though the guard play has been better, it hasn't been great. There is little depth to speak of here. This is clearly the problem area on Buffalo's underachieving offensive line. With three of the five non-practice squad players unrestricted free agents, the time for change is ripe.

#75 Duke Preston (starter, center)
  6'5", 326 pounds
  Age: 27 in June 2009
  Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
- The best that can be said about Preston's 2008 efforts is that he beat out veteran Melvin Fowler for the starting center job during the season, and that he played with some passion while he was in the lineup. Clearly, his actual blocking is lacking however. At this point, Preston's best shot at returning to the Bills in 2009 is as a backup at all three interior spots - and that's not a given.

#66 Derrick Dockery (starter, left guard)
  6'6", 330 pounds
  Age: 29 in September 2009
  Contract status: 5 years remaining (UFA after 2013); owed $26.25M in base salaries.
- When Buffalo's line was struggling to run block and pass protect in the middle of the '08 season, Buffalo's coaches called out Dockery as the man not playing up to snuff. They were right - Dockery, Buffalo's highest-paid lineman, stunk during the critical mid-season stretch. He responded by playing better in the run department late in the season, but when former fifth-round pick Brad Butler is out-playing him, there are issues. Dockery has another season or two to prove that he'll be worth the exorbitant dollars he's scheduled to make as his contract expires; if he doesn't do any proving, he'll likely be released.

#60 Brad Butler (starter, right guard)
  6'7", 315 pounds
  Age: 26 in September 2009
  Contract status: 4 years remaining (UFA after 2012); owed $5.65 million in base salaries.
- Butler once again had a strong season, proving that the modest contract extension that he signed prior to the start of the '08 season was a smart move by the Bills. Butler still missed a stretch of games due to injury, however, also proving that the Bills can't rely on his health for a full slate of games. He's a keeper, but his injury history is one of the main reasons the Bills need to bolster their depth on the interior.

#65 Jason Whittle
  6'4", 279 pounds
  Age: 34 in March 2009
  Contract status: Unrestricted free agent.
- He has spent two seasons on Buffalo's roster and has not made an impact in any capacity. He's dealt with injuries as well. Re-signing Whittle would be pretty easy, but if the Bills want to upgrade their depth on the interior - and they certainly should - Whittle's spot is the one that will be upgraded.

#67 Melvin Fowler
  6'3", 310 pounds
  Age: 30 in March 2009
  Contract status: Unrestricted free agent.
- Fowler struggled as the starting center in both 2006 and 2007, and was eventually replaced by Preston as the starter this year after Preston got an opportunity thanks to a Fowler injury. With an upgrade at center looming and Preston a more versatile depth option, Fowler is almost certainly a goner.

Other guards/centers on the roster: Brandon Rodd (practice squad)

The Breakdown
Keepers: Dockery, Butler. Their contracts dictate they'll be back. Butler's injury history is a concern, as is Dockery's lethargy and underachieving. Depth is sorely needed here, and it wouldn't hurt for that depth to be a young guy they can develop.

Extendables: Preston I'm not exactly thrilled with the idea, either, but you can do worse than Preston as a reserve. He should not, and likely won't, be re-signed as a starter.

Expendables: None.

Questionables: None.

Goners: Whittle, Fowler. Both are going to be at least 30 next season, and both are rather average, run-of-the-mill players. They'd be cheap to re-sign, but why bother?

What we need: Obviously, we need a starter at center. We need at least one reserve guard as well to replace Whittle and possibly develop to replace Dockery and/or Butler. We'll put Preston's future up to a vote. If you, the Rumblings community, votes down re-signing Preston as a reserve, we'll add a second swing guard to the list. So yes - we could possibly be looking at needing three players at this position, depending on the Preston vote.

That's it. I'm done with the easy stuff. Now it's on you, folks. Who wants to gush some more about Cal center Alex Mack? Or should the Bills try to fill their need at center with a veteran? Have any names of potential additions you'd like to throw into the ring? Have fun with this, and let's get brainstorming.
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