We knew, as the Buffalo Bills entered the 2009 regular season, that the team's top-to-bottom re-structure of the offensive line was a huge question mark. Jason Peters had been traded. Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker had been released. Melvin Fowler and Duke Preston were unceremoniously allowed to test the free-agent waters. Demetrius Bell made a seemingly miraculous leap from 16-game healthy scratch to starting NFL left tackle, Geoff Hangartner was signed from Carolina, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre were drafted early, and Brad Butler moved to the position he manned in college.
Presto change-o! Buffalo had the NFL's most inexperienced offensive line. It was painfully clear that bumps in the road were expected - and they came in the form of drive-killing penalties and inconsistent blocking. But through it all, we decided by and large that it would be entertaining and interesting to watch these young guys develop as individuals and come together as one cohesive unit.
So much for that pipe dream. Through the first ten games of the season, Buffalo has been absolutely ravaged by injuries up front. They've been forced to field eight different line combinations during that time frame. The tackle position has been hit so hard by the injury bug that it's now affecting the guards; add in the latest and most brutal injury, a double fracture to Wood's lower left leg, and the verdict is simple. Buffalo can no longer hope to see tangible development from this offensive line. It is in complete disarray.
By the way, folks - Wood's surgery was successful. Seth McKinney, meanwhile, was lost for the season on Sunday as well. Buffalo now has one healthy guard - Levitre.
The line combinations
Look, I tried to comb through each of the Bills' ten games to chart each and every line combination the Bills have used this season. I went through each game twice to fleece out every minor injury that forced a player in for even a snap or two. I'm fairly confident I still missed something, so keep an eye on Ron From NM's comments in this post, if he has any. He's the line guru, after all.
1. Bell - Levitre - Hangartner - Wood - Butler
2. Bell - Levitre - Hangartner - Wood - Scott
3. Chambers - Levitre - Hangartner - Wood - Scott
4. Scott - Levitre - Hangartner - Wood - Chambers
5. Bell - Levitre - Hangartner - Wood - Meredith
6. Bell - Levitre - Hangartner - Wood - Chambers
7. Levitre - McKinney - Hangartner - Wood - Chambers
8. Scott - Levitre - Hangartner - Chambers - Meredith
Where the Bills once had continuity - in the interior - that's gone by the wayside. Only Geoff Hangartner has been the constant, and even he has been battered, dealing with a back injury earlier in the season.
Not much more development to be had
If you've seen the replay of Wood's injury, you're painfully aware of just how over his rookie season is. He suffered fractures to both his tibia and his fibula - word is one or both were compound fractures - and stayed in Jacksonville last night to have metal rods inserted to stabilize the leg. He'll end up on IR, and will have played a little under ten games. He got some development and played reasonably well this season, but there's no more development to be had for Wood this season - hopefully, just a lot of healing.
Bell might get a little development time if he ever gets healthy, but he's been in and out of the lineup so much this season that any development he's made has been negligible. Levitre might continue to develop, so long as he isn't forced to play two different positions each and every game. The guy is a guard, and while he's to be commended for capably manning both spots, it's best if he sticks to left guard.
Hangartner is what he is. There's no development to be had there, though the guy deserves a steak or something for finding a way to make it through ten games. That's a rarity in Buffalo. The rest of the players that have seen field time aren't worth considering, as they're not the types of players around which championship-caliber offenses can be built. For the young players that really matter - Wood, Levitre and Bell - hopes for further development this season are minimal at best.
Buffalo needs a franchise quarterback. It is, without doubt, the organization's biggest issue from a personnel standpoint. Given the sheer amount of upheaval along the offensive line, that unit rates a very close second.