Now that the 2009 NFL Draft is in the books and off-season player acquisition will crawl at a snail's pace, Buffalo Rumblings has begun re-examining the Buffalo Bills' revamped roster. We continue off our 'State of the Roster' series this morning with a look at the safety position. Previous installments: QB, RB, TE, OT, DE, DT, S.
When the 2008 NFL regular season came to a close for the Buffalo Bills, the team, at that point in time, employed five interior offensive linemen on its active roster. Roughly four months later, one of those five players remains with the team - and he's new starting right tackle Brad Butler.
Derrick Dockery? Released. Melvin Fowler and Duke Preston? Bid adieu. Jason Whittle? Hasta la vista. With Butler moving out to right tackle, the Bills are in line to feature three starting interior linemen - and four in total, taking in the entire depth chart - that were not members of this team last season.
If that's not an indictment of the team's play along the inside of the line last year, then no low level of play will ever go punished again. Playing in a division that features three dominant nose tackles in New England's Vince Wilfork, New York's Kris Jenkins and Miami's Jason Ferguson, the Bills' interior line was routinely dominated last year. With radical changes having been made, no one is sure if things are looking up inside - but rest assured that it can't get much worse than 2008.
STARTER (C): Geoff Hangartner
Rhetorical question: was there a player position in Buffalo last year that was as much-maligned as center? The Bills, to their credit, saw the need to address the position entering free agency, and Hangartner quickly jumped to the top of the team's wish list once teams were able to sign players. Make no mistake about it: if the Bills had been allowed to sign only one free agent this year, Hangartner would have been their choice. A smart, technically sound player, Hangartner's got his work cut out for him in this division.
STARTER (RG): Eric Wood
A center in college, Buffalo will move Wood to right guard - at least for now. Wood is another highly intelligent player, and is considered an outstanding leader; he was a team captain during his time at Louisville. He plays the game with a fiery demeanor, and his positional versatility will be an asset for the team as well.
STARTER (LG): Andy Levitre
The second interior lineman that the Bills selected on day one of the 2009 NFL Draft, Levitre was a left tackle at Oregon State. Though he lacks the athleticism and measurables to play outside at the NFL level, he brings some of his more endearing qualities (hand punch, finishing ability) to guard, and shouldn't take too long to adjust. He'll play the left side - he's more familiar with that side of the line - and, if the Bills are lucky, will be an immediate upgrade over the departed and severely overpaid Dockery.
A seven-year veteran that has spent time with Cleveland and Miami, McKinney offers some value in that he can play either guard or center. He's also got solid experience, having made 45 starts in his career. Don't expect much more out of McKinney than a dependable reserve presence.
If you're asking Pete Prisco, Rodd is a solid player. I, however, am not completely certain how a one-year practice squad player earns that reputation. Rodd will fight for a practice squad spot again this year, barring injury.
Philip was the center at Cal-Berkeley during Marshawn Lynch's first two years in college. The sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2006 draft, Philip has yet to appear in an NFL game.
A 6'5", 291-pound undrafted rookie free agent out of Colgate, Hennessey has an uphill climb to stick with the team in any capacity.
Contract situations: When you're talking about this many new additions, there isn't much to worry about from a contract standpoint. Wood, as a first-round pick, is likely going to get a five-year deal. Levitre will probably get a four-year accord as a second-round pick, and Hangartner signed a four-year deal - so the Bills have some relatively long-term investments amongst their starters. McKinney is on a one-year deal; this is exactly what the team did with the departed Whittle as well.
Buffalo gets an 'A' for recognizing that change was needed, and a solid 'B+' for finding low-risk, solid-upside, tough-nosed players to fill out the inside of their line. The starting trio of Levitre, Hangartner and Wood has promise - you won't ever see any of these guys take a play off, but you might see them block a guy out of bounds. The attitude adjustment can't be the only fix, however - these guys need to prove they can play, and they also need to show some cohesion as soon as possible. The Bills did good work here this off-season - but in this division, the work's not done until the Bills are able to actually run the football against the Pats, Jets and Dolphins.