Bills' Brad Butler moving to right tackle (photo source)
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 offensive tackle position. Previous installments: QB, DE.
At the end of the 2007 season, the Buffalo Bills appeared set at the tackle position for years to come. Jason Peters had just been selected to his first Pro Bowl, Langston Walker was as steady a performer as ever, and things were looking bright.
Just a year and a half later, Peters has held out, played poorly and been traded. That one move led the Bills to re-shuffle their entire offensive line - and now the tackle position looks far less settled, though still quite talented.
Buffalo did not address this position in any specific way after the Peters trade, much to the chagrin of "draft experts" everywhere. The decision leaves Buffalo with options at tackle, but after a draft class that included two first-day guard prospects, the plan at tackle became clear. It's outlined below.
STARTER: Langston Walker
Walker has been Buffalo's right tackle for two years after signing a 5-year, $25 million deal prior to the 2007 season. He is now Buffalo's highest-paid lineman; as he's also the team's best pass protector on the edge (insert the invariable "oh, crap" response here), he'll man the left side. Walker does have experience playing left tackle; he played the position sparingly in his days in Oakland, and he also got nearly two games' worth of experience on the left side in Buffalo's system last season while Peters was re-adjusting after his lengthy holdout. Walker will be fine at left tackle - he's smart, agile and a good technician. But that doesn't mean he won't need help.
STARTER: Brad Butler
I've said it before and I'll say it again: playing right guard for the past two seasons, Butler has been Buffalo's best and most consistent offensive lineman. He has, however, been playing out of position - the college right tackle (Virginia) occasionally gives up sacks to quick defensive tackles or blitzers because he's still learning inside techniques; now he won't have to. Already the Bills' best run blocker, Butler shifts his nasty demeanor to right tackle, easily his most natural position. Butler's biggest problem is staying healthy; if he can do that, the Bills may actually improve on the right side.
What else is there to say about this guy? He's incredibly unspectacular, but he's solid, dependable and versatile. Able to handle both tackle and both guard slots, Chambers' value can't be underestimated as a high-quality reserve on this re-tooled offensive line. He's got a sharp mind and underrated athleticism; those traits have helped the Bills' offense avoid missing a beat when various injuries have cropped up over the past two seasons. Simply because of the role he plays, Chambers may be one of Buffalo's most valuable commodities heading into the season.
Last year's seventh-round pick out of Northwestern State spent the 2008 season in the weight room and on the practice field. Rumor has it that Bell has bulked up to about 320 pounds, and he'll join Chambers in giving the Bills solid "swing tackle" depth. Though vastly inexperienced, Bell's upside is considerable, and if the Bills can find a way to work him onto the field in any capacity this year, it will go a long way in accelerating his development. Until further notice, Bell is the left tackle of the future - but he needs some time on the field.
Picked up as a street free agent last season, Scott is actually regarded pretty highly by Buffalo's coaching staff. He's got some starting experience and some versatility, but with Chambers and Bell on board, he's got some stiff competition for the "swing tackle" role. He's got an uphill climb to make the team.
Denman spent last season on Buffalo's practice squad. He's got a good frame, but not much is known about him. He's a longshot to make the team, and he's even got serious competition for a practice squad spot now.
An undrafted free agent out of Furman, Joel Bell was one of the more intriguing names available on the free agent market after the draft. Like Buffalo's other Bell, Demetrius, Joel has a lot of raw ability - but the key word is "raw." He's a project - but he's a project with elite tools. Expect him to be stashed on the practice squad this year.
Contract situations: Walker and Butler are tied up long-term; Walker has three years remaining on his deal, while Butler has four. Chambers and Bell were both signed as recently as last season as well, though the length of the deal Chambers received in March is unknown. Joel Bell received a three-year deal as a UDFA, so even he will be here for a while - if he can crack the practice squad, that is.
Yes, Jason Peters is gone. If you stack Peters against most OT depth charts in the NFL, chances are Peters would be at the top of most of them. But one trade does not kill a line's ability to function, even if the player is as uniquely talented as Peters is.
The Bills have talent and depth at the tackle position. Four are locks to make the roster; Walker and Butler will be just fine as the starting tackles. Truth be told, the line and protection schemes may be more balanced this season because Peters isn't around to leave on an island. Chambers and Bell are good depth, and the "new" Bell is an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on for future seasons. This position is in good shape. Not "great" shape. But good enough shape to field an explosive offense.