This past April, Buddy Nix surprised not only Bills fans, but the entire NFL world by not drafting a left tackle within the first two rounds. Instead, Nix waited until the 5th round to draft LT Ed Wang. When asked, Nix stated that both he and Bills head coach Chan Gailey feel differently about the left tackles that they have currently on the Bills then most people do. Nix acknowledged that last season was a disaster to start off with, the no-huddle offense that didn’t work and both the offensive coordinator and left tackle getting fired 10 days before the start of the season. Even though Nix did acknowledge those problems, he did say that the players on the O-line and the QB’s are not given a free pass, so they’re all getting one more chance this season to show what they’ve got.
The two left tackles who will be battling it out will be Demetrius Bell and Jamon Meredith. Bell is a former 7th round pick who started 8 games last season at LT before going down with a season ending knee injury. While Bell did show signs of promise last season, he also struggled with false start and holding penalties. After watching film on Bell last year, Gailey believes Bell can play at a very high level in the NFL. "He's an amazing athlete first of all. Run, jump and change direction all of that was very good," Gailey said. "He went in and played as rookie. He started as a rookie. You don't know how hard that is especially at offensive line. And quarterback and offensive line may be the hardest places to start in this league as a rookie. And he went in and did that and held his own. Now, he made some mistakes and you hope the second year he doesn't make those mistakes. But he is really a very good athlete." Bell is hoping to be ready by the start of training camp which starts in 9 days.
Jamon Meredith was picked up from the Green Bay Packers practice squad last season when the Bills offensive linemen were dropping like flies. Meredith had 4 starts last season, including one at left tackle in the season finale against the Colts. With the Bills new strength and conditioning program in place, Meredith has gone from 298lbs to 311lbs. Meredith has been taking all the reps at LT with the first team offense since the rookie mini-camp and looks bigger and stronger through the shoulders and upper body. Right guard Eric Wood said that Meredith is one of the strongest players on the team.
Rookie LT Ed Wang suffered a high ankle sprain in the OTA’s this past spring, but should be ready to go by the start of training camp. Wang is expected to be a backup offensive tackle this season while he learns and continues to develop.
Since Bell is the incumbent, it’s his job to lose. If Bell is healthy and doesn’t miss a beat, he’ll continue to be the starting LT. But if Bell is not healthy by the start of training camp and struggles in the preseason, then the Bills should not risk bringing him back into the starting lineup and let Meredith start the season at LT. If Bell does start the season at LT, look for Meredith to try and overtake Cornell Green as the Bills starting right tackle.
The Bills are heavily gambling on the success of a 7th round draft pick or a former practice squad member to man one of the most important positions on the offense. If the gamble pays off and the Bills get adequate play from either Bell or Meredith, then the Bills front office has struck gold. To get another solid LT from either the 7th round or practice squad, like the Bills did when they picked up UDFA Jason Peters, would really show that the Bills talent evaluators know how to find hidden gems. If the gamble fails, then the Bills will be facing the exact same pass protecting problems as last season. If the pass protection from the LT position is as bad as last season, expect to see more of the same from the Bills QB’s: short-dump off passes, no deep passes, being flushed out of the pocket, getting sacked and the QB’s getting injured. It could be another long season for the Bills offense if the gamble fails. This battle will be watched just as closely as the QB battle by Bills fans.