Buffalo Bills Offensive Line Review: Center

People have asked me from time to time why I got into these offensive line reviews. Offensive linemen aren't even referred to as manning skilled positions. I have a stock two word answer: Melvin Fowler.

Fowler inexplicably started at center for the Buffalo Bills after being signed in free agency in 2006. He started for two years in spite of the fact that he was terrible. He was so awful that I needed to quantify it in order to help people who don't pay attention to the line see just how poorly he played. Fowler was eventually replaced by the equally inept Duke Preston.

Things looked grim until the Bills signed the unheralded Geoff Hangartner to man the pivot and dumped both Fowler and Preston. Hangartner was nothing special in his first year in Buffalo, yet still represented an enormous upgrade over the previous two starters. He improved from 2009 to 2010 before he was injured in Minnesota. Eric Wood, a much-ballyhooed college center, came back from his own injury to hold down the center position for the last four games of the season.

To say that Buffalo's center position has improved is something of an understatement. In 2008, Fowler played five games, and Preston 11. Fowler graded out at 71.8% in the run game (six killed plays) and 73.4% on pass plays (six killed plays), while Preston was a dismal 69.6% on run plays (19 killed) and 73.7% on pass plays (nine killed). Keep those numbers in mind, and then take a look at how much better the Bills have been at center after the jump.

I'm not breaking out the stats of the three men who played center in Minnesota for the simple reason that two of them were playing out of position. (Andy Levitre had reportedly never snapped a ball on any level in live action.) Hangartner only played a handful of snaps in the game, and every one of them was decent, which means they won't sway his grade one way or another.

Center Run Grades - 2010 Season
Week Player(s) Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
1 (MIA) G. Hangartner 0 13 1 0 73.6
2 (@GB) G. Hangartner 1 26 2 0 74.3
3 (@NE) G. Hangartner 3 19 0 0 77.7
4 (NYJ) G. Hangartner 1 10 0 0 76.8
5 (JAC) G. Hangartner 3 14 3 1 75.0
7 (@BAL) G. Hangartner 4 26 2 0 76.3
8 (@KC) G. Hangartner 1 24 2 0 74.3
9 (CHI) G. Hangartner 3 15 0 0 78.3
10 (DET) G. Hangartner 2 30 1 1 75.6
11 (@CIN) G. Hangartner 1 17 3 0 73.1
12 (PIT) G. Hangartner 2 12 2 0 75.0
13 (@MIN) G. Hangartner, K. Urbik, A. Levitre 2 18 2 1 75.0
14 (CLE) E. Wood 12 25 3 0 79.5
15 (@MIA) E. Wood 4 18 4 1 75.0
16 (NE) E. Wood 3 8 1 0 78.3
17 (@NYJ) E. Wood 6 11 1 0 80.6
Totals 48 286 27 4 76.2
Hangartner and Wood (Center) Run Grades - 2010 Season
Week Player(s) Good Decent Bad Killed Grade
1 (MIA) G. Hangartner 0 13 1 0 73.6
2 (@GB) G. Hangartner 1 26 2 0 74.3
3 (@NE) G. Hangartner 3 19 0 0 77.7
4 (NYJ) G. Hangartner 1 10 0 0 76.8
5 (JAC) G. Hangartner 3 14 3 1 75.0
7 (@BAL) G. Hangartner 4 26 2 0 76.3
8 (@KC) G. Hangartner 1 24 2 0 74.3
9 (CHI) G. Hangartner 3 15 0 0 78.3
10 (DET) G. Hangartner 2 30 1 1 75.6
11 (@CIN) G. Hangartner 1 17 3 0 73.1
12 (PIT) G. Hangartner 2 12 2 0 75.0
Totals
21 211 16 2 75.4
14 (CLE) E. Wood 12 25 3 0 79.5
15 (@MIA) E. Wood 4 18 4 1 75.0
16 (NE) E. Wood 3 8 1 0 78.3
17 (@NYJ) E. Wood 6 11 1 0 80.6
Totals 25 62 9 1 78.3

First, take a second to marvel at the fact that Buffalo has gotten decent play at center all season long on run plays. Man, I lack the ability to communicate just how gratifying it is to see the improvement at center; hang on while I wipe away a tear. Moving on.

Hangartner is a pretty good center. He's not the toughest guy, but he's bright and doesn't make a lot of mistakes on run plays - just two killed run plays in 11 games. He didn't need as much help in 2010 as he did in 2009 when dealing with interior defensive linemen, and his improvement freed up the guards to take on other blockers. With that said, Hangartner graded out just a bit over decent on run plays.

Wood took his very good play at guard and transferred it to center. He only played four games, a couple of which were ugly losses for Buffalo. Wood did his part on run plays, averaging 78.3%. Granted, his best game came against New Jersey's scrubs, but that grade was right in line with his grades in the Cleveland and New England games. Only a down week in Miami made Wood look like an average center.

Center Pass Grades - 2010 Season
Week Player(s) Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
1 (MIA) G. Hangartner 1 39 0 0 0 0 75.5
2 (@GB) G. Hangartner 0 26 1 1 1 0 74.3
3 (@NE) G. Hangartner 2 29 1 1 0 0 75.6
4 (NYJ) G. Hangartner 0 35 3 1 0 0 73.4
5 (JAC) G. Hangartner 1 36 2 1 1 0 74.5
7 (@BAL) G. Hangartner 1 46 0 0 0 0 75.4
8 (@KC) G. Hangartner 0 58 1 0 0 0 74.7
9 (CHI) G. Hangartner 0 52 2 1 0 0 74.3
10 (DET) G. Hangartner 1 23 1 0 0 0 75.0
11 (@CIN) G. Hangartner 1 34 2 0 0 0 74.5
12 (PIT) G. Hangartner 1 47 2 0 0 0 74.6
13 (@MIN) G. Hangartner, K. Urbik, A. Levitre 0 27 0 0 0 0 75.0
14 (CLE) E. Wood 0 25 2 0.5 0 0 73.5
15 (@MIA) E. Wood 3 28 1 0 0 0 76.3
16 (NE) E. Wood 0 21 0 0 0 0 75.0
17 (@NYJ) E. Wood 1 28 0 0 0 0 75.7
Totals 12 554 18 5.5 2 0 74.8
Hangartner and Wood (Center) Pass Grades - 2010 Season
Week Player(s) Good Decent Bad Killed Sack Help Grade
1 (MIA) G. Hangartner 1 39 0 0 0 0 75.5
2 (@GB) G. Hangartner 0 26 1 1 1 0 74.3
3 (@NE) G. Hangartner 2 29 1 1 0 0 75.6
4 (NYJ) G. Hangartner 0 35 3 1 0 0 73.4
5 (JAC) G. Hangartner 1 36 2 1 1 0 74.5
7 (@BAL) G. Hangartner 1 46 0 0 0 0 75.4
8 (@KC) G. Hangartner 0 58 1 0 0 0 74.7
9 (CHI) G. Hangartner 0 52 2 1 0 0 74.3
10 (DET) G. Hangartner 1 23 1 0 0 0 75.0
11 (@CIN) G. Hangartner 1 34 2 0 0 0 74.5
12 (PIT) G. Hangartner 1 47 2 0 0 0 74.6
Totals 8 432 15 5 2 0 74.7
14 (CLE) E. Wood 0 25 2 0.5 0 0 73.5
15 (@MIA) E. Wood 3 28 1 0 0 0 76.3
16 (NE) E. Wood 0 21 0 0 0 0 75.0
17 (@NYJ) E. Wood 1 28 0 0 0 0 75.7
Totals 4 102 3 0.5 0 0 75.2

Hangartner and Wood graded out fairly closely on pass plays. Wood was a bit better and had fewer killed plays by far. However, Wood had far fewer opportunities - less than a quarter of snaps Hangartner had. It bears pointing out as well that it took Wood only a quarter of Hangartner's snaps to get four good pass plays, compared to Hangartner's eight. Wood is more likely to finish blocks and a bit better in space than Hang.

I suspect that Wood played his last snap at right guard for the Bills when he was injured in the Cincinnati game. He brings the toughness that Chan Gailey covets along his offensive line. Hangartner would seem to be one of those rare NFL players who lose their jobs due to injury. He may not be done as a starter, as I believe that he will be in the mix at right guard, even if I do also suspect that the more physical Chad Rinehart might win that battle in training camp.

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