Buffalo Bills Year In Review: O-Line Hit Hard By Injuries

The Buffalo Bills' offensive line lost a key member last February when right tackle Brad Butler unexpectedly called it a career. Despite several additions in the off-season, Buffalo was still forced to sign a number of new linemen during the year due to injuries.

Buffalo's starting offensive line for the season made it through just five weeks before the first starter succumbed to injury. The left side of Andy Levitre and Demetrius Bell both made all 16 starts at their positions; the last man to make 16 straight starts for the Bills at left tackle was Mike Gandy in 2005, while Levitre accomplished the feat at left guard just a year ago.

The right side of the offensive line in particular went through several players as both starters and reserves. When right tackle Cornell Green went down, the Bills simply plugged in undrafted free agent Cordaro Howard at right tackle. Howard, who had been the team's top reserve lineman, was himself beset by injury, and was replaced by mid-season signing Mansfield Wrotto. Right guard Eric Wood was injured in Week 11 and missed two weeks, replaced by waiver-wire claim Kraig Urbik.

Week 13 saw some epic offensive line movement as starting center Geoff Hangartner was injured. When his replacement, Urbik, went down to injury in the same game Andy Levitre slid over. When Wood returned the next week he replaced Hangartner at center and another mid-season signing, street free agent Chad Rinehart, stepped in to fill the right guard spot.

In the later part of the season street free agent Erik Pears saw time at right tackle replacing an ineffective and Wrotto. Just so he gets a mention, injuries didn't sideline Jamon Meredith but the tackle was released based on his poor performance.

In total 12 different linemen took snaps for the Bills this season.

Not only does adding new players take away supposedly more talented linemen, it messes with the chemistry of the line as a unit. Earlier this season we took a look at the first thirteen offensive line combinations the Bills used. In that article I predicted the 14th different combination that would be used in the Cleveland Browns game. That prediction was a little off as Chad Rinehart stepped in at right guard and not Ed Wang. When Ed Pears stepped in at right tackle to replace Mansfield Wrotto it gave Buffalo their fifteenth and final offensive line combination of 2010.

Week 14 Reserves
Week 15-17 Starters
Combination 14

Left Tackle

Left Guard

Center

Right Guard

Right Tackle

D. Bell

A. Levitre

E. Wood

C. Rinehart

M. Wrotto

 

Week 16-17 Reserves
Combination 15

Left Tackle

Left Guard

Center

Right Guard

Right Tackle

D. Bell

A. Levitre

E. Wood

C. Rinehart

E. Pears

 

The final chart we'll look at today is a compilation of all the starts and games played by Bills offensive linemen this year. Following the chart we'll discuss some things that stand out. 

Player

Games

Starts

Year  Acquired

How Acquired

D. Bell*

16

16

2008

NFL Draft

C. Green*

5

5

2010

Offseason Free Agent

G. Hangartner*

12

12 

2009

Offseason Free Agent

C. Howard

10

4

2010

Undrafted Free Agent

A. Levitre*

16

16

2009

NFL Draft

J. Meredith

 2

2009

Waivers

E. Pears

 2

2010

Street Free Agent

C. Rinehart

 4

2010

Street Free Agent

K. Ubrik

10

2

2010

Waivers

E. Wang

 6

2010

NFL Draft

E. Wood*

14

14

2009

Draft

M. Wrotto

 11

2010

Street Free Agent

 Let's start with Levitre and Bell. The fact that both were able to stay healthy is truly remarkable. Bell was coming off a season-ending injury a year ago and received Wednesdays off during the entire season to help him build stamina from his lack of offseason training. Levitre is just consistent having started 32 of a possible 32 games.

Eric Wood also recovered from a severe leg injury to start 14 of 16 games in 2010. He received days off early in the year for the same reason as Bell.

In all, Buffalo's opening day starters, marked with an asterik in the table, combined for 63 starts. Only one other player who began the year on the Bills roster made any starts, Cord Howard, and he added just four. The Bills found 13 starts from players that were not on their roster at the beginning of the year.

The street free agents and waiver wire pickups that started games for the Bills is a troublingly high number. These players didn't get OTAs, training camp, or preseason games to learn the line calls let alone gel as a unit. It's remarkable Ryan Fitzpatrick only missed one game due to injury.

Players who began the season on the roster accounted for 81 of the 108 total games played by linemen this season. A full quarter of the games were played by mid-season acquisitions. That's not a recipce for offensive line success.

With that being said, many of these players will have a real shot of contributing going forward. Green is the only opening day starter that won't be in training camp. Kraig Urbik received a strong endorsement from Buddy Nix earlier in the year while Erik Pears earned kind words from Chan Gailey at the end of the season. The Bills may or may not address the offensive line in free agency and the draft but they have several players from 2010 to evaluate first.

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