Re-Assessing The Bills' Offensive Line Depth Chart

Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey made it clear following his team's pre-season loss to the Chicago Bears that he wasn't pleased with the play of his depth players, particularly along the offensive line. Now, he's made a switch at left guard, promoting Chad Rinehart over Andy Levitre (if only for a day), and GM Buddy Nix has joined Gailey in commenting on the team's glaring lack of depth up front.

Given that things are being re-assessed up front by the team, I figured it was high time to do so here. There's a lot of confusion in the fan base regarding the Levitre demotion, and I figured I'd offer my own take as a starting point for hashing this thing out.

Gailey has also made it very clear that he was satisfied with the play of his first unit offensive line - including Levitre's play - in Chicago. That said, we're still going to lump the starters into this re-assessment to try to get a fuller understanding of the team's depth chart. Again, this is all guesswork, so bear that in mind.

Swing Tackles
We'll start at the crux of the team's line depth: players that the team views as options both inside at guard and outside at tackle. These are the players around which true line depth is built.

  1. Mansfield Wrotto: Signed to a two-year deal in March, prior to the lockout. Has more playing time in Gailey's offense than most of his depth peers. Has been the second-team right guard throughout training camp.
  2. Cordaro Howard: Also has playing time in Gailey's offense. Missed some camp time due to injury, and has seen time at both left and right tackle when healthy.

Offensive Tackles
The team's two starters at tackle, for better or worse, appear set. Figuring out the rest is a very difficult task, indeed.

  1. Demetrius Bell: Nobody's job in the front five is safer than Bell's - mostly because he's got no competition. The team desperately needs another 16 healthy games from him.
  2. Erik Pears: He's been the starting right tackle since Week 16 of the 2010 season, and that won't be changing any time soon. By year's end, Pears might be the least of our problems up front.
  3. Chris Hairston: It seems like the Bills will be going out of their way to keep Hairston off the field in 2011, as he's not remotely ready to play. They like him, however, and it's likely his roster spot is safe.
  4. Ed Wang: Technically, we could argue that Wang belongs in the swing tackle group, but as he's been the chief understudy of Bell all summer, we'll put him here instead. Wang has struggled, to put it mildly.
  5. Jason Watkins: An intriguing athlete, Watkins has never been able to ascend the team's depth chart. He's a huge longshot to make the team.

Guards and Centers
Obviously, this is where the most upheaval has occurred within the past 24 hours. We're not sure we're comfortable with the pecking order below, either, but we still think the logic is sound.

  1. Eric Wood: Aside from Bell, nobody's job is safer than Wood's. It's clear that Wood is the team's best lineman, and any lingering doubt as to where he'll line up this year is quickly subsiding. He's the center.
  2. Kraig Urbik: For whatever reason, Gailey hasn't seen fit to give Urbik a challenger yet. That means he's more satisfied with Urbik's play than Levitre's, right? Or, at least, he's higher on Urbik's upside.
  3. Andy Levitre: Rinehart hasn't taken Levitre's job yet, as evidenced by Levitre returning to the first unit Wednesday morning. Gailey said that he'll compete for a starting job, and thus far, Levitre's made more starts at the position this pre-season than Rinehart has.
  4. Chad Rinehart: The one reserve (to start camp) lineman that has proven to the coaching staff that he deserves consideration as a starter. His chances of making the team skyrocketed yesterday.
  5. Geoff Hangartner: It's been a quiet pre-season for Hangartner, who remains entrenched as the second-team center.
  6. Colin Brown: A longshot to make the roster.
  7. Isaiah Thompson: A longer shot to make the roster.
  8. Michael Switzer: A longer shot to make the roster.

Last year, the Bills had nine offensive linemen on the active roster to start the season. Pick nine, folks. It's not easy to do.

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