The state of the Buffalo Bills' offensive line can be boiled down to one word: chaotic.
Going into the off-season, it looked like the left side of the line was more or less settled and the right side would be a question mark. It turned out that Kraig Urbik (right guard) and Erik Pears (right tackle) faced zero meaningful competition through the abbreviated pre-season. They, along with Eric Wood (center), have been locked in with the starting unit since day one.
Meanwhile, the left side of the line began to experience upheaval during training camp. Andy Levitre (left guard) unceremoniously lost reps with the starters in favor of Chad Rinehart. A few days later, Levitre was deemed good enough to take starting reps from Demetrius Bell at left tackle. Levitre went from possibly losing his starting guard gig to being good enough to be the starting left tackle - and then good enough to start at either guard or tackle, depending on how Bell fared.
Perhaps it was an uncommon motivational technique. If so, it did seem to pay dividends, as Bell and Levitre finished the pre-season reasonably well. It looked as though the Bills would undertake the 2011 season with Bell, Levitre, Wood, Urbik and Pears as the starting offensive line quintet.
Now comes new word from Chan Gailey:
BuffaloBills.com asked head coach Chan Gailey specifically if Demetrius Bell was the team's starting left tackle. Here was coach's response.
"We have not decided exactly which way we're going to go with that, but that looks like it's going to be (that way)," said Gailey. "We'll announce all that on Wednesday, exactly where we're going with all that. We know where we're going."
That's as clear as mud. Reading between the lines, it looks as though Bell will start the year, but will be on a short hook. It wouldn't be remotely shocking if the team gave Chris Hairston a few reps, and possibly even a series or two, in Kansas City.
"We think he's a very good athlete," said Gailey. "We like Mike Jasper. We like his work ethic and athletic ability. We just think he'll be a better offensive player in the long run. We moved him over there and he was agreeable to it and he actually was looking forward to it and I think he was excited about the opportunity."
Jasper lined up at right tackle in practice Monday.
The Bills didn't address the offensive line in the off-season beyond drafting Hairston in the fourth round, and it looks like he will be pressed into service. As the Bills have a history of cutting the recently benched (see: Edwards, Trent), it wouldn't be a complete surprise to see Bell released if Hairston takes his job. As the Bills currently have only Hairston in reserve, someone else needs to be riding the pine. It looks like Gailey may have his eye on Jasper.
An injury to either current starting tackle (Bell and Pears) or a benching-cum-cutting of Bell could make for a wild ride.