State Of The Buffalo Bills Roster: Interior Offensive Line

ORCHARD PARK, NY - AUGUST 27:Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills calls signals behind Eric Wood #70 against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ralph Wilson Stadium on August 27, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Buffalo Rumblings is in the process of breaking down the Buffalo Bills' roster position by position. Installments you may have missed: QB, RB, WR, TE, OT.

Just a few short years ago, the Buffalo Bills had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, despite paying through the nose for high-priced free agents like Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker. Dockery, a guard poached from the Washington Redskins prior to the 2007 season, signed what was then the richest contract in team history, agreeing to a seven-year, $49 million deal. He played two seasons in Buffalo.

Today, the Bills don't have a great line, but it's certainly a competent one - and while important questions remain unanswered at tackle, the team has good things brewing at guard and center, where no one player makes $1 million in base annual salary. Fathom that.

Even still, there is work to be done within this group of promising young players. Our look at the Bills' group of interior offensive linemen lies after the jump.

ANDY LEVITRE
Age:
25 (26 in May 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2013. Will make $565K in base salary in final year of his rookie deal in 2012.

Smart people considered Levitre a Pro Bowl-worthy performer early in the 2011 season; that was before he was forced to play left tackle as the third-string option, then forced to be a center in perhaps the worst personnel maneuver of Chan Gailey's short tenure as Bills head coach. Levitre's cut a lot of slack because he's durable and fairly consistent when he's playing his best position - left guard - and while he's coming off his best season, there is still plenty of room to improve. He seems to be on the cusp of becoming a truly excellent starting offensive lineman, but that'll only happen if he can stay in one spot. The three-year starter, however, appears to be entrenched in the team's long-term plans.

ERIC WOOD
Age:
25 (26 in March 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2014. Will make $1.725M in base salary in final two years of his rookie deal.

In three professional seasons, Wood has landed on IR with a severe leg injury twice. The 2009 first-round pick became the team's full-time starting center in 2011 after closing out the 2010 season at that position, and while he was good, he was not great. Wood, perhaps aided by his lack of playing time (he's only played in 33 pro games at this point) and position switch, is still not a particularly consistent player, even when flashing moments of dominance. Athletically, he's exactly what you look for, even if he's not a true neutralizer in the middle. Wood's a good player - and if he can avoid the injury bug and keep playing his natural center position, he may even verge on greatness.

KRAIG URBIK
Age:
26 (27 in September 2012)
Contract: RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

Going into the season, Urbik was considered the weak link amongst the team's three projected interior starters. Some (read: me) even openly called for a competition at right guard. Urbik, however, had a season to rival Levitre's; he was not great, but he was quite good, and had moments of dominance. He also proved himself more versatile than many expected when, after Levitre imploded at center, Urbik slid into the pivot without a hiccup and played there for a period of weeks. The impending restricted free agent should be considered as instrumental to the team's success up front as Levitre, and is a must re-sign despite some minor durability concerns.

CHAD RINEHART
Age:
26 (27 in May 2012)
Contract: RESTRICTED FREE AGENT

In his second season with the Bills, Rinehart was again the team's top interior reserve, and when pressed into action he performed consistently well. He is a clear fourth when it comes to the depth chart here in terms of physical talent, but Rinehart is a valuable member of this team as a starter-worthy reserve capable of playing two guard positions. He, too, is verging on a must re-sign, particularly as a restricted free agent.

COLIN BROWN
Age:
26 (27 in August 2012)
Contract: RFA in 2013. Will make $490K in base salary in final year of deal in 2012.

A limited athlete with tackle size, Brown has been shoehorned into a deep reserve guard role in Buffalo, then was further shoehorned into playing time as the team's fourth-string (!) center. After a few hiccups to start, Brown's name wasn't called much in the pivot, which is almost never a bad thing for a lineman. He'll be back to compete for a job again next season.

MICHAEL JASPER
Age:
25 (26 in October 2012)
Contract: Undisclosed. Was signed off of the practice squad in December 2011.

The cult hero of the Bills' fan base spent the vast majority of his rookie season on the practice squad, then was active for the regular season finale in New England, but didn't play. Jasper is a massive athletic specimen, and he's in need of further coaching. He'll be around in training camp, with just as much athletic upside as he ever had - and this time around, he'll be allowed to play the position Buddy Nix, Chan Gailey and the coaching staff actually wants him to play. (Jasper played nose tackle in 2011 training camp.)

KEITH WILLIAMS
Age:
23 (24 in April 2012)
Contract: Signed a reserve/future contract in January 2012.

JAKE VERMIGLIO
Age:
24 (25 in November 2012)
Contract: Signed a reserve/future contract in January 2012.

Williams and Vermiglio are two players with a Rinehart-like vibe to them; Rinehart was a 2008 third-round pick (Washington), Williams a 2011 sixth-round pick (Pittsburgh) and Vermiglio a productive collegian who went undrafted after suffering a leg injury as a senior. The Bills like to collect linemen in this manner, and that process started with Urbik, himself a former third-round pick. Williams and Vermiglio will be in camp next summer, as well.

POSITIONAL OUTLOOK: Between Levitre, Wood, Urbik and Rinehart, the Bills have four capable players. All are roughly the same age and fairly interchangeable; all four can play guard, and Wood and Urbik can reliably play center. Even though none of these players are true studs, that's an enviable depth situation - and now that the center depth situation has been resolved, the only hurdles are health and consistency. Levitre, Wood and Urbik will be penciled in as starters, and if they can finally stay healthy, they could turn out to be a very good interior trio. Add in the fact that the team has interesting developmental players in Jasper, Williams and Vermiglio, and things look wholly acceptable here.

FREE AGENCY: Urbik and Rinehart are both locks to be tendered offers as restricted free agents. It wouldn't be shocking if Rinehart got some looks from teams in need of a starting guard (the same goes for Urbik), but the Bills would be very wise to keep both players around.

2012 NFL DRAFT: With the top of the depth chart settled (safely, we think, assuming that Urbik and Rinehart both return), and with players in development already, it's tough to envision the team adding an interior lineman in April - unless, of course, that player is a significant upgrade in some fashion. That, too, is hard to envision.

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