Two days into the Buffalo Bills' mandatory minicamp - their last scheduled full-team activity before training camp begins on July 20 - the big story continues to be fourth-year offensive tackle Chris Hairston splitting first-team reps at right guard with incumbent starter Kraig Urbik.
Chris Hairston is once again taking first-team reps at right guard today. #Bills— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) June 18, 2014
Urbik now taking first team reps at right guard. Pretty even split between him and Hairston. #Bills— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) June 18, 2014
Hairston, you'll recall, missed the entirety of the 2013 season on the non-football injury list. Clearly healthy now, the Bills - who could have used Hairston badly last year - are taking a long look at him with the first team, as he has also logged reps on the top line at left tackle this spring.
All signs point toward the Bills starting the 2014 regular season with Cordy Glenn and rookie Cyrus Kouandjio manning the left and right tackle positions, respectively. (Kouandjio will need to beat out incumbent Erik Pears for the job, and it is nearly universally expected that he will.) With no starting tackle job up for grabs, the Bills are cross-training the rest of their linemen between multiple positions to build versatile depth.
That is, without doubt, a huge part of the idea behind trying out Hairston at guard, which the team has been doing for a few practices now since last week's OTA sessions. The change this week, and therefore the notoriety of the story, has been that Hairston's guard reps have come with the ones. It's why reputable reporters like Joe Buscaglia are writing lines like the following:
The Bills and head coach Doug Marrone are clearly not happy with their right guard situation, because they are trying a lot of different combinations throughout the first few weeks of offseason workouts.
In a Week 14 blowout loss to Tampa Bay last season, the Bills went out of their way to slide J.J. 'Unga into the starting lineup, in place of a healthy Urbik. It was treated as a mere footnote, chiefly because 'Unga only played seven snaps to Urbik's 60. (Two weeks later, 'Unga played three more snaps, but moved Doug Legursky out of the lineup to do so.) Used in conjunction with what we've seen this spring, those seven snaps may have been the genesis of the idea that the Bills are contemplating replacing Urbik in the starting lineup.
It's also possible that Hairston stealing first-team right guard reps from Urbik in June might ultimately be even less relevant than that 'Unga footnote from last year, and equally as relevant as the fact that Urbik himself has been doing some center work in OTAs and minicamp, which is not nearly as newsworthy (though Buscaglia dutifully noted it in the article linked above). Urbik last played center for the Bills in 2011, when Eric Wood was injured, and acquitted himself well there. Hairston, however, told reporters this week that he's playing guard for the first time right now.
We'll know in a little over a month whether or not Hairston is legitimately in play for the starting right guard job, or if Urbik's starting gig is truly in jeopardy. In the meantime, the fact that Hairston is getting a long look at the position only bodes well for his chances of re-establishing himself as a very valuable asset to the team following his year off. The minimum expectation for Hairston should now be that he becomes the team's top reserve up front. It's also important to remember that Urbik's ability to play in the pivot makes him a valuable resource, as well.