If you want to blame any position for Buffalo's offensive inefficiencies last year, the easy choice is the offensive line. Riddled with injured vets, green rookies and inferior talent, last year's unit was once again among the worst offensive lines in recent Bills history. But thanks to a $75 million spending spree and better coaching, that should change this coming season. The Bills are bigger, stronger and more athletic up front, and it should allow the team to do a lot more offensively. We continue our examination of the offensive line this morning by taking a look at the interior linemen, i.e. the guards and centers.
Much like the offensive tackles, the Bills have built a core of interior linemen that are big, athletic and versatile. The majority of the personnel on this roster can play a multitude of inside positions, which adds to their diversity. But there are still question marks.
The Bills would like to run toward the edges of opposing defenses more, which requires guards that can pull. The three players in contention for starting spots all have that ability, and are also good enough to (at least) hold their own on runs up the middle. The guard/center group will need to do a better job this season of creating a push up the middle so that the Bills have a more balanced rushing attack.
67-Melvin Fowler: Will be the starting center. The smallest of the likely starting five linemen, many fans worry about Fowler's ability to create a consistent push up the middle of opposing defenses. But that's not Fowler's game - he's smart, very athletic and a technician at heart. He'll play better surrounded with better guard talent.
66-Derrick Dockery: Buffalo's prime free agent acquisition, Dockery is being counted on to be the Bills' top run blocker. Should benefit from playing between Jason Peters and Fowler, and could become a dominant force in the league under Jim McNally's tutelage. Teams with Peters to form a potentially devastating LT-LG combination.
75-Duke Preston: Has the inside track at the starting RG position, but is the only starter that is penciled in, not inked. Coaches like his athleticism and versatility, and he should be helped out by the mammoth presence of Langston Walker at RT. His situation bears watching, but he shouldn't have too much of a problem landing the RG job.
65-Jason Whittle: Could end up being the most valuable of Buffalo's off-season acquisitions. A heady, gritty veteran, Whittle will likely be the primary backup at all three interior positions - if he doesn't beat out Preston for the RG job. His experience makes him a valuable reserve, and his versatility makes him the top backup for our restructured O-Line.
62-Aaron Merz: Not necessarily a lock to make the roster, but has all the makings of a "mini-Whittle". He is smart, tough and physical, but his talent isn't overwhelming. Has the ability to, like Whittle, play any interior position. He could get beat out by someone else, but it isn't likely - the coaches like his toughness, and his flexibility makes him a pretty valuable reserve.
Rounding it out: Zach Tubbs, Christian Gaddis, Corey Davis. The three undrafted free agents all have what it takes to beat out Merz for the 9th OL spot - except the luxury of actually being drafted by the club. Of the three, Tubbs appears to be the most talented and could land on the practice squad.
The addition of Dockery brings a dimension of toughness and confidence that Mike Gandy simply didn't provide last season as the left guard. His presence alone should increase the effectiveness of Fowler and Preston, whose talents complement those of Dockery's fairly well. Having a veteran presence behind the starters in Whittle gives the group that much more confidence and depth. For the first time in a long time, the Bills' offensive line is talented, deep and has potential to dominate football games. That sounds like $75 million well-spent.