Note: This is a continuation of Buffalo Rumblings' training camp battles series. Previous installments: RCB, Backup QB, MLB.
NFL experts talk about Jason Peters and his Pro Bowl potential. They talk about Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker, the Bills' two high-profile linemen signings this off-season, as potential fixes for a poor offensive line. Even Melvin Fowler provides at least a "oh yeah he'll definitely start" response from Bills fans. But what of right guard? As the (likely) last position to be filled in the starting lineup, is this position "make or break" to the success of the unit? Let's examine...
The Favorite: Duke Preston (75)
Preston gets the nod as the favorite almost by default after finishing out the season as the team's starter at right guard last season. But that doesn't mean that he is undeserving of this honor - Preston will never wow anyone with his performances, but he is far less of a liability than some may feel he is. He's got the inside track at the job, but there is some stiff competition.
The Upstart: Jason Whittle (65)
The "unheralded" O-Line signing this off-season, Whittle just may end up being the most valuable signing of the off-season. A heady veteran who has worked with position coach Jim McNally previously, Whittle has the ability to play both guard positions as well as center, giving the team quality veteran depth at every interior position on the line. But is he good enough to start? He's been rotating with Preston during spring practices; only time will tell if he can outstrip the young gun.
The Darkhorse: Brad Butler (60)
Judging by the poll results displayed below, Butler isn't as much of a darkhorse amongst Bills fans as I originally suspected. The second-year lineman was barely used his rookie season, when he was forced to overcome a lingering college injury and dwelled in the shadow of fellow rookie Terrance Pennington. But there is one thing that Butler has that Preston and Whittle can't match: tenacity. McNally loves this guy. He's been playing guard for much of his time in Buffalo, and I think the reason is clear: the team would love Butler to claim the starting spot... and he just may.
The Longshot: Langston Walker (68)
There is a pretty strong contingent of Bills fans who feel that Walker, due to his previous failures as a pass blocker, would be a better fit at right guard, where his run blocking skills would be put to better use. This is, admittedly, a fine argument. But it seems unlikely that the Bills would throw away $74 million in contracts on two starting guards in one day, especially when one considers how young the depth is at tackle. Make no mistake - Walker was brought here as a right tackle. If he falters, however, it's clear that he would make a scary right guard.
Predicting the Winner
It is clear that at this point in time (less than four days before the start of training camp), Preston has the edge in this position battle. But this, in my estimation, will be the fiercest competition of the lot during training camp. And with that prediction, I'll make another: the longshot is going to take this one. It is my belief that if he proves he can earn more first-team reps during training camp, Brad Butler will be the team's starting right guard. He has the demeanor of a starter and the backing of the coaching staff - something that Preston and Whittle enjoy, but to a lesser extent. Call this one a gut feeling, but I envision Butler as the team's opening day starter.
Poll Results: Preston By A Nose
This poll was a lot closer than I originally envisioned. It seems that my bold prediction above is not as bold as I first believed; many of you share my sentiment. The results:
Who starts the season as the Bills' starting right guard?
Duke Preston - 26 votes (43%)
Jason Whittle - 0 votes (0%) (this one shocked me)
Brad Butler - 23 votes (38%)
Langston Walker - 11 votes (18%)
Coming Tomorrow: the battle at defensive tackle. There isn't a clear-cut starting duo. Who wins out? Cast your vote in the poll to the right now!