The NFL off-season is well behind us, considering nearly a quarter of the regular season is gone, and during that excruciatingly long time frame, the Buffalo Bills made some pretty massive changes to their offensive line - changes that discouraged many experts from being much more than skeptical about the Bills' 2009 prospects.
Buffalo had it hard enough opening training camp this past July with such massive changes to overcome. Unfortunately for the team, those changes have not stopped - and entering a critical Week 4 matchup with the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo will be fielding its most questionable offensive line in recent memory, particularly at tackle.
Demetrius Bell, who usurped Langston Walker as the left tackle of choice in Buffalo this pre-season, missed his third straight day of practice on Friday as he continues to deal with a groin injury he picked up in last week's loss to New Orleans. Bell is out for the Miami game (along with Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott and John McCargo, by the way). That means that Buffalo's top three tackles when the pre-season opened - Walker, Bell and Brad Butler - won't be available this week. (Butler is lost for the season). Heading into Miami, Jonathan Scott and Kirk Chambers will be charged with shutting down what is sure to be a blitz-happy Dolphins pass rush.
Charting the change
Last season, Buffalo's tackles were Jason Peters, Langston Walker, Kirk Chambers and Jonathan Scott. Yes, Bell was on the team, but as he never dressed for a game, he doesn't really count.
Peters was traded in April. Buffalo didn't actually bring a tackle in, electing to shift Walker to the left side and move Butler - a natural tackle who spent his first three years at guard - to the right side. The change didn't stop, however, as Buffalo elected to start the season with Bell on the left side.
Buffalo has transitioned from Peters to Walker to Bell and now to Scott at left tackle. (Thankfully, the final transition appears to be very temporary.) On the right side, there hasn't been the same quantity of change (Butler to Scott to Chambers - and again, the last transition is temporary), but they'll play in Miami with a guy who wasn't an initial part of their 53-man roster at right tackle.
Oh, and Jamon Meredith - a green-as-Bell rookie out of South Carolina - is our swing tackle for this week. Trent Edwards: check your health insurance policy before you hop on that plane for Miami International.
How this affects the Miami game plan
I could say this all myself, but why do that when Jim Kelly is a far more convincing figure? (Not that y'all need convincing.) In an exclusive to BuffaloBills.com, Kelly mentions the following as just the biggest of many downfalls to the current situation at tackle:
Alex (Van Pelt) and his fellow offensive coaches will have to start with their protections and go from there. They’re going to have make sure their protections are sound and then see what’s realistic to run off of that. So they may not be able to go into Sunday’s game with a full out game plan like when you have an offensive line that’s not in a state of flux due to injury.
There are obvious consequences to the continuity on an already-discontinuous offense front, and the whole young players (i.e. Bell) in need of reps at the positions that they'll be playing long-term issue, too. But those aren't the immediate issue. Winning in Miami is, and this doesn't help - in fact, it could be extremely detrimental.
Despite the fact that Joey Porter may miss the game, Miami's defense remains big and physical on the line, and fast and athletic (oh, and big) at rush linebacker. Their pass rush has been stagnant to this point, but does that really matter considering the youth of Buffalo's offensive line and their even bigger issue at tackle? Considering how mightily Buffalo struggled against an athletic New Orleans front last week, the matchup with Miami isn't particularly encouraging this week, either.
Buffalo has a chance to put up plenty of big plays this week against a Miami defense that has surrendered them routinely this season. They certainly have the skill players at running back and receiver to get the job done. But Trent Edwards will need to be upright - or display an ability to quickly diagnose a defense we have rarely seen from him to this point - to make those plays this week. This is a must-win game against a beatable opponent, but the biggest issue entering Miami is whether or not our quarterback will live to see Week 5. Mr. Scott? Mr. Chambers? Please don't suck on Sunday.