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Four starting roles yet to be filled in Buffalo

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Chambers holding down fort at LG (buffalobills.com)

The 2009 NFL Draft is just over 33 days away, folks. In a little over a month, all of this pre-draft speculation - which we'll happily continue to provide in the meantime - will finally, mercifully, devolve into the real thing.

Until that time, we'll just need to keep plowing forward with mock drafts, rankings, player and positional arguments, and, of course, trying to iron out the best way to fill all of the Buffalo Bills' current roster holes. We'll have it all covered, but the best place to start is figuring out where the Bills need starters.

As of right now, we count up four players that, if things go well on draft day, shouldn't get too comfortable in the starting roles they currently (by default in some cases, by merit in others) hold down.

SLB Keith Ellison
With second-year pro Alvin Bowen returning from a season-ending knee injury and veteran free agent Pat Thomas on board, the Bills are beginning to recoup some of the linebacking depth they lost last season. But that doesn't mean that the team currently has a player that's worthy of the starting SAM spot on the roster. Several linebackers are viewed as immediate starters in this year's draft crop, which means that Ellison and anyone else currently in the "competition to start" group will be watching the draft with great interest.

LG Kirk Chambers
The veteran lineman was re-signed in March thanks to his steadiness and versatility, but I don't think anyone here is operating under the delusion that Chambers is a starting lineman at any position on the NFL level. Chambers has excellent value to the team because of his ability to pinch hit at a variety of positions, but if the Bills plan to take playoff-caliber strides offensively, they'll need a fortified offensive line to do so - and that line probably shouldn't include Chambers' name in a full-time starting capacity.

TE Derek Fine
A fourth-round pick in 2008, Fine missed the early portion of last season, but upon his return made good impressions as a blocker and as a short-area receiver. With Robert Royal out of the picture, the second-year pro currently has the inside track at the starting tight end job. There is a certain amount of upside to Fine's game, and he certainly fits the profile of what the Bills covet at the position, but there's one certain rookie tight end prospect that would immediately re-delegate Fine to "role player" status.

FB Corey McIntyre
Even though he was re-signed in late February, McIntyre was hardly stellar as a lead blocker last season. With the Bills likely to maintain their two-tight end looks in run formations and transition to more spread looks with their now-enviable receiver depth, the fullback is (once again) being slowly phased out of the Bills' offense. That helps McIntyre's cause. If a stud fullback prospect were to slip into the latter rounds of the draft, however, that could change quickly.

Names left off the list purposely
LT Jason Peters: Re-signing him remains the top priority, with a trade being merely a backup plan at this point. Obviously, if he's here, he's starting, and he's not making the list simply because of his apparently questionable future in Buffalo.

DE Chris Kelsay: Buffalo would like to limit the snaps he takes - with Aaron Schobel injured last season and little depth to help out, Kelsay was on the field far too often - but "limited reps" does not equal a non-starter. Kelsay is a virtual lock to be lining up at left end on the Bills' first defensive series in 2009.

DT Kyle Williams: There are a few fans out there who think that adding a beefy interior run-stuffer is a good idea - and I'm right there with you. But that new guy, even if it's first-round prospect B.J. Raji, wouldn't be a starter in Buffalo (just as a rookie defensive end wouldn't). Williams is entrenched as a starter for the foreseeable future.

SS Bryan Scott: Dependable, tough and unspectacular, Scott probably doesn't need to worry about losing a starting role. He and Donte Whitner form a solid enough safety duo; Whitner handles his various coverage responsibilities well, while Scott plays in the box (quite well versus the run, I might add) and has shown an ability to be effective covering top-flight tight ends one-on-one as well. But if there's one thing Buffalo's defense lacks, it's a bona fide playmaker. If the Bills stumble across a safety prospect that can intercept some passes in rounds three to five, it'll be Scott that loses reps.