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Bills OT Bell a key figure along revamped O-Line

Most Buffalo Bills fans are keenly aware of the fact that the play of the offensive line is perhaps the second-most critical factor to a potent offensive attack. (It ranks behind quarterback play, of course - but one could argue even that.) New wide receiver Terrell Owens - the man most will credit success to if, in fact, the Bills are able to field a potent offense this coming season - is keenly aware that line play is critical, too. Langston Walker, Andy Levitre, Geoff Hangartner, Eric Wood and Brad Butler - the eyes of Bills Nation are watching very closely. (But only while you're on the field. Don't freak out.)

In overhauling a line that was all sorts of disappointing in 2008, the Bills focused predominantly on acquiring three qualities in their new players: toughness, intelligence and versatility. However, in trading away two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters - and, more importantly, fixing the line with the best players and not focusing on replacing Peters - the Bills left themselves with the same depth chart at tackle, with the rather large exception of our now-former No. 71.

Let's imagine for a second that the current proposed line doesn't work. (This is where you pause for a moment, wonder painfully why I'd even bring that up, and reluctantly push on.) What happens then - particularly at tackle, where depth is largely unproven? That, Bills fans, is precisely why I consider second-year tackle Demetrius Bell a key element to the Bills' ability to field any solid offensive line this year.

Right now, Bell is best known for being the estranged son of former NBA star Karl Malone. That's a bit unfair, but until Bell gets the opportunity to make a name for himself, that's how he'll be recognized. What we do know about Bell deals in hypotheticals: he's got a world of talent, and the work ethic to help him capitalize on it.

Bell spent his rookie season hitting the weights and busting his butt on the practice field. One of the better athletes at his position in last year's draft, Bell lasted until the seventh round because at that point, he'd been playing football for only a handful of seasons. His raw ability and lack of polish made him a worthwhile project - yet a project nonetheless - for a Bills team that has had success turning late-round and free agent gems into solid linemen. (See: Peters, Jason.)

When Peters was traded in April, many experts expected the Bills to quickly replace the departed left tackle with a shiny new one via the draft. When that didn't happen, most expected the team to target a veteran such as former Bengals LT Levi Jones (who still doesn't have a team). That has not yet happened, either (and we don't think it will). A quick glance at Buffalo's depth chart reveals the only new offensive tackle on the team to be Nick Hennessey, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Colgate.

That tells you a lot about this coaching staff's confidence in Walker and Butler. It also speaks a great deal to their happiness with Bell's progress. Right now, veteran Kirk Chambers is considered the backup "swing" tackle; that is a role Bell has a chance to secure sometime during the season, particularly if Chambers is forced into action at one of the guard positions. Bell has the best pure talent level of any tackle on Buffalo's roster. There's a bit of a logjam in front of him on the depth chart, but don't be shocked if he ascends it anyways.

Chambers is the known commodity, and the Bills like him in the role he currently holds - a combination tackle/guard reserve. Bell is still an unknown, at least in terms of whether he can acquit himself well in live NFL action. If things don't go well with the Bills' line, and the team is forced to do a little re-shuffling, don't be shocked if Bell emerges as a starting candidate - particularly if Brad Butler is shifting away from his new home at right tackle.

Clearly, we don't want that to happen. We want the line to hit the ground running and turn into a competent unit. But the situation Bell is in right now is enviable - he has reportedly improved by leaps and bounds in the classroom and technique aspects of the game. He's a smart player, and you can bet that the coaches will take a long look at him this pre-season. (They'd better, at least, with five pre-season games on the schedule.) There is very little pressure on Bell right now - but if things run amiss with Plan A, Bell will very likely be a key figure in Plan B. That is invaluable to the coaches as they enter their most crucial season yet.