To say that the Buffalo Bills have forced a transformation along their offensive line over the past several months is, perhaps, one of the largest understatements a fan can make about the current team. Gone from 2008 are four veteran starters, the latest, obviously, being OT Langston Walker, who was released on Tuesday. Replacing the veterans are two rookies, another player who is essentially a rookie, and a veteran free agent center that has never been a full-time starter.
The transformation is not only broad, it leaves the Bills vastly inexperienced in an area that used to be one of the team's most veteran units. Some quick perspective: Brad Butler, making the transition from right guard to right tackle, was the Bills' least experienced starting lineman in 2008. One year later, he's this line's senior member.
2008 starting offensive line
LT: Jason Peters (42 starts)
LG: Derrick Dockery (77 starts)
C: Melvin Fowler (55 starts)
RG: Brad Butler (16 starts)
RT: Langston Walker (49 starters)
Total: 239 starts (48 per lineman)
2009 starting offensive line
LT: Demetrius Bell (0 starts)
LG: Andy Levitre (0 starts)
C: Geoff Hangartner (27 starts)
RG: Eric Wood (0 starts)
RT: Brad Butler (29 starts)
Total: 56 starts (11 per lineman)
The difference is vast. Clearly, the line is far less experienced this season, but the most disconcerting change is, obviously, starting three players that are essentially rookies.
That's not to say that Buffalo's new-look offensive line isn't talented. Wood and Levitre were highly-touted prospects entering April's NFL Draft. Bell has been touted as a potential diamond in the rough for over a year since entering the league as a seventh-round project out of Northwestern State. Hangartner, though never a full-time starter, proved effective in fill-in duty for four seasons in Carolina. Butler is moving back to the position he played in colege after playing out of position at guard for most of his three seasons in Buffalo. All of these players, with the possible exception of the unknown commodity (Bell), play the game with a nasty disposition, they finish blocks, and they have the ability to get better (which, obviously, Bell does as well).
Someday, perhaps sooner than most think, this line could be quite good. The idea that they'll magically gel over the next six days to keep Trent Edwards upright for four quarters in New England is absurd. Like everything else with this team at the moment, this line is now vastly inexperienced and very much a work in progress. Just like they're doing at offensive coordinator, they're now relying on vastly inexperienced personnel at arguably the offense's most important group. It's a gamble. With every gamble the team makes, the chances of success dwindle.