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Style will play role in Bills OT evaluations

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Last week's announcement that now former Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Brad Butler would be retiring from football has left his former team with quite the predicament along the offensive line. Already in need of an infusion of talent prior to Butler's retirement, the Bills are suddenly looking for two starting tackles - unless, of course, they're comfortable entering the 2010 season with either Demetrius Bell or Jamon Meredith as a starter on the edge.

The one positive in this situation is that while this year's free agent class isn't heavy on starting-caliber tackles, there are solid prospects available at the position in the 2010 NFL Draft. NFL Network's Mike Mayock believes, for the time being, that there are six tackles worthy of first-round consideration this year. With Buffalo picking No. 9 overall, if they decide that tackle is too pressing a need to pass one up, they're almost certain to have a good player available to them.

Unless, of course, they get picky. And why shouldn't they? GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have a specific style of play that they'd like to install as their team's identity. Playing in the brutal winters of Western New York, Nix has spoken more than once of the importance of getting bigger and more physical, and being able to play well in the elements. That might limit Buffalo's choices at left tackle this year, at least when it comes to rookie prospects.

The top tackle available this year is fairly universally Russell Okung, a senior out of Oklahoma State. Okung measured in at the NFL Combine yesterday at 6'5", 307 pounds with lengthy 36-inch arms - arms that helped him establish himself as the best pass protector available this year. But he also comes from a zone-blocking scheme in college, and clearly isn't among the top run-blockers available this year. Even if Okung were to be available to Buffalo with the ninth pick, his style of play may knock him down on Buffalo's board a peg or two.

Rutgers' Anthony Davis, meanwhile, fits the Buffalo mold much better in terms of what he does on the field. He measured in at 6'5", 323 pounds with 34-inch arms, and if you're looking for the best combination of pass blocking and run blocking available this year, Davis is your man. He's a physical blocker that has flashed dominance, and like Okung is an immediate starter on the left side. Questions about his maturity, motivation and work ethic, however, will remain unless he has impressive interview sessions at the Combine. According to WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia, Davis didn't get off to a good start in that department yesterday.

Scouts were worried about the arm length of Iowa junior Bryan Bulaga entering yesterday's weigh-in, and truth be told, the 33-inch arms attached to his 6'5", 304-pound frame are on the low end of the spectrum. But it's a passable length, and his arms certainly didn't hinder him at Iowa, where he was dominant during his three years. Bulaga comes from a cold-weather, blue-collar college town, and he'll impress scouts with his attitude, work ethic and knowledge of the game. I get the sense that Bulaga will quickly become a favorite prospect amongst Buffalo's fan base, and he's in possession of the type of playing style that will be endearing to Nix and Gailey.

No one is yet sure if Oklahoma's Trent Williams can capably man the left side at the NFL level, but to his credit, the 6'4", 315-pound senior thinks he can - and hopes he gets the opportunity to prove it. Scouts really like him on tape, but there's no doubt he struggled on the left side in his final year at Oklahoma. (He played right tackle up until last season, when he took over for current Vikings RT Phil Loadholt.) Williams is a physical blocker somewhat similar to Davis, but again, questions exist about his work ethic. He'll almost certainly go higher than some expect him to, but many NFL teams are looking at him exclusively as a right tackle.

In terms of sheer athleticism, you can't beat Maryland junior entry Bruce Campbell. He's physically imposing (6'6", 314 pounds, 36-inch arms), and he's a phenomenally gifted athlete. But he also lacks experience, thanks in large part to his being an early entrant and dealing with a myriad of nagging injuries. That injury history will concern scouts. More to the point of this post, Campbell is not overly physical at the point of attack, though he can be devastating at the second level. His injuries might scare some teams off, but his upside will be enough to make him a first-round pick. It's questionable how high he'll rank on Buffalo's board, however, based on his style of play, as well as his other red flags.

One of the most underrated prospects available at any position this year, USC's Charles Brown is a name to keep an eye on. The 6'5", 303-pound Brown (35-inch arms) isn't the most physically imposing tackle available this year; in fact, scouts questioned whether or not he'd even weigh in at 300+ pounds yesterday. He's an excellent pass protector and does well in the run game at the second level, but again, Brown is more of a finesse prospect that needs to get stronger at the point of attack. He's absolutely a first-round talent, but again, he's a player that might slide down Buffalo's board thanks to playing style.

The important point here is that Buffalo has options. They might not have the choice of being picky about playing style, either - that's how desperate for talent they are. Depending on what happens in free agency, however, Buffalo might not be as urgent to draft a tackle as they appear to be right now. Should that happen, playing style will absolutely be a factor; it'll be a factor regardless, obviously - the Bills aren't going to draft a guy they don't like on tape - but it could cause their draft board to look slightly different than common public perception. Davis, Bulaga and Williams have the type of physicality and athleticism to excel in colder-weather cities. That's more questionable when talking about Okung, Campbell and Brown. Take that into consideration heading forward, because we're fairly certain the Bills already have.