This post is part of a series entitled State of the Bills Roster, in which we're breaking down and evaluating the Buffalo Bills on a position-by-position basis. If you're confused about the number and letter classification appearing after each player's name, read this post. You can check out all previous installments of this series here.
Our very own Ron From NM has been diligently recapping the efforts of Buffalo's offensive line at each position. Thus far, he's completed reviews at two of the positions we'll cover in this post - center and right guard - and had some nice things to say about the players that appeared at those positions in 2010.
Indeed, though the Bills' offensive line is still in need of one full-time starter (at right tackle) and some overall fine-tuning, Buffalo managed to find themselves a few nice interior players over the course of their 4-12 season. Though there are still question marks here, they're of the "good" variety - instead of wondering how the team can upgrade its personnel, we're left to ponder which of these players will get the first crack at earning a starting job.
A look at Buffalo's interior offensive linemen lies after the jump.
Right now, the Bills have eight interior offensive linemen in their organization. Yes, some of them played tackle this year, but as we explained in our review of the offensive tackles, those players, in our estimation, are better suited to play guard at the NFL level - even if they're not necessarily better suited to play guard in Buffalo.
Eric Wood (2-C). Wood, who like left tackle Demetrius Bell started the season gimpy because of a very serious leg injury, got off to a slow start. By mid-season, he was playing much more consistently, and he closed the season out strong, even after being forced to move to center. Wood is an outstanding technician and a finisher, but still loses focus on occasion, and has struggled with athletic defensive linemen capable of pulling off a spin move. Health is an issue, as well. Wood is the best interior lineman on the team, and if he can continue to improve his consistency and stay healthy, he should be a mainstay on this line for years, regardless of the position he plays.
Andy Levitre (2-C). He's started 32 games at the NFL level already, with the overwhelming majority of his snaps coming at left guard. Levitre is a fine athlete for the guard position, and is arguably Buffalo's best "move" lineman - even though Wood gets a lot of credit for the same skill. Thanks to his college experience at left tackle, Levitre is also a quality pass protector. Like Wood, consistency is his biggest remaining hurdle, but he made many improvements from his rookie year to his second year, and looks to be a long-term starter for this team, as well.
Geoff Hangartner (3-E). Prior to the injury that caused him to miss Buffalo's final four games, Hangartner was quietly having an extremely efficient season. One of the smartest centers you'll ever encounter, Hangartner is especially proficient as a pass blocker, where his ability to help quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick diagnose blitzes and adjust protection schemes was invaluable early in, and throughout, the season. Still, he's not a great fit along an offensive line that Chan Gailey wants to be more physical - and thanks to strong performances from Wood, could lose his starting center job due to injury.
Kraig Urbik (3-E). Claimed off of waivers from Pittsburgh just prior to the start of the regular season, Urbik saw time at right guard and at center for the Bills before landing on IR. He had his moments, but unlike the next guy on this list, he never stood out in any way, either. Still, Buffalo's coaching staff likes his size and upside, and he'll be in the conversation as a reserve and possible starter in 2011 should he stick around.
Chad Rinehart (3-E). Though he spent most of the 2010 season on Buffalo's practice squad, Rinehart made a nice impression late in the season, taking Urbik's roster spot and running with it thanks to a string of solid outings as the team's starting right guard. Again, Buffalo likes his size and upside, and he, like Urbik, will be in the conversation as a potential starter (and worthwhile reserve) next season.
Mansfield Wrotto (4-F). A guard in Seattle, Wrotto was pressed into action at right tackle, putting several subpar (but quality by Buffalo standards) performances in before an injury allowed Erik Pears to steal some reps on the edge. Wrotto plays tackle in Buffalo because he's more of a finesse player, and the Bills prefer tougher guys inside. That doesn't change the fact that Wrotto doesn't have the measurables of an NFL tackle. He belongs at guard in a blocking scheme that will emphasize his quick feet and mirror ability.
Cordaro Howard (4-F). In a very similar situation to Wrotto - he's a good athlete that lacks NFL tackle measurables, but played there anyway in Buffalo not just because he needed to, but because he's not a great fit inside at guard. He, too, belongs in a different system - and off-season shoulder surgery will complicate his progress moving forward.
Colin Brown (4-F). Signed near the end of the regular season, the massive Brown (6'8", 325 pounds) can play guard or tackle. He's listed as a guard by the Bills, so we're throwing him in here. Beyond that, not much is known about him, though he's certainly got the size to play either guard or right tackle in this league. We'll find out more next spring and summer.
Contract situations to monitor: Urbik's three-year contract is up, but even if a new CBA a) arrives and b) relegates to old free agency rules, he'll be restricted in where he can sign. There's a very good chance he'll be back in Buffalo. Levitre is entering the third year of his four-year rookie deal. The same goes for Howard, who has a three-year deal. I have not been able to find any details of Rinehart's contract situation. Ditto for Wrotto.
Outlook: Levitre is entrenched as the team's left guard; it's the perfect pro position for him, and he's developed into a fairly steady performer at the position. The center position, whether by circumstance or because of the nature of its nomenclature, will likely determine who starts in the two slots next to Levitre. If Hangartner gets the nod, Wood will play right guard, and nothing will change from the start of the 2011 season. If Wood remains at center, Hangartner will compete with Rinehart and Urbik for the right guard spot. In any case, the Bills have options here, and most of them are of enough quality to be getting on with.
Possible Acquisition: Buffalo has quite a bit of - dare we describe it as "quality"? - competition on the inside, whether it be between Wood and Hangartner at center, or Hangartner, Urbik and Rinehart at right guard. Either way, we're not counting on a significant addition to the interior of the line, unless someone unexpected falls into the team's lap.