In the weeks leading up to the start of Buffalo Bills training camp, Buffalo Rumblings will be taking a look at the ten most intriguing positional battles set to take place at St. John Fisher this summer. Previous entries in this series can be found in our training camp section.
For several years now, the Bills have made a habit of keeping nine offensive linemen on their active roster at all times - seven of which make it onto the team's 46-man roster for game days. That total of seven includes the five starters for the week, plus one reserve tackle and one reserve interior lineman. The total of nine typically includes the five starters, two reserve tackles and two reserve interior players.
This year, the Bills have a good deal of clarity with their offensive line depth - save for one interior position, where we're likely to see a ferocious camp battle this summer.
It seems apparent right now that the Bills will be keeping four tackles: veterans Erik Pears and Chris Hairston, and rookies Cordy Glenn and Zebrie Sanders. That leaves five interior spots up for grabs, and there are four locks there as well: Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart will all be on the team come Week 1.
That leaves one interior reserve spot up for grabs, and I've got my eyes on four players in contention for that spot: Colin Brown, Mark Asper, Michael Jasper and Keith Williams.
Jasper (a 2011 seventh-round pick) and Williams (a 2011 sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers that joined Buffalo's practice squad late in his rookie season) are, at this point, pure guards. Both have upside - that seems particularly true of the massive and highly athletic Jasper - but both also have a distinct disadvantage to Brown and Asper, who both can play center as well as guard.
For now, I consider the battle for the ninth interior reserve spot to be between Brown and Asper, and that's a highly intriguing battle for one reason: they're basically the same prospect. The Bills list Brown at 6'7" and 326 pounds, while the rookie Asper is listed at 6'7" and 325 pounds. They're almost exactly the same size. They're also the same age; Brown, entering his fourth year in the NFL, is less than three months older than Asper. Both will turn 27 this calendar year.
Brown has a clear experience edge in this battle, having played (and acquitted himself fairly well) in regular season action for the Bills, but the team may also consider Asper, this year's sixth-round pick, to have the better upside. Either way, the fact that both are being tried at center bodes well, as the team will likely be inclined to keep a third center behind Wood and his likely backup, Urbik; both players have struggled to stay healthy in the last two seasons.
That's not to say that it's safe to rule out either Jasper or Williams yet, however. Both are interesting prospects, but it may take either outperforming both Brown and Asper by a significant margin to win that last spot.