Back on April 25th, 2009 Buffalo Bills fans were anxiously awaiting the announcement of who the Buffalo Bills would be drafting with the 11th overall selection. The Bills had already traded away malcontent Jason Peters, so drafting an offensive tackle was a foregone conclusion, right?
We will never know who the Bills had graded as their top tackle prospect, but by the time the Bills turn came up, three top tackle prospects had already come off the board: Jason Smith (2) to St. Louis, Andre Smith (6) to Cincinnati and Eugene Monroe (8) to Jacksonville.
Michael Oher, the stud tackle from Mississippi was still available when the Bills turn arrived. Surely that was who the Bills would take to plug the vacancy left by dealing Peters away. I could imagine Chris Berman mumbling that he knew the Bills were drafting Oher because he talked to the infamous taxi cab driver on the way to the draft telecast.
When Aaron Maybin's name was announced, many Bills' fans were left to scratch their heads and try to understand what logic Tom Modrak, the Bills Scouting Director was utilizing that day.
Eventually, the Bills made some trades on draft day and secured two starting guards in Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. They shuffled some parts around and came up with a patchwork offensive line after letting some expensive veterans depart.
Now here we are after six games, the Bills sit in last place in the AFC East at 2-4. With a couple breaks they could be leading the division at 4-2. For the Buffalo Bills offensive line, they are undergoing a baptism by fire this year, as exactly four fifths of the offensive line find themselves as NFL starters for the first time.
The youthful Bills offensive lineman is a unit that is filled with large physical specimens that if you ran into any of them in street clothes, you would want to naturally give them a wider berth to let them go by. They are just plain big imposing dudes and it can be assumed that they did not miss many meals during their formidable years.
Check out the sheer physical size of the current offensive line:
Eric Wood - 6'4" 305 pounds - 23 years old
Andy Levitre - 6'2" 305 pounds - 23 years old
Jamon Meredith - 6'5" 304 pounds - 23 years old
Demetrius Bell - 6'5" 307 pounds - 25 years old
Brad Butler - 6'7" 315 pounds - 26 years old
Jonathan Scott - 6'6" 318 pounds - 26 years old
Now for the "greybeard" of the group:
Geoff Hangartner - 6"5" 301 pounds - 27 years old. Yeah, 27, that's pretty old.
So there you have it. Look at those ages: 23, 23, 23, 25, 26, 26, and 27. Babes in the woods. With all of the muscle, sweat and blood, a little acne thrown in for good measure.
Will they break down during the course of a game and give up some QB sacks? Sure, you know they will. Right now they rank 29th in that category, as they have given up 19 sacks so far.
The Bills Organization Came Up With A Plan To Utilize The Young Mobile Lineman
To give the Bills a new look, the team opted to go full time to a no-huddle attack. This would allow Buffalo to dictate tempo and prevent their opponent from freely making substitutions due to down and distance scenarios.
What the Bills' brain trust didn't realize was that this type of attack would put enormous pressure on the young lineman to go to the line of scrimmage, hear the play being called out by Trent Edwards, think of what their assignment on the play was going to be, and oh yeah, please remember what the correct snap count will be.
We are talking about information overload here. Big time. The team was simply asking too much of these lineman to accomplish while they were trying to settle in to their relatively new choice of career. I imagine that these guys were overwhelmed.
The team eventually decided to abandon the no-huddle offense. They amassed eight illegal procedure penalties against Cleveland, playing at home. The following week going with the huddle offense, they committed no illegal procedure penalties on the road. That is a dramatic turnaround.
Losing Brad Butler for the season and who would replace him?
Then in week two, starting holdover tackle Brad Butler goes down with a season ending injury. The names of starters that have been rotated in and out since then was getting kind of long: Jonathan Scott, Jake Chambers, and Jamon Meredith.
The Bills looked for a potential guy they could plug in when Butler went down and found Meredith sitting there on the Packers practice squad. Meredith was drafted in the fifth round, but he wasn't on the Packers active roster at the time (practice squad member), so the Bills were able to literally steal him away from the Pack.
Highway robbery is what I call it. This may be my favorite move the Bills made all year long.
Meredith was a major sleeper at the draft, and he didn't take him long to assume a starting role with the Bills. Based on what we saw of him last week versus the Jets, he might very well be with the Bills for a long time to come.
So, with Wood, Levitre, Meredith and Demetrius Bell (seventh round draft choice from the 2008 draft) the Bills have four brand new lineman starting games together. How well they continue to mature, gel and perform will go a very long way in determining how quickly the Bills are able to return to the playoffs, which is a major sore spot for Bills fans.
How has this group performed so far this year? Out of the four players, D. Bell is the one that had the least amount of playing experience. Didn't play football in high school because his school didn't have a team. He was a basketball player, which makes sense since his dad is "NBA sure thing hall of famer" Karl "the Mailman" Malone.
Bills fans can only hope that Bell will develop in to the star his dad was. Bell is raw, unproven and there has been some growing pains, but he does have potential. Coming in to the Jets game, the Bills were the most penalized team in the NFL, and Demetrius was a leading contributor in that unfavorable category.
For what it is worth, Bell is a graduate of Northwestern State, which is the same school that Bills CB Terrence McGee attended.
Bell began with four penalties in the season opener at New England, but has only committed four penalties in the five games since. Andy Levitre has been the least penalized of the four lineman, while Eric Wood and Geoff Hangartner have been flagged for some major holding penalties.
Wood has made some other mistakes like illegal receiver downfield, but these kind of mistakes are not atypical for rookie linemen.
Collectively, the Bills have amassed 12 illegal procedure/motion penalties, averaging two a game. They have also committed 9 other penalties; including holding, illegally down field on a pass play and unnecessary roughness. For the record, not all of those nine penalties have been accepted.
Bills have allowed a whopping 19 sacks so far in six games
Another area of concern is the pass protection afforded the Bills quarterbacks. The Bills have allowed a sack in every game so far, and here are the numbers of sacks and yards lost per game - read em and weep:
week one - four sacks (26 yards), week two - two sacks (10), week three - four sacks again (27), week four - a whopping six sacks (32), week five - 2 sacks (9) and last week only one sack allowed (5 yards).
How well has the offense production done behind this new line?
Rushing totals for the first 6 weeks listed in order: 90, 218, 89, 46, 145 and 142.
Passing totals for the first 6 weeks listed in order: 186, 220, 154, 160, 143 and 154.
From the above numbers, what stands out is the 218 yards rushed for against Tampa Bay, and the paltry sum of 46 yards rushed against Miami. The passing attack has not taken off as hoped, with the addition of Terrell Owens, but there are a number of other factors that can be pointed to regarding what the passing problems truly are.
Six games down, and ten games to go
Entering the week seven game at Carolina, the Bills again will be huddling on every down, and looking for their first two game winning streak of the year.
Coming in to the Panthers game, I am sure the Bills will quiz ex-Panthers lineman Geoff Hangartner, who the team signed away from Carolina as a free agent in the off-season. He will hopefully be able to provide some insights on how to fend off the Panthers defense, especially Julius Peppers.
It was a breakdown in the pass protection last week that led to the sack of Trent Edwards' and his second concussion injury in two years. Trent will be missing this weekend's game against Carolina due to the injury.
Starting in place of Edwards, will be Ryan Fitzpatrick, in his first start for the Bills. Backing up Fitzpatrick will be untested Gibran Hamdan (gulp).
Don't think that one sack last week went unnoticed in the film room, in spite of the victory over the Jets. To what extent Edwards is able to return is still unknown. The team has been pretty quiet about how Edwards test results have been going.
But I am really excited about the offensive lineman gaining some valuable experience and the prospects of this unit for the future. Players like Butler, Wood and Levitre have the ability to play numerous positions, as does Hangartner, which bodes well when injuries hit the line in the future.
Who is quarterbacking this team when these lineman have matured in to All-Pro caliber, that remains to be seen. Let your imagination run wild as to the possibilities. But at least the core is there, and that bodes well for the Bills' future.