Now that the dust of the 2011 Draft has settled, it’s time to analyze the current state of Buffalo’s roster. We’ll be taking a look at one position at a time. Today: OT. (Previous editions: QB, RB, FB, WR, TE)
Ugh. Offensive tackle. Has any position that’s not quarterback caused Bills fans more grief over the past decade? The Bills have trotted out a revolving door of guys that have been, well, revolving doors that have mostly stood around and watched as quarterback after quarterback has been smacked around.
Is there any hope for the future at this position? Do we have ANYONE who can protect Ryan Fitzpatrick? Let’s check out the contenders.
Players Under Contract (6): Demetrius Bell, Erik Pears, Mansfield Wrotto, Ed Wang, Chris Hairston, Jason Watkins
Possibly Departing Free Agents: None
1) Demetrius Bell
2010: starting left tackle
Bell catches a lot of grief from the fan base, but he’s the best tackle on this roster until proven otherwise. And really, as bad as Bell was in 2009, I thought his 2010 season wasn’t bad at all. And let’s be realistic – Bell was a very raw 7th-round developmental draft pick a few years back. The fact that he’s even a marginal NFL starter is pretty decent. Plus he was hurt all of last season and couldn’t really train or practice at full speed.
I still think Bell has room to grow as a player. He’s never really had a healthy NFL season. If he stays injury-free in 2011, he could really come on. Even if he doesn’t improve at all, you could certainly do worse at left tackle. This will be a contract year, so Bell will certainly be motivated.
2) Mansfield Wrotto
2010: signed midseason, played in 10 games with seven starts
Wrotto was let go by the Seahawks in September last season and picked up by the Bills. He soon found playing time when injuries began piling up. Wrotto made seven starts, playing tackle and guard along the way before an injury of his own ended his year.
Wrotto signed a contract extension before the lockout, so I’m assuming that the Bills have some confidence in him. He’ll get a shot at the starting right tackle spot, but will have to battle Erik Pears and rookie Chris Hairston for the job. I’m not sure he’ll win it, but if not he’ll still be on the roster. His versatility would make him a fine depth player.
3) Erik Pears
2010: Signed in December, 2 games
The big (6 feet, 8 inches) Utah native was picked up by Buffalo late in the year when most of the offensive line was in the M.A.S.H. Unit. He made a few starts at tackle at the end of the year.
Pears has some experience, having been a regular for Denver earlier in his career. The Buffalo decision-makers apparently really liked what they saw from Pears in his limited time in Buffalo, so he’s got a very good shot to win the RT job. Personally, I’m a little bit skeptical. He was cut by Oakland and Jacksonville recently, so that’s got to be a concern.
4) Chris Hairston
2010: starting left tackle (Clemson)
The fourth-round draft pick was a left tackle at Clemson, but projects more as a right tackle in the NFL. He’s a big strong guy with some potential. Hairston’s not a very-fluid or natural athlete, and I think a year as a backup would do him wonders. He’ll push for the right tackle spot but will get some time on the field regardless. No way he’s not on the roster unless he hugely disappoints in camp.
5) Ed Wang
2010: 1 game
Wang couldn’t seem to stay healthy in his rookie year, suffering an injury in camp that he never really got over. He only played in one game, and that was at guard. I’m not sure if the team views him as a tackle or guard, but his best chance to earn any playing time would seem to be at tackle. I just don’t know if there’s anything to this guy. He’s something of a tweener and not particularly athletic. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a post-training camp roster casualty. I hope I’m wrong about that.
6) Jason Watkins
2010: Practice Squad
Watkins is an interesting case, bouncing around from the Texans to the UFL and finding his way to the Buffalo practice squad in 2010. The fact that he couldn’t get off the practice squad despite all of Buffalo’s offensive line injuries doesn’t bode too well for him.
Watkins is somewhat athletic, actually playing tight end at Florida for a bit in college. But he just doesn’t seem to have the blocking ability to earn a spot on this roster.
Others: Cordaro Howard is best suited to be a guard, but could end up at tackle depending on how injuries shake out. I hope not.
I think the Bills are really hoping Pears decisively wins the RT battle. Wrotto is not really an NFL-quality starter and Hairston could use a year being thrown into the fire.
Depending on how the lockout turns out, I could see Buffalo bringing in a free agent to help out here. This isn’t a great looking depth chart. Maybe Buffalo will actually use a top pick on a tackle this decade.