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, OT)
As opposed to the barren wasteland that is Buffalo’s tackle situation, the interior of the line actually looks pretty good. I’d say there are at least four to six guys who could be pretty decent NFL starters. (Okay, six is pushing it.) But still, there’s a lot to like here and a lot of directions Chan Gailey could decide to go with the lineup.
Players Under Contract (7): Eric Wood, Andy Levitre, Geoff Hangartner, Chad Rinehart, Kraig Urbik, Cordaro Howard, Colin Brown
Possibly Departing Free Agents: None
1) Eric Wood
2010: 14 games, playing guard and center
Wood bounced back nicely from his horrific leg injury in 2009 last season. He was Buffalo’s best lineman when he was healthy. He’s a rugged, intense guy who plays mean. It’s nice to see. He’ll be a starter in the league for a long time if he can avoid injuries.
The big debate in 2011 for Buffalo is where to play Wood. Is he your center or do you keep him at guard? I say move him to center. He’s a good guard, but I think he’s a potentially elite center. Add that to the fact that centers are more important than guards…this is a no-brainer in my mind. Buffalo could have a decade of great production at an important position with Wood there.
2) Andy Levitre
2010: 16 games, almost exclusively at guard
Levitre, taken shortly after Wood in the 2009 draft, has always been overshadowed a bit by his teammate. However, you could make the case that Levitre has had a better career thus far. Levitre’s never going to be a star – not many guards are – but he had a solid year in 2010 and there’s no reason to believe that he couldn’t be an above-average starting left guard in this league for years to come.
3) Geoff Hangartner
2010: 12 games, starting center
Hangartner recovered from a rough 2009 in which he played through an injury to perform pretty well in 2010. He’s never going to be an overpowering guy, but he’s smart and tough and is certainly adequate for an NFL center.
The problem Hangartner faces now is that the team is probably going to move Wood to Hangartner’s position. Hangartner will most likely be given the chance to win the right guard job in camp, but he’ll face tough competition from Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart. Working against him will be the fact that Hangartner, who is more of a intellectual player that’s strong in pass protection, isn’t If he can’t beat those guys out, Hangartner will still make the team as the backup center.
4) Kraig Urbik
2010: 10 games at guard
Urbik, a massive man at 6-5, 320 pounds, got his first chance at real playing time last season and didn’t look terrible. He’s not a fast or tremendously athletic big man, but he’s mobile enough and plays with a bit of a mean streak.
I like this guy. I think he fits very well with Wood and Levitre to form a young, talented, rugged interior line. He’ll have to beat out Hangartner and Rinehart for the spot though, and that’s by no means a given.
5) Chad Rinehart
2010: Late-season acquisition, 4 games
The former Washington 3rd-round pick fell out of favor with the new coaching staff in D.C. and bounced around a bit before winding up with Buffalo. He acquitted himself fairly well, taking over a guard spot at the end of the season and looking decent. He definitely fits the mold Gailey would like with the interior of the line – he’s smart and he’s a tough guy.
Rinehart’s been with a few teams but hasn’t really played much and is still pretty raw with his technique. He could develop into a pretty decent mauling guard though. He has a chance to win a starting spot if he can knock off Urbik and Hangartner for the right guard position. I think he’ll stick as a backup either way.
6) Cordaro Howard
2010: 10 games, playing guard and tackle
An undrafted free agent, Howard was thrown into an impossible situation in 2010 and really wasn’t terrible all things considered. He had to play right tackle quite a bit and that was simply asking way too much of him. Howard hung in there and had moments of success before a shoulder injury ended his season.
Howard’s an interesting case. Is he a guard or a tackle? Can he actually play at an NFL level at any position? Can he bounce back from shoulder surgery? He’s got a tough road ahead of him to make the team, but his ability to multiple positions will help. When the Bills inevitably suffer injuries along the line in 2011, don’t be surprised to see Howard resurface.
7) Colin Brown
2010: signed off Baltimore’s practice squad, did not appear in any games
Brown’s really a mystery man. He was drafted two years ago by the Chiefs but an injury ended his rookie season early. He was then cut by Kansas City in the following training camp, and eventually found his way to Buffalo. He’s a very large, very powerful man. Brown’s played tackle in the past, but I think the Bills consider him a guard. I just don’t know if he’s athletic enough to play tackle in the NFL. But could he just tear people’s heads off in a short-yardage situation at guard? Very possibly. We’ll see if he shows anything at camp.
So there’s actually a bit of quality here. The battle for that right guard spot should be fun assuming Wood moves to center. I think Urbik’s the favorite right now, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Rinehart take the spot. Hangartner’s got a chance, but I think the Bills view him simply as the backup center right now.