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All-Time Team OL preview

Posted Mar 12, 2009

Visit every Tuesday and Thursday for Bills All-Time Team positional previews and every Monday for Bills All-Time Team celebrity picks.

The longest list of nominees for the Bills 50th Season All-Time Team is naturally the offensive line. With five positions to fill there are 15 worthy nominees on the ballot.

Five were members of the Bills 25th Anniversary Team, four appear on the Bills Wall of Fame and two have busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Remember you can register to vote for the 50th Season All-Time Team online at Buffalobills.com. And also keep in mind that your offensive line choices are not mandated to include two tackles, two guards and a center. Any combination of offensive linemen is acceptable.

Here’s a brief preview of the men who paved the way for Buffalo’s offense over the past half century.

Howard Ballard (1988-1993)
The Bills struck gold with this former 11th round pick as the man called “House” by his teammates moved into the starting lineup in his second season and proceeded to man the right tackle spot for the next five seasons.

One of the first in a generation of mammoth tackles, Ballard was named to a pair of Pro Bowls and was a member of Buffalo’s four consecutive AFC Championship teams in the early 90’s.

Stew Barber (1961-1969)
A former fourth-round pick, Barber went from linebacker as a rookie to left tackle in his second season and excelled as he was named to five consecutive AFL All-Star teams, and twice named first-team All-Pro.

Charged with protecting Jack Kemp’s blind side, Barber was part of Buffalo’s back-to-back AFL Championship teams, and a member of the Bills 25th Anniversary Team.

“Stew would always get up for the major games,” said former Bills receiver Charley Ferguson. “He always had the most active defensive end to play against. He always had the toughest assignment, but he was always up to the task.”

Al Bemiller (1961-1969)
A forgotten man on Buffalo’s famed offensive lines of the 60’s Bemiller was the glue that held the Bills front together. Bemiller played guard and center in his time with Buffalo, but was often overshadowed by teammates Billy Shaw and Stew Barber.

Bemiller’s most memorable performance came in the 1965 AFL Championship game. With starting center Dave Behrman out with a back injury, Bemiller moved into the pivot from guard and executed the line calls flawlessly in Buffalo’s 23-0 championship shutout victory over San Diego.

Playing only for the Bills, Bemiller appeared in 126 games, missing only one contest in his nine-year career.

Ruben Brown (1995-2003)
The former first-round pick stepped into the starting lineup as a rookie and stayed there for nine years manning the left guard position for Buffalo.

By the second season of his NFL career, Brown was named to his first Pro Bowl and would go to eight straight before his Bills career was over, a streak topped only by former teammate Bruce Smith.

Bills Hall of Fame guard Billy Shaw is the only other offensive lineman in team history with as many all-star designations as Brown.

Joe DeLamielleure (1973-1979, 1985)
Another former first-round pick, DeLamielleure was a premier guard in a time where pounding the football reigned supreme. Capable of pulling and leading a back downfield or grinding straight ahead, DeLamielleure had an on-field demeanor that appealed to the Bills’ faithful.

A five-time Pro Bowl guard with Buffalo, DeLamielleure was also named first-team All Pro for three straight seasons from 1975-1977.

DeLamielleure is a member of the Bills Wall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“He was dedicated player that loved the game,” said former Bills QB Joe Ferguson. “He worked hard at his craft. He deserves the Hall of Fame and just a guy that you knew was going to be there for you every Sunday.”
 
Joe Devlin (1976-1982, 1984-1989)
A former second-round pick, Devlin was a full-time starter by his second season at right tackle.

A mainstay on the edge for the Bills, Devlin is one of the most talented, and lesser known players in franchise history. This despite being named to the club’s 25th Anniversary Team.

Devlin also ranks second on the team’s all-time list for games played by an offensive linemen with 191.

“One of the best tackles I’ve ever played with,” said Bills Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure. “Never went to a Pro Bowl, which was a joke. Literally one of the best players I’ve ever played with.”

John Fina (1992-2001)
A first-round draft choice in 1992, Fina was entrusted with being the new protector of Jim Kelly’s blind side after Will Wolford was lost as a ‘Plan B’ free agent.

Fina would perform in that role for nine seasons for a handful of quarterbacks with 131 starts under his belt before his career was over.

Kent Hull (1986-1996)
Acquired from the USFL’s New Jersey Generals, Hull was one of the most intelligent offensive linemen to put on a Bills uniform. Expertly directing his linemen in the high-octane no huddle offense of the early 90’s Hull was an extension of quarterback Jim Kelly.

Named to three Pro Bowls, Hull was also named first-team All-Pro twice and served as a team captain for seven seasons.

A member of the four consecutive AFC Championship teams, Hull is also a member of the Bills Wall of Fame.

Ken Jones (1976-1986)
Drafted in 1976 as a defensive end, Jones was flipped to offensive tackle in his second year and became Joe Ferguson’s blind side protector by his third season in the league.

A tenacious run blocker, Jones played 11 of his 12 NFL seasons for the Bills appearing in 158 games with 139 starts to his credit.

“Kenny was good,” said Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure. “He was a defensive guy and he was mean. Offensive guys are usually nice guys, but he was mean. When they switched him to offense he just took that attitude and he was extremely aggressive for an offensive lineman.”

Reggie McKenzie (1972-1982)
One of the more well known members of the Bills ‘Electric Company,’ McKenzie was blessed with great speed and feet for a lineman his size, allowing him to pull and lead O.J. Simpson around the corner.

Named a first-team All-Pro in 1973, McKenzie manned the left guard position without missing a start for eight straight seasons.

“He was a very good player, could run like the wind,” said DeLamielleure. “For our offense he was fantastic because we were about sweeps. We ran the Green Bay sweep. Reggie is one of the fastest running guards I’ve ever seen.”

Glenn Parker (1990-1996)
A former third-round pick, Parker was a valuable reserve lineman filling a number of roles his first few years in the league on Buffalo’s AFC Championship teams.

The Arizona State product eventually became the team’s starting right tackle in 1994, a position he would lock down for the next three straight seasons appearing in 104 games in his Bills career.

Jason Peters (2004-2008)
An undrafted free agent out of Arkansas, Peters converted from tight end to offensive tackle after a one-year stint on special teams and blossomed quickly.

Blessed with superior strength and uncommon athleticism for his size (6’4” 340) Peters successfully transitioned from right tackle to left tackle in 2006, and has since been named to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2008.

Jim Ritcher (1980-1993)
A stalwart that resided primarily at left guard, Ritcher was a talented, agile, blue collar lineman, but his consistency over time may have been his most valuable asset.

A former first-round pick, Ritcher’s longevity while maintaining a high level of play wasn’t recognized until his 12th season in the league when he was named to his first Pro Bowl at age 33. Another would follow at age 34 as Ritcher was a member of all four AFC title teams.

Ritcher is a member of the Bills Wall of Fame and is second only to Andre Reed in games played in a Buffalo uniform with 218.

Billy Shaw (1961-1969)
The most decorated offensive linemen in Bills franchise history, Shaw was named to eight AFL All-Star teams, is a member of the Bills Wall of Fame and the Bills 25th Anniversary Team.

Shaw is also a member of the American Football League Hall of Fame and is the only Pro Football Hall of Famer to have played his entire career in the AFL.

“Billy was probably one of the best guards we’ve ever had here,” said former teammate Charley Ferguson. “A great leader. He was always a person that communicated well, he led us, and we could depend upon him.”

Will Wolford (1986-1992)
Beginning his career with the Bills as a right guard, by his second season the former first-round pick was manning Jim Kelly’s blind side at left tackle, and stayed there for the next six seasons.

Wolford was a large, but athletic tackle with the feet that enabled him to effectively mirror the league’s best pass rushers. The Vanderbilt product earned Pro Bowl honors in 1990 and 1992 with Buffalo and was a member of three of the Bills four AFC title teams before being signed as a Plan ‘B’ free agent by Indianapolis in 1993.