Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. With Year 3 under head coach Chan Gailey and veteran player report day at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 24th and Sept. 9th.
Though he had more than his share of injuries to keep him out of the lineup, over the last three years no other offensive lineman saw even a third of the time at left tackle that Demetress Bell did for the Bills from 2009-2011. In 2012 however, it will be a truly open competition for a role that right now does not have an incumbent, yet is the most important on the offensive line.
Buffalo's left tackle position has already been defined as a two-man race heading into training camp with second-year tackle Chris Hairston and second-round pick Cordy Glenn the candidates. Back in January Bills GM Buddy Nix said the team felt they could win with Hairston at left tackle, but also said the team needed to add a pair of tackles in the draft. The Bills did just that drafting Glenn in round two and Zebrie Sanders in round five.
Hairston was unaffected.
"That gave me a big shot of confidence to know I came out and did well enough to have (Nix) say those words, but that didn't put anything in stone," said Hairston of Nix's comments. "This league is ever changing, the roster is ever changing, and things aren't set in stone. I just have to do my best to solidify myself in a position."
That position being the aforementioned starting left tackle role. In the spring OTA and minicamp practices however, Glenn was worked exclusively at left tackle with the starting unit as the rookie worked alongside veteran Andy Levitre. Hairston meanwhile was lined up as the starting right tackle, with veteran Erik Pears unable to participate due to hernia surgery.
Spending the better part of a month at right tackle in the spring only to have to jump to left tackle in training camp as part of a major competition might appear to be a difficult transition. Even head coach Chan Gailey admitted there are better ways to enter such a position battle.
"It's helped him. Is it ideal? No, but it's helped him," said Gailey. "I think if you play you get better. With the competition and footwork and the speed there's no substitute for that when you're on the field."
Facing Mario Williams every day in practice has certainly aided Hairston's quick twitch abilities off the snap. So reversing his stance and techniques are not of great concern to the former fourth-round pick.
"It's sort of like riding a bike," said Hairston of the forthcoming switch back to the left side come training camp. "You've got to get back to work at doing what you know you can do. This spring time has done nothing but help me and helped my game and sort of unveiled what I could do when I'm doing things the right way. I just want to take that and keep the momentum rolling and go to left tackle and do my best to come out and be the best player I can be."
No one has seen more reps in the practice setting on the offensive than Glenn. Even when the starting unit rotated out following a series, there were times that Glenn stayed in with the second unit to get still more snaps.
"He's done a good job. He's got some things to learn," said Gailey. "The speed of this game is so different. So he's got a lot of learning to do. He's got physical talent and he's got ability. He's got a work ethic that will allow him to get there. He just needs as many reps as he can possibly get between now and the first game of the year."
"The more reps the better," Glenn told Buffalobills.com. "I would just say I'm working on a lot of the small things. Just fits in a lot of little tweaks within my technique and just knowledge of the game. Just learning from my position coach and learning from some of the older guys."
It's clear that the coaching staff is making every effort to have Glenn as NFL ready as possible. Knowing Hairston has 13 NFL games under his belt, including seven starts at left tackle last season, perhaps leaves them with a measure of comfort that the Clemson product is acclimated to the speed of NFL regular season games.
At the same time there appears to be optimism with Glenn's development through the spring camps.
"Naturally all of this will be decided in camp when things are live and in preseason games, but left tackle, we feel pretty good about the guy we've got there," said Nix. "He's taken every snap since he's been here. He lined up there from day one and has been every play with the ones since he stepped out of the car. Again that'll all be decided in pads, but he hasn't done anything but impress us that he can play there."
Knowing Glenn was a consideration with the 10th overall pick this past spring, before Nix and company ultimately went with Stephon Gilmore, is a strong indication as to just what they believe that Glenn can become. There's no debate that Glenn is physically equipped to play the left side. The only question is can he adjust his skill set to capably handle the complexities of the game at this level in time to land a starting role come September.
Even Gailey needs to see more heading into camp.
"Cordy (Glenn) and Chris (Hairston) will be working at left tackle," he said. "I don't know who will win that job."