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 a new regime and practices at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and Sept. 12th.
As the countdown to the first day of training camp has reached single digits, all offseason questions that Buffalo Bills fans have been discussing for months will finally play out on the field. While virtually every positional battle has a mix of veteran players in with fresh talent looking to get a shot, the left tackle position for head coach Chan Gailey might be the most youthful on the entire club.
With the trade of Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters before last season, the Bills saw a revolving door at the left tackle spot, due mainly to injury. A number of players on the offensive line experienced significant on-the-job training in 2009, and the blindside tackle had its fair share of participants. Considered a major need in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Bills did make a selection that the team believes is a fit for the position, Ed Wang, who will compete with Demetrius Bell and Jamon Meredith to earn a role in the starting lineup this season.
It will be interesting to see how Bell returns from a serious knee injury that derailed his second professional season, where he made a career-high eight starts. As many young linemen are apt to experience, Bell had his growing pains in 2009, but by the middle of the season, was starting to adjust to the speed of the NFL game before he exited to the lineup.
Throughout the spring, Bell did not directly participate in any of the team's OTA workouts, but he was in attendance nearly every day, working alongside the training staff and fellow lineman Eric Wood, also on the road to recovery following his own gruesome injury last year. Bell appeared to progress as the spring went on, doing more strength work as each week went on, leading Chan Gailey to believe that he will be good to go by the opening day of training camp.
Bell was disappointed that he missed out on being on the field with his teammates to learn Gailey's new playbook for the offense, but understood that it was all part of his long-term recovery plans.
"It's definitely frustrating, but what can you do? You come to rehab every day and wait to see what the doctors say," he said during OTAs. "You hope he lets you on the field quicker than later. So I'm just going to rehab every day and hopefully I can get back on the field as soon as possible."
After earning four starts during his rookie campaign in 2009, Meredith was the principal contributor at left tackle during the spring. Despite being a young player still gathering experience in the pro game, the 6'5", 304-pounder from South Carolina made big strides this offseason. With Bell unable to participate, Meredith likely saw more repetitions than he would have under normal circumstances, and showed nice quickness and technique in containing the edge rush of the defense.
It was a quick transition last season for Meredith, who was selected in the fifth-round of the 2009 draft by the Green Bay Packers. Buffalo signed him from the Green Bay practice squad on September 22, and within three weeks time, he was in the starting lineup due to injury. Essentially learning on the fly his entire rookie season, Meredith was glad to be learning terminology, and building a bond with his teammates, in a much slower setting this offseason.
"Last year calling plays on the line, you have to know the terminology, and since I came late I didn't know all the terms, but Eric Wood helped me out a lot," he said. "But now it's, I feel, a lot more comfortable because I'm in the playbook early. I get the materials the same as everyone else at the same time and I like the offense."
The wildcard in the equation will be the rookie Wang, whom the Bills selected in the fifth-round of the 2010 draft. Expectations are high for the Virginia Tech product, the first Chinese-American ever drafted into the NFL, but the injury bug limited his repetitions during OTAs.
Prior to his ankle injury, Wang looked to be adjusting well to the NFL setting, and showed improvement over the first week or so of the workouts. The first diagnosis of his injury was that it might be serious, carrying a long recovery time, but Wang was working with the training staff within two weeks in isolated drills away from the practice field.
Although he did miss valuable snaps this spring, Wang, the first Bills draft pick to sign his professional contract, was happy that he was able to get on the field momentarily, and said that it should help him in his first professional training camp.
"Rookie minicamp really helped a lot," Wang said. "Just getting into OTAs and practicing with older veterans, it helped (too). So I'm really excited that I got to do that."
With under a week to go before camp is in swing at St. John Fisher, the left tackle position is a wide open race. Bell is the incumbent and depending on his status, he'll likely get the call due to his experience last season, but Meredith and Wang also put in quality work this offseason to be prepared for the 2010 NFL campaign.