It had been going on since camp started. Duke Preston would get three snaps at right guard with the first team, while Jason Whittle got snaps at backup center. Then the two would switch roles. That was the case every day for the first two weeks of training camp. Then Monday night things changed.
Veteran Jason Whittle took almost all the snaps with the first unit at right guard as Preston saw just a few reps at the position all night. Preston spent almost the whole practice at center, but for the first time he was getting those center reps with the first team in place of Melvin Fowler who rotated out after taking the first snap or two of a series several times.
"I'm a man of many trades I guess," said Preston smiling. "Back to my old center role so it felt good. It was kind of like riding a bike. It felt good getting back there and snapping some balls."
Preston played 50 snaps at right guard Friday night against New Orleans while Whittle played just six. With Brad Butler and Aaron Merz unavailable for the game due to injury, the Bills had just five healthy guards and two of them were rookie free agents in Corey Davis and Nevin McCaskill. McCaskill hasn't been with the team long enough to execute plays under live fire and did not play. As a result Preston saw extended action at right guard.
"It's just kind of how it goes," said Preston. "You pay your dues and play the whole game in the preseason when you're a young guy like myself."
According to head coach Dick Jauron the discrepancy in playing time at the position Friday night is why the right guard reps at Monday's night's practice were disproportionately in favor of Whittle.
"That's exactly what it was," Jauron said.
Still each player isn't exactly sure what the development with the reps means concerning the competition. But with all the time Whittle got at right guard Monday he's thinking he'll see more action there Friday night.
"I didn't play a lot in that last game so maybe I'll get a shot to play a little more this week," said Whittle. "You just have to go out there and take advantage of your opportunities and put together some good practices and a good game."
Preston has spent time at center in this training camp, but it's been solely with the second unit. With all the reps he got with the first unit he can't help but think he'll be playing in the pivot with the first unit for some period of time Friday night.
"I anticipate getting some more looks at center and getting some more time there and see what happens," Preston said.
Preston, who originally was a center, has always called that position home for him. But since he came into the league every one of his career starts have been at right guard.
"I'm been away from 'home' for about three years," said Preston of his center position. "It's to a point where you get comfortable playing guard and then center feels a little weird, and then you get back playing center and that feels comfortable pretty quick. So I'm pretty excited about it."
Ironically the top two right guard candidates that have been battling for the starting job since the spring camps were lining up next to each other on first offensive line trying to execute assignments together.
"I haven't had a chance to be out there with him because whenever he's in there I've been out," said Whittle. "But he's a good player and a smart player. We worked great. He's a good communicator and a good center. I enjoyed playing next to him."
"I think it's good with the two of us communicating and talking and we do a good job," said Preston of his time lined up with Whittle Monday.
With Fowler and Preston sharing reps at first team center, rookie free agent Christian Gaddis was manning the second team center role. At this point Preston believes himself along with Fowler and Whittle are all handling the position juggling well.
"It's cool," said Preston. "The three of us, me, Mel (Fowler) and Jason (Whittle) are real headstrong guys and real smart guys in terms of thinking football and talking on the line and stuff. So it's alright."
For now Preston and Whittle are simply concerned with focusing on their assignments on the field rather than trying to figure out the master plan of the offensive staff concerning what roles they will hold for the team this season.
"They tell me to play center and I go play center man," said Preston. "I just go bust it and go as hard as I can playing there. It feels good. I felt comfortable. I felt pretty strong today and I'll just keep plugging along."
"We're settling in good," said Whittle. "I think we're going to do really well."
But who will see the most time at center and at right guard with the first unit won't be known for sure until Friday night.