It took just over a week of training camp, but Buffalo's coaching staff has made a decision on who will be their starting five on the offensive line for 2009.
The two guard spots were the only question marks going into camp, but head coach Dick Jauron confirmed that rookies Andy Levitre and Eric Wood will man the starting left and right guard positions moving forward.
"Things can happen that could change that, but that's the plan," Jauron told Buffalobills.com. "We drafted them high and there are reasons why we did that, but we'll just keep watching it. They're young. They've got a lot to learn. We want them to get all the reps they can get. They're two good players and we're glad they're here."
Since Wood and Levitre were drafted, offensive line coach Sean Kugler spoke about changing the culture of play on the line, which sought stronger, tougher and smarter players up front. The staff believes they have that in their two rookie linemen.
"We felt going into the draft process that these are two kids based on their history and the experience they have and the smarts they have that they could be the guys that could do that," said Kugler.
Kugler had Levitre and Wood competing with veterans Kirk Chambers and Seth McKinney at the guard spots, but both rookies fared well in the spring workouts and have held their own in camp. The rookies took all the first team snaps in practice Monday and Tuesday.
"Getting the starting spot, and being a full time player and not rotating gives me more reps," said Wood. "The fact is it gives me a better chance, more of a chance, to get better and that's something I really have to take advantage of."
"It's been good," said Levitre. "There's good competition on the other side of the ball. I'm getting good reps and everything is a little bit faster. I'm going against guys that have been here for a while so you have to think faster. I love the competition. I'm learning every day, getting a little bit better."
Getting the front five together sooner rather than later was of the utmost importance as the offensive line is being completely revamped for 2009 with all five positions manned by different players than the ones that occupied them a season ago. The last time that happened in Bills history was 1961.
"We do have a long way to go," said right tackle Brad Butler. "We have drafted guys and brought in guys that are willing to work hard enough to try to get better every single day and when the season comes around to get better every week."
Unfortunately Butler is currently out with a lower back injury keeping the projected starting five from working full time on the practice field right away. Time is of the essence as they try to jell and establish chemistry, which will begin in earnest on Sunday in Canton when they face the Tennessee Titans.
Playing an extra preseason game can do nothing but help the group come together that much faster as they're sure to benefit from extra snaps in a game setting. Whether Butler is able to play this weekend is yet to be determined.
Having a pair of rookies might seem like a risky proposition for a line undergoing this much change, but Wood and Levitre have shown well thus far, and they have veteran players flanking them on both sides.
"I'm an older guy and both of our tackles are older guys that have played a lot of football so they're going to have a guy to either side of him and they can kind of give them a little guidance and a little help," said center Geoff Hangartner. "Our young guys are sharp guys too. They'll catch on quickly, but if they need some guidance we've definitely got veterans on either side of them."
Wood even earned the praise of Bills defensive tackle Marcus Stroud after performing admirably one-on-ones against the three-time Pro Bowl lineman.
"I think those guys are going to be good," said Stroud of the two rookies. "I work mostly against Eric (Wood) and Eric's doing a great job so far. You know he's only been here a couple days, and in those couple of days he's showing them why they picked him in the first round and I expect big things out of him."
"It's going to be a good group," said Kugler. "They're pulling for each other and working for each other. We've got a long ways to go, but they're working hard to get there."