Chan Gailey said during training camp that the only way to tell if an offensive line is jelling is with preseason games. With half the preseason over, Gailey and his offensive staff are still searching for the best combination of five up front. At Monday's practice the left side of the offensive line saw some shuffling and again Andy Levitre was in the middle of it.
The starting offensive line alignment began the same as it has since training camp opened with Demetrius Bell at left tackle, Levitre at right guard, Eric Wood at center and Kraig Urbik and Erik Pears on the right side. Last week Chad Rinehart began rotating in and splitting reps with Levitre at left guard. When that happened on Monday however, Levitre did not exit the lineup. Instead he kicked out to left tackle and Demetrius Bell stepped out.
"My job is to get the five best on the field," said Gailey. "Maybe that's our five best is playing Chad (Rinehart) at guard and Andy (Levitre) at left tackle. We're going to take a look at it. That's our responsibility to take a look at it and Andy is doing an excellent job. He's a very versatile player. He's played it before so we'll see how it goes."
Levitre played in a pair of games his rookie season at left tackle including a start against Jacksonville. He also played most of his last two collegiate seasons at left tackle at Oregon State.
"I spoke with Chan and he said he wanted me to rotate a little bit this week so I know the offense pretty well so I feel like it shouldn't be too hard to pick up on," said Levitre. "Just some technical things that I'm not used to doing at guard that I have to do at tackle. It's just a matter of getting some of the footwork down, muscle memory type things."
Bell would rotate back in with the second unit and sometimes Rinehart would stay on the field when the second unit came on, but third string left guard Colin Brown moved up to the second unit for a good portion of the practice and took reps there. Levitre and Rinehart also took some second team reps through the course of the day.
While there's no debating that Gailey and his offensive staff will make the final call as to which players make up the starting five this fall, Buffalo's sideline boss made it sound like the duration of the latest line experiment will be dependent upon the performance of the players.
"I think it depends on them," said Gailey. "I think it depends on both (Andy) and Demetrius how long we go with it, whether it becomes permanent or whether it becomes just something we tried for a little while."
Levitre isn't sure where this newest change will lead, but is committed to being ready for it no matter how brief the amount of preparation time.
"It's still preseason we still have two weeks left," he said. "I don't know what their plan is if that's going to be a backup spot for me or what not, but being able to kick out at tackle will definitely help us as a team in case we get in a squeeze out there."
Gailey wasn't shy in outlining why Bell was now rotating with Levitre as the starting left tackle.
"Consistency," he said. "That's the bottom line. You have to be consistent up front. You don't have to be great or perfect, but you have to be consistent. We've got to make sure we get the guys that can be consistent for us up there."
Apparently Bell's most recent performance against Denver was such that Gailey and his staff felt they had to at least see if there was a better option. It's certainly not an ideal situation knowing the season opener is less than three weeks away, but a shortened offseason hasn't helped. When asked if he has a drop dead date as to when he and his staff will have a final decision on a starting five, Gailey had one.
"Yes," he said. "September 11th."