When the Bills signed Geoff Hangartner shortly after free agency opened this past spring they made it clear that he was their new answer for the center position. Finding a capable backup to Hangartner however, was a different story.
Free agents Melvin Fowler, Duke Preston and Jason Whittle were not retained. Buffalo had some options going into the spring camps like Brandon Rodd, who spent 2008 on Buffalo's practice squad and free agent Marvin Philip. But Philip was lost for the year to a knee injury in camp and Rodd, though he has made progress with his game this summer, does not have any NFL game experience.
Enter Seth McKinney. The free agent signee is entering his eighth year in the league and has 45 career starts under his belt, more than 30 of which came at the center position. A former third-round pick, McKinney started for two straight seasons at center with Miami in 2004 and 2005.
But throughout the offseason McKinney's reps at center were few and far between as the coaching staff had him in a competition with first-round pick Eric Wood for the starting right guard spot. But with Wood looking more than capable between Hangartner and right tackle Brad Butler, the staff has just recently put McKinney in the pivot with the third unit to get him re-acclimated to center.
"I'm starting to get more (reps) right now," said McKinney. "The center position here is very challenging on you mentally to get all the calls. So I'm starting to get more reps and all the calls and everything are coming to me."
Buffalo's staff obviously feels comfortable that McKinney's experience at the position will enable him to get up to speed in the three weeks that remain before the season opener.
"The veteran presence of guys like Seth McKinney is invaluable," said offensive line coach Sean Kugler. "Not only is he a veteran, but he's a guy that can play two and three positions. So when you talk about game day and moving a guy or transitioning somebody that goes down and you've got to plug in a guy he has experience doing that."
Though McKinney admits that the center position with the Bills is very challenging due to the complexity and tempo of the offense, he's confident that he'll have the responsibilities down pat come the start of the regular season.
"There's plenty of time," he said. "I'm not worried one bit about that stuff. Hopefully I'm not in that situation because it will mean that Geoff is hurt, but if I am it'll come and it'll be fine. It's not something that's impossible to learn, but it does take time."
As mentally taxing as it may be to master Buffalo's offensive system at the center spot while playing in an up tempo fashion, McKinney knows ultimately it will be a lot harder on their opponents than on the Bills.
"We should have an exciting offense as long as we go out and do what we've got to do. I've been around for a while and I've never been in an offense like this that does it all the time," said McKinney of the hurry up approach. "I've been on teams that have had a package where you do it occasionally, but on this team we do it exclusively. Hopefully we win a lot of games with it."