Buffalo's offensive line underwent a sea of change in 2009 before their season even started. In fact a week before the 2009 campaign began there was dramatic change with Langston Walker waived and a young prospect thrust into the role of blind side protector. No one realized the change that would follow would be even more disruptive to any kind of successful plans the Bills had lined up for their 16-game slate.
The first major loss was Brad Butler. Buffalo's new starting right tackle tore his ACL in Week 2 and an entire offseason of diligent work to re-acclimate himself to playing on the edge went up in smoke. By the time the season was over four of his offensive linemates were on the injured reserve list with him including starters Demetrius Bell and Eric Wood.
The team was forced to field six different offensive tackles tandems and nine different offensive line combinations in 2009, and more than once had to get a newly signed player ready to start in a matter of four days or less in Kendall Simmons and Richie Incognito.
Though Butler was a part of the struggle, he was forced to sit and watch the weekly setbacks his linemates had to face as they put their best collective foot forward each and every week.
"I was really one of the first guys to go down," said Butler. "So I didn't face a lot of those challenges that the offensive line faced as a whole. I was kind of isolated from what they had to go through week to week."
That's because by midseason Butler was already rehabbing after surgery to repair his torn ACL. The team is often on the practice field or in meetings when he was doing his personal work with the trainers. As the season went along Butler made sure to poke his head in the locker room every once in a while to make sure he made the acquaintance of all the new linemen that had been signed since he and several of his teammates had suffered injuries.
"We've had too many guys in there," said Butler. "It's been unfortunate. There were times we had so many guys in there that we didn't have enough tables in the training room for everyone to do their rehab. It was that type of year in terms of number of injuries."
The message all the injuries up front on the line reinforced to him through the course of the season was an offense can't function if the line isn't relatively healthy.
"I would say that the offensive line is the one position where you can't get depleted by injuries," Butler said. "It's the one position where you're working together as a team and you have to have chemistry. Defensive backs and running backs and even on the defensive line there's a certain team element to it, but it's absolutely essential when it comes to the offensive line.
"For us to experience that degree of change every week it was a tough go and it really affected the rest of the team. It affected the quarterbacks with play call changes, especially when we were running no huddle. It affects the running backs because they know every blocker blocks a different way. It really affected the whole offense. It was a challenge for those guys that stepped in and played over the weeks, but they played hard and did the best job they could."
With the 2009 season behind he and his teammates Butler is hopeful that the experience gained by the young players that got to play like Bell, Andy Levitre, Jamon Meredith, Andre Ramsey and Eric Wood will serve to benefit the unit as a whole in 2010.
"When it comes to the young guys that had to step in and play nothing replaces experience in the NFL and getting out there and playing," he said. "That's going to be a benefit for us next year."
Butler believes with a new season to prepare for, Buffalo's line will be able to profit from the lumps they took this past season.
"I know the offensive line caught a lot of heat and rightfully so," said Butler. "But I'm a glass half full type of guy and I understand that every obstacle you face and every new challenge you have there's an opportunity to can learn from it and grow." And that's what the men on Buffalo's offensive line intend to do this offseason.