Picked up off waivers from Pittsburgh in the first half of the 2010 season, Kraig Urbik was rarely noticed on the game field on Sundays. So it's not surprising that a good number of Bills fans are wondering just who number 60 was manning the right guard spot the first weekend of training camp. As far as the Bills are concerned it's an up and coming young player whom they held in high regard when he came out in the 2009 NFL draft.
In fact, Bills GM Buddy Nix has gone on record saying that Eric Wood, Andy Levitre and Urbik were the top three guards on their board in the entire 2009 class.
"Now we've got all three," said Nix chuckling last season at a Monday Quarterback Club appearance.
Nix knows if the three interior linemen can jell together on the inside, he won't have to worry about re-stocking those positions for a long time. Urbik appreciates the faith and support of Buffalo's general manager, but he also realizes with the opportunity in front of him he better make good.
"It's definitely encouraging when your GM is talking about you being the top three guys and they're happy," he said. "Now I just have to try to work my (tail) off to not let him down."
Upon arriving at One Bills Drive right at the start of the season, Urbik was playing catch up getting acclimated to Buffalo's offensive system, protection schemes and new teammates. One might think that without any OTAs or minicamps this spring that his chemistry with his fellow linemates would be relatively limited.
Ironically, Urbik was the main beneficiary of Eric Wood's reduced workload during most of the game weeks last year. With Wood's surgically repaired leg requiring less pounding in the first half of the season, Urbik was the lineman that stepped in during the practice week.
"Last year I took a lot of reps with Eric being down," he said. "He'd take off every Wednesday so I took a lot of those reps at right guard so I feel like we've been together after all those reps from last year. I feel like we've been in the offense long enough together where jelling really won't be a problem. I think we're already starting to jell right now. It's going to be fun these next couple of weeks to come together as a line and see how well we can do."
In an effort to make up more ground Urbik would spend extra time after practice with D'Alessandris on sets and techniques. He ultimately appeared in 10 games last season, earning a pair of starts, but his season was cut short when he was injured playing center in the Week 13 game at Minnesota that landed him on injured reserve.
Still, it hasn't dampened the enthusiasm the offensive staff has for Urbik.
"We had to shift Urbik in there at center because of injury and he was a combination player for us," said D'Alessandris. "He got hurt playing the center position, but he's versatile. He can play guard and center and he brings something to the table, he's a big man, he's got good skills."
By no means does Urbik have the right guard spot locked down yet. Mansfield Wrotto and Chad Rinehart, another capable pickup last season, represent Urbik's stiffest competition.
"All of them have that versatility, which is good," D'Alessandris said. "He, Rinehart and Mansfield. They can play multiple positions."
But Rinehart and Wrotto are guard/tackle combinations while Urbik is a guard/center combo. Nevertheless Buffalo's O-line boss believes Urbik will be pushed for his current starting spot.
"I think the interior positions are going to be very intense because there's competition there and that's great," he said.
Urbik respects the competition in training camp, but has every intention of holding onto the starting spot to which he was appointed at the outset of camp. Though he and right tackle Erik Pears are the newest additions, Urbik is confident the current front five can be a solid group in 2011.
"I feel very at home on the right side at right guard," he said. "I think we've got a very good chance of being a very good O-line. We've got big enough bodies and we're tough enough inside to open some holes in the run game. Hopefully we'll improve in our run game this year, but we can be a really good O-line."