The Buffalo Bills addressed their offensive line early and more than once on day one of the NFL draft last weekend. They selected C/G Eric Wood in round one and traded up to land G Andy Levitre in round two. But the one position that was expected by many to be addressed by the Bills, and was not, was offensive tackle.
Buffalo's brain trust however, never intended to draft an offensive tackle last weekend feeling they already had several plausible options on the roster.
"We went into the draft having discussed that after the trade of Jason (Peters)," said Bills head coach Dick Jauron. "Do we feel like we have to have a tackle? And I think we all agreed, that we're not going to stray far from our grades just to take a tackle. We felt we have guys that can play there so there's no sense in passing up a player we think is significantly better at another position just to feel like we've plugged a number in. We weren't going to do that."
And they didn't.
As things look now, there's a strong likelihood that Langston Walker moves permanently from his right tackle position over to the left side to fill the void left by Jason Peters. The team's most experienced tackle, Walker deftly demonstrated he could flip to the other side when forced to do so for the season opener last season.
Walker also flipped back and forth between the left and right side in Week 2 last season at Jacksonville when a winded Peters wilted in the heat and had to come off the field more than once in the game.
"Langston has shown that he can play either side for us," said Jauron. "Kirk Chambers has played either side. Jonathan Scott has started games in the National Football League at tackle. Demetrius Bell is somebody we drafted a year ago and we like him as a young player and we'll develop him. And Brad Butler has played tackle."
Jauron's last sentence in that comment might prove to be the most interesting. When the Bills drafted Brad Butler in the 2006 draft he was coming off a college career that finished with 31 straight games at right tackle.
Though the Bills eventually transitioned him to guard, they have not forgotten Butler's original position.
"Brad has played a lot of right tackle in college and really his natural position is tackle," said Bills COO/GM Russ Brandon of the 6'7" lineman.
Whether or not Butler is moved to right tackle seems to hinge on how well the two day one draft picks for the offensive line fare at guard.
Wood and Levitre have both lined up at guard in their careers, but Wood is coming off a college career in which he made 49 straight starts at center. He hasn't played guard since high school. Still he believes it's a transition he'll be able to handle.
"I don't think it'll be too tough," said Wood. "A lot of the techniques carry over and the body types are pretty much the same and you're battling against the same types of people. It'll take work to get where I want to be at guard. I had a lot of experience at center. The more I get experience at guard, the better I'll become at guard. But I got a chance to show at the Senior Bowl that I can play guard, and I did pretty well against some pretty good defensive tackles there."
For Levitre the switch looks like a natural progression. At 6'2" and change and 306 pounds, the Oregon State product has measurables that are better suited to the guard position in the NFL.
"Andy has played tackle and played it well," said Jauron referring to Levitre's college career. "Now do we see him playing there? No, but in the course of talking about him it was mentioned a number of times. He could play there and get you out of a game. His numbers and size and all those things translate better to guard."
Levitre last saw time at guard as a redshirt freshman appearing in 11 games at both guard spots for Oregon State. He too doesn't see it as an obstacle.
"I think it should be fine because early on in my career, I was playing both sides of the guard and tackle, left and right, so I've had experience at all the positions in games as well," said Levitre. "I'm ready to play guard. I know I can play it. I did it in the Senior Bowl, I was pretty successful, and I know with more work, I can become better than I was at the Senior Bowl."
An NFL team doesn't trade up into the second round to grab an interior offensive lineman if they don't think he has a chance to play right away. And a first-round talent is expected to step in quickly as well. So assuming that both guard prospects perform well enough to satisfy the coaches that they can handle the starting guard roles, only then it's believed would Butler be moved to right tackle.
If either Levitre or Wood struggle to handle a starting role, it's presumed Butler would remain at right guard with Bell, Chambers and Jonathan Scott left to fight it out for right tackle duties.
Scott (6'6" 318) was signed to the Bills roster on Dec. 18 last season, but was inactive for the final two games. He's appeared in 20 NFL games with most of that action coming at right tackle including six career starts.
"We've obviously got some options at the tackle spot and we'll just keep looking at our guys and keep playing them out there," said Jauron.
Whatever plays out up front for the Bills, one thing is certain, there will be an awful lot of change from last season. In addition there will also be players adjusting to new positions. Both rookies, Walker and possibly Butler could all be holding down new roles up front come the fall of 2009.
But with a full offseason to get everything settled Jauron is confident his players will be able to handle it.
"We really like the athletes and the way they've played and performed and we've really liked their football intelligence," said Jauron. "They've shown it on the field. We're looking forward to it and that's our job, helping them make any adjustments that they need to make."