At the opening of free agency a vacuum was created on the interior of the offensive line for the Buffalo Bills. Melvin Fowler, Duke Preston and Jason Whittle were all unrestricted free agents. That was followed by the release of Derrick Dockery. And while Buffalo appears to have plugged the center spot with Geoff Hangartner, left guard is a position without a definitive starter.
There's plenty of time for Buffalo's offensive staff to find the best man for that vacant job. The first set of OTAs are still a couple of months away. Dick Jauron's assistants however, are already surveying their options and a couple of current ones might surprise.
Right now Buffalo has nine offensive linemen on the roster with six of them primarily tackles. Hangartner, Brad Butler and 2008 practice squad player Brandon Rodd are the only true interior linemen currently on the squad.
But offensive line coach Sean Kugler believes there are a couple of tackles that offer a bit more versatility. The recently re-signed Kirk Chambers and second-year man Demetrius Bell will be part of the left guard competition.
"Kirk is real versatile," said Kugler. "He started one game at guard and three games at tackle last season, so he's proven he can play both guard and tackle. He's going to get an opportunity at the left guard spot with Derrick (Dockery) gone."
Chambers filled in for an injured Butler at right guard last season in Week 10 at New England.
Bell meanwhile honed his skills at tackle in the practice setting as a rookie in 2008. Kugler also plugged him in at the guard spot during scout team sessions.
"Demetrius is a younger prospect, but he too, in practice, played on both sides at tackle and guard," Kugler said. "He's kind of proven it in practice. We haven't seen it in a game type setting that he can handle that yet, but we're confident that he's going to continue to grow. We're excited about him. Those are the two guys for now that are in the mix for that spot."
"We'll see where it goes as we move along here," said Bills head coach Dick Jauron. "We've got some options. And we'll keep exploring it more as we get through this (offseason)."
It's a pretty safe bet that Buffalo will add more interior linemen to the roster either through free agency or in the draft.
"We normally go to camp with around 15 (linemen), so through free agency, then the college draft and then college free agency following the draft we'll fill that out," said Jauron.
So while it's likely Chambers and Bell will have additional competition, the staff has the most extensive knowledge of their two returning linemen. And Kugler feels comfortable with them as guard/tackle options.
"The good thing about both of those guys is that whoever is not starting the other one is an excellent swing guy, not only at guard, but at tackle," said Kugler. "Nowadays when you dress only seven guys on game day you're not just talking about a backup tackle or a backup guard. These guys can do both and I'd be confident with either of them in there."
Ideally Kugler wants the left guard spot shored up sooner rather than later knowing there will be at least two new starters on the offensive interior in 2009. More time together as a five-man unit is beneficial for the entire offense.
"Hopefully somebody declares at that spot, and it doesn't take long," Kugler said. "We're down in numbers now, but it will sort itself out in the end. There's always a starting point and this is our starting point."