Scouts Inc.: Bills need to bolster O-line
|Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images|
|The Buffalo Bills lost starting guard Derrick Dockery from last year's O-line, but they added Geoff Hangartner from the Panthers in free agency.|
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
The Buffalo Bills want to play a physical brand of football and dominate their opponents in the trenches. Dick Jauron is a conservative coach by nature and the late-season conditions that the Bills must deal with every year call for strong offensive line play. Factor in that they have a quarterback in Trent Edwards who is still a work in progress and the present inadequacies up front are magnified even more.
The Bills' heavy, powerful line is collectively better in the run game than in protection. The Bills allowed 38 sacks last year, 10th most in the league -- a shortcoming that is magnified by the fact that only eight teams attempted fewer passes than Buffalo.
Left tackle Jason Peters is immensely talented and was fantastic two years ago. But after a much-celebrated contract squabble -- which was never resolved -- Peters was nowhere near the player in 2008 that he was in 2007. Yet he is still the best player on the offensive front five.
Left guard Derrick Dockery was signed to big money two years ago, but was released recently because Buffalo felt he was not living up to his lofty salary. Cutting Dockery opened yet another hole up front, as the Bills already are extremely weak at center. This weakness up the middle is especially troubling considering that Buffalo plays six division games every year against defenses that run a 3-4 system featuring massive nose tackles Vince Wilfork, Jason Ferguson and Kris Jenkins. It is of paramount importance for the Bills to be strong at the center position. One positive is that Geoff Hangartner was signed away from the Panthers. He has excellent position versatility and while he isn't a high-end starter, it does appear that he is coming into his own while closing in on his 27th birthday.
In playing against 3-4 defenses in their division, Buffalo's offensive tackles often face outside linebacker speed-rusher types such as Adalius Thomas and Joey Porter. While Peters is athletic enough to handle such an opponent, aging and slow-footed starting right tackle Langston Walker is at a distinct disadvantage against such speed. What quickness he does have could decline much sooner rather than later.
One help in the passing game will be the signing of wide receiver Terrell Owens. In the past, Buffalo had only one receiving option (Lee Evans) who scared defenses, which made stacking the line of scrimmage and blitzing Edwards far easier. Owens' presence will counter that strategy.
Buffalo does have a handful of serviceable linemen who are tough and intelligent in Brad Butler, Kirk Chambers, Duke Preston and Jason Whittle. Butler was the starting right guard last year. He's a punishing run blocker and would be adequate as a starter if he were flanked by better players. As it stands today, two of these linemen would be starting along with Peters, Walker and Hangartner -- assuming that Peters remains with the club. While there is some position flexibility on the interior, the Bills need to add two more starters to the mix. It is unlikely that the Bills will go this direction in the first round of the draft, but after that, offensive line must be a very high priority. They also should be on the lookout for proven veteran guards or centers who are released from their present club between now and opening day. The foundation of the offense depends upon it.Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.