AFC East: Derrick Dockery
Two years ago, left guard looked like a loaded position. Every team had a notable player there.
The New England Patriots had budding star Logan Mankins in place. The New York Jets signed perennial Pro Bowler Alan Faneca. The Miami Dolphins identified Justin Smiley as critical to their rebuilding process, signing him minutes into the free-agency period. The Buffalo Bills had Derrick Dockery. He wasn't a bulldozer, but he meant enough to the Bills to give him a seven-year, $49 million contract in 2007.
Now look at AFC East left guards.
Bills sophomore Andy Levitre was my pick for the preseason All-AFC East roster. He was the 51st overall draft choice last year and started 16 games. Crazy as this might seem, that marginal exposure makes him the second-most experienced left guard in the division. He's the lone incumbent.
Who else is there?
Dolphins roughneck Richie Incognito has been a round and is a known quantity, but he was discharged by two of the NFL's worst teams. The St. Louis Rams, tired of his volatile antics, waived him. The Bills picked him up then declined to negotiate with the restricted free agent after the season.
The Jets' weakest link now is at left guard. They released Faneca and drafted Vladimir Ducasse in the second round. But Ducasse's transition into the NFL has been difficult. Matt Slauson, inactive for all but three games as a rookie last year, won the job by default.
The Patriots are down to third-stringer Dan Connolly. He is entering his sixth year as a pro and had four starts to his name. Mankins is an unsigned restricted free agent. His intended replacement, Nick Kaczur, has been sidelined with a back injury that required surgery.
PITTSFORD. N.Y. -- Of any preseason prediction I can make, the one I'm most confident in is that the Buffalo Bills will finish fourth in the AFC East.
That slot would be neither general manager Buddy Nix's nor head coach Chan Gailey's fault. The problems they inherited have set the course for 2010.
But they are setting a tone for the long-term future the players can respect.
Gailey is trying to establish a new culture with his first training camp. He wants people to use two adjectives that haven't been associated with the Bills for a long time: tough and disciplined.
"He's very particular about things and how he wants them done," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "We haven't really had that for a while here, with the head man running the show. You understand what he's trying to get done."
Gailey has kept his players in full pads at St. John Fisher College. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely had his players in complete gear at camp.
Gailey believes players should be in pads and tested both physically and mentally. He's in a discovery phase not only about what he'll be able to work with on Sunday afternoons, but also keepers who will help him build a long-term foundation.
"When you actually have those shoulder pads on, mouthpiece in, chinstrap buckled up and you have to get off a block to make a play," safety George Wilson said, "that really shows the true testament of a real football player.
"That's what our coaching staff needs, a new staff that's coming in to evaluate this entire team and be able to put the best 53 men together for this 2010 season. I like what we’re doing. It's going to make us a lot more physical, a lot tougher, a lot more mentally prepared, and I have a positive outlook about it."
THREE HOT ISSUES
Yet, after several months working with his quarterbacks, Gailey liked Edwards best and installed him as the No. 1 quarterback to begin training camp. The battle remains open, but with Fitzpatrick and Brohm sharing reps with the backups and surrendering a few here and there to rookie Levi Brown, it's Edwards' job to lose. Based on Edwards' medical chart (combined with Hot Issue No. 2 below), there are no guarantees.
But Edwards has yet to get a fair shot to prove what he can do. He has experienced plenty of chaos since the Bills drafted him in the third round in 2007. Gailey is the first offensive-minded head coach Edwards has played under. Last year, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert got fired 10 days before the season, the Bills jettisoned both starting tackles (two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and the most experienced member of the offensive line, Langston Walker) from the season before and endured a futile no-huddle experiment.
Gailey has run successful offenses everywhere he has been. This finally could be a legitimate chance for Edwards to show what he can do.
2. How will the Bills survive without proven offensive tackles? The Bills aren't known for their pass rush, but it was apparent in the early days of practice their offensive tackles were overmatched in pass protection. For their safety, quarterbacks wear red jerseys to remind oncoming defenders not to hit them. Good thing, or else the Bills might have needed to sign some replacements already.
While some front offices believe guards are fungible and tackles vital, the Bills have operated contradictorily in recent years. They've drafted guards within the first two rounds (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) and paid big bucks for a free agent (Derrick Dockery) while declining to draft a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002.
Left tackle Demetrius Bell has been limited in 11-on-11 drills because he's recovering from knee surgery. He received his first snaps Sunday. His replacement, Jamon Meredith, has been overwhelmed at times. The other tackles likely to make the 53-man roster -- Cornell Green, Kirk Chambers and rookie Ed Wang -- have looked ordinary at best.
Then, on the verge of camp, the two-time Pro Bowler with a $6 million base salary expressed a change of heart. Schobel might want to play after all. Or maybe he's posturing for a trade, threatening to show up a month before the regular season despite failing to attend so much as a chalk-board session on the team's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.
On Monday morning, the Bills provided a nebulous answer: In a news release, Nix announced the team is moving forward with plans that do not include Schobel.
Nix said: “Aaron has been contemplating retirement for the past seven months, but we are at the point where we are moving forward and have informed his agent of our plans.”
Schobel can improve the defense with his talents, but the team is rebuilding and going through a defensive transformation he has demurred from. If they cut him, then they forfeit an asset. A trade appears to be the best option to me.
Wide receiver Steve Johnson was an afterthought when the Bills drafted him in the seventh round three years ago. But the front office was quietly confident he would be a player someday. After getting buried on a depth chart that no longer includes Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, Johnson might be ready to emerge. Johnson opened camp as the starting No. 2 receiver opposite Evans. That puts James Hardy on the spot. The Bills took him in the second round the same year they drafted Johnson.
Rookie running back C.J. Spiller, the ninth overall draft choice, still hasn't been signed. Reports indicate it might be a while before he's under contract. The players around him in the draft order have come to terms, but Spiller was the first running back off the board and was considered the most electric playmaker in the draft. His agent, Gary Wichard, certainly is hammering home that point every time he speaks to the Bills. While it's true running backs can afford to miss practice more than other positions because their role is so reactionary, Spiller is more than that. The Bills also consider him a receiver, and that makes practice time more precious for learning the nuances of Gailey's offense.
- The atmosphere at St. John Fisher College has been lifeless. It hasn't mattered whether it's morning, afternoon, night, weekday or weekend. The few fans who have shown up are silent.
- Fitzpatrick has been plagued by interceptions through the first few days of camp. Bills defenders seem to have developed a strong read on where he's going to throw.
- Gailey has mandated knee braces at practice for the offensive linemen, whether they've had injuries or not. He has been doing that since he began working with O-line coach Joe D'Alessandris at Georgia Tech in 2002. The players can opt out of the knee braces for games if they don't like how they feel.
- The Bills' defensive backs have sensational hands. In every drill I watched, it was rare to see a ball hit the ground.
- Left cornerback Leodis McKelvin has demonstrated lapses in concentration. He seemed lost in a passing drill Saturday, getting beaten by Hardy for an easy touchdown. Secondary coach George Catavolos had trouble getting McKelvin's attention afterward for some instruction. Soon after, McKelvin was dropping punts in a return drill.
- Inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell told me the unit relies on free-agent acquisition Andra Davis' insight when it comes to 3-4 questions. That also goes for inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross, who hasn't coached an NFL 3-4 before.
- Mitchell on the 3-4: "It gives you more freedom. It allows you to showcase your ability a lot more. It's going to be a lot more fun."
- Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell are one of the NFL's best punter-kicker combos. The Bills didn't bother to bring in any additional legs.
- Wood is a head knocker. His quick return from a shattered left leg and no-nonsense demeanor on the field will make him popular in Buffalo.
- After obstructed media views on the opening day, the Bills did a fine job of reorganizing their access areas to allow better viewing of 11-on-11 drills.
- Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin has a body shape that stands out the moment you see him. Maybin looks like a Wii character, with a tiny waist that flares upward toward his shoulder pads. He told me his waist is 36 inches, but in pads it seems like a 28.
- I focused on the tight ends at the blocking sled Friday morning. I saw why sophomore Shawn Nelson is viewed as more receiver than blocker. He looked considerably less powerful than the rest. While Derek Schouman, Jonathan Stupar and Michael Matthews jacked the sled, Nelson merely budged it. Nelson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Only Matthews is larger at 6-4 and 270.
Bob Wozniak's cell phone was inundated with calls Tuesday night.
Wozniak is a real-estate agent in Orchard Park, home of the Buffalo Bills. Terrell Owens had Tweeted that one of Wozniak's clients rejected the wide receiver's attempt to rent from them because "they dn't want any drama n their neighborhood." Owens listed the address.
"The homeowners weren't too happy," Wozniak said.
But Wozniak's not sure where Owens got the impression his clients weren't interested in renting their 4,000-square-foot, six bedroom home to him for $2,950 a month.
"He's more than welcome to look at the house," Wozniak said.
What also has Wozniak scratching his head -- and wondering if Owens is getting bum advice -- is how the Bills receiver has chosen to house hunt.
An ongoing theme on Owens' Twitter page is his inability to find a place to live, and Wozniak can see why.
Owens on Wednesday morning posted on his Twitter page: "jus gettin up! headed 2 practice then househunting again. Hv a blessed day tweeters!" It appears he's fielding property tips from anybody.
Owens' search apparently will be a story line of his VH-1 reality show currently being filmed. The Associated Press recently followed Owens on a house-hunting excursion.
Because Wozniak handles several high-end properties in Orchard Park, he is well aware of what's going on with new Bills players. Based on the calls he has received, Owens is "up to his fifth or sixth [real-estate] agent."
Wozniak noted the agent who called about this particular home was based in Lockport, which is 35 miles away and in another county.
"I don't know what he's really trying to accomplish," Wozniak said.
Another point Wozniak made -- and I know this from personal experience -- is that the Buffalo area mostly has been insulated from the nationwide housing slump. Homes in the area remain solid investments, with slight but steady investment growth.
"Most players either buy a house or rent a townhouse or a condo," Wozniak.
Former Bills left guard Derrick Dockery has a place for sale if T.O. wants to buy.
Renting a house, however, can be complicated because of winter maintenance. While condominiums and townhouses have homeowners associations to take care of the snowplowing and such, contracts must be drawn up to spell out a lot of details when renting a house."Someone," Wozniak said, "just needs to sit him down and tell him how it's supposed to work."
When I linked to KC Joyner's blog about the Buffalo Bills' point-of-attack blocking percentages Thursday morning, readers craved more. They wanted to know details about individual performances and wondered how other AFC East clubs fared.
I reached out to Joyner to see if he would be willing to share more information earmarked for his book, Scientific Football, which is scheduled to be shipped in August.
Those who pre-order his book are granted advance access to Joyner's research as it becomes available, but he was gracious enough to send some of his analysis my way for the purpose of sharing it with AFC East blog visitors.
Throughout the afternoon I will post last year's run-blocking numbers for each of the division's offensive lines.
The chart breaks down a lineman's performance by net point-of-attack attempts (plays in which he was at the point of attack plus penalties committed and drawn), yards gained on these plays and his blocking success rate.
Joyner explains that an 80 percent POA success rate is considered the low end of acceptability.
With that in mind, the Bills didn't fare so well. As run-blocking metrics for the other three AFC East teams are posted Friday, the Bills' will look even worse by comparison.
Two Bills linemen eclipsed the 80 percent threshold, and neither of them is on the roster anymore.
Jason Peters, who at 90.9 percent led all tackles in a division that has some good ones, was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles before the draft. The Bills previously cut left guard Derrick Dockery, who won 81.4 percent of his POA blocks.
Joyner breaks down each play in such detail that he tallies the number of times a lineman gets stuffed, pushed into the backfield or strung out, or allows a defender to make contact with a ball carrier in the backfield.
The other AFC East centers combined were pushed back only six times, half of Buffalo's total. New England Patriots center Dan Koppen was pushed back six times, while Nick Mangold of the New York Jets and Samson Satele of the Miami Dolphins weren't pushed back at all.
Right guard Brad Butler, who could be moving out to right tackle this year, was pushed into the backfield six times, most among non-centers and tied with Koppen for second-worst. But Koppen had 197 net POA attempts, while Butler had 112.
Bills right tackle Langston Walker allowed seven defenders to
make contact with a runner in the backfield. That also led the division. Peters gave up one such play.
The Buffalo Bills' offensive line stunk in 2008.
We pretty much knew that already.
But KC Joyner presents that notion in measurable terms. The Football Scientist used Buffalo's offensive line as an example to explore the possibility a great running back can overcome inferior blocking.
In "The Fifth Down" blog for the New York Times, Joyner writes Buffalo's run blockers "were abysmal" last year and notes only two linemen had a point-of-attack blocking percentage greater than 80 percent, which he explains is the low-end acceptable success rate.
Left guard Derrick Dockery, since released, barely hit the mark at 81.4 percent.
When the blocking worked: Jackson averaged 6.0 yards, and Lynch averaged 5.2 yards.
When the blocking failed: Lynch averaged 2.1 yards, and Jackson averaged 1.7 yards.
The Bills knocked on Wood with the No. 28 pick they received from the Philadelphia Eagles in the Jason Peters trade. Wood was considered the second-best center in the draft behind California's Alex Mack, who went No. 21 to the Cleveland Browns.
Bills coach Dick Jauron said the Bills will keep free-agent acquisition Geoff Hangartner, who also can play both positions, at center. The Bills allowed both of last year's centers Duke Preston and Melvin Fowler to walk via free agency.
"We see Hangartner as our center," Jauron said. "Eric will come in, we'll plug him in at guard and see how that goes.
"We're very optimistic about that. We really like his play, like his demeanor, like his toughness, like his intelligence. He gives us depth at two positions at the very least.
"We were kind of holding our breath when it came close to that pick and ultimately he got there."
Wood measured 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds at the combine. He started 49 straight games at center for Louisville, but he played guard in the Senior Bowl and said he has no qualms about switching for the Bills.
Many thought the Bills had to replace Peters, but they needed to rebuild the left side of their line. Not only did they trade their two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, but they also cut their high-priced left guard, Derrick Dockery.
Williams is one of the NFL's biggest draft busts of the past decade. The Bills used the fourth overall selection in 2002 to select the 6-foot-6, 370-pound Texas tackle.
Williams was ripped for his lack of desire. He couldn't make it through four seasons, finishing his career with five starts in 2005. He had a back problem, but that wasn't considered the real reason he retired after the Bills cut him.
"I know people have questions about me," Williams told Dallas Morning News reporter Barry Horn. "I know they are not questions about my talent. They are questions about my heart."
Williams and quarterback J.P. Losman have been the poster children for the Bills' 21st century failings.
But looking back on the 2002 draft class, Williams was the top prospect at a position of need. The next five tackles off the board were Bryant McKinnie (seventh overall), Levi Jones (10th), Marc Colombo (29th), Mike Pearson (40th), Chester Pitts (50th) and Langston Walker (53rd).
Horn looks back at Williams' bright future when he left Texas and retraces all of the troubles with Buffalo.
But Williams is only 29 years old. There is time to salvage a more meaningful career. He has been living and working out with Derrick Dockery, the high-priced left guard Buffalo released in February.
"I have a new love for the game," Williams told Horn. "I know I have a lot more than people think or what they saw."
The Buffalo Bills dealt their two-time Pro Bowl left tackle to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 28th overall selection and a fourth-round pick in this year's draft and a 2010 pick that's believed to be a sixth-rounder.
Bills fans don't know whether to be incensed they lot such a talented player or relieved the contract dispute is over. The Eagles forked over $53 million in new money, giving Peters a six-year deal worth $60 million.
Vinny from Parts Unknown writes: I hate the trade, Tim. I will not subscribe to other Bills fans' "fantasy hopes" that Peters will now end up being a fat lazy bust in Philly. I believe that Peters is a special athlete that has not even played his best football yet. A two time Pro Bowl LT that is only 26 or 27 years old, and will now anchor the Eagles OL for the forseeable future. To me, this has to be the worst trade the Bills have made since they shipped Lamonica to Oakland. Classic Ralph Wilson pulling in the purse strings at the very worst time.
William in Vestal, N.Y., writes: It was disappointing to lose Peters, who is probably the premier left tackle in the NFL. The agility of someone his size was remarkable. However, he never seemed committed to proving his worth or earning the hefty contract he demanded. He has the potential to be the best in the game but he's only shown that occasionally. Philadelphia has one or two good years left with McNabb and Peters was necessary to make sure their QB stays healthy. If that means mortgaging the future - okay. Andy Reid probably won't stay much beyond that anyway. Should the Bills have ponied up the dough for Peters? Ask yourself, "Would the Steelers or the Patriots empty the vault to keep a player of that caliber?" I don't think so, and no organization is better managed than either of those.
John in Buffalo writes: I think the Bills did the right thing, what Jason did last year was horrible, it slapped the Bills right in the face, how could you reward a player with a 53 million dollar extension after he acts like that. The four year extension is worth roughly 13.25 a year, Jason Peters is being paid like a top flight quarterback, Big Ben's deal in Pittsburgh is about 12.75 million and he has won superbowls!! Its a joke, as a Bills fan I will take the first round pick.
Murt in New York writes: BILLS FAN THERAPY - PETERS TRADE This offseason has been a real wakeup call for me. Now, more so than ever, I have realized that the Buffalo Bills will always put business before the long-term success of the team. I like everyone else, thought the signing of TO was the franchise getting serious about winning. With the Jason Peters trade going down, I have come to realize that this was clearly just a marketing stunt by Russ Brandon to make up ground on the backlash of retaining Jauron. I realize we are a small-market team and cannot compete for titles year in-year out, but I really truly believe that this organization has no long-term plans for winning. Bills fans are as die-hard as they come. The reason our season tickets sales have been so strong the last couple of years hasn't been because of what the team has done on the field, it is because all of us fans feel it is our duty to put up the money to support the team lest they move. It makes me sick to think that the front office takes advantage of our loyalty by making small cosmetic short-terms changes instead of more viable sustainable solutions (i.e. locking up a pro-bowl LT in his prime). If Peters was a UFA from another team this off-season, we would have had to pay top dollar to even get him to visit Buffalo (See Derrick Dockery signing). I could sit here, and make empty threats about boycotting all future games, but we all know this wouldn't be true because I am, and always will be a Buffalo Bills fan.
Pat in Buffalo writes: I think pride got the best of the Bills' front office in this situation. It will be difficult for an emerging QB like Edwards to develop while getting blindsided by the pass rush.
Andy in Albany, N.Y., writes: I think the Jason Peters trade was the right move for the Bills. Peters clearly wasn't acting like a team player and despite his talent, the Bills needed to part ways with someone who wasn't motivated. I'm upset that they lose a talented tackle, but I'm glad the whole soap opera is overwith.
Rich in Pittsburgh writes: If I have to sum up the whole Peters situation I would label it disappointment and hope. Disappointment that Jason feels like holding out, not being a part of the team and focusing on your contract instead of protecting your QB. Hope for the future - that guys can step up and someone like a Demetrius Bell develops and finish the story Peters started.
Tony from Parts Unknown writes: While I hate to see a player of his caliber go, even if the Bills gave him what he wanted, my impression is that he would holdout every time another left tackle got a bigger and better contract. So while I cannot fault the Bills front office for trading him, I am dissapointed in what they got for him, as I think they could have done better. The Bills front office has once again proven that like the coaching staff they are often overmatched and unprepared.
Tim in Orlando, Fla., writes: Although many 'analysts' thus far have lampooned Buffalo for the trade, I think Buffalo made out as good as they could for two reasons: 1. Peters is a very talented tackle but he is NOT the best tackle in the NFL because he lacked dedication to the Bills and as a result his game suffered. He gave up many critical sacks last year off the edge on one on one matchups. Number 2 and I think most important is this - Trent is a timing quarterback who is still learning pocket presence. Marshawn is a bruiser still learning to run with patience behind his blockers. The Bills are building their offense around the talents of these two and thus their scheme is about timing and effective zone blocking. I dont think Peters ever fit that type of tackle role effectively and so the Bills never valued the whole Peter's package at what he and his agent thought were his market value - especially when you throw in the holdouts. I think Philly is a good fit for Peters though because McNabb has excellent pocket awareness and can improvise a bit. So who got the better of the trade? It depends on what kind of value Buffalo gets out of the picks they received but the one victory for the Bills right away is control of what they have going into training camp and the season. With Peters on board they never knew where they were with him. The Eagles will be the one's holdin
g their breath a bit waiting to see what they have in this guy given the big contract.
Brendan in New York writes: Jason Peters is quite possibly the most physically gifted offensive lineman in football today. But he's consistently showed poor judgement and a lazy side (remember, he left Arkansas a year early even though he wasn't projected as a high draft pick, and wound up undrafted) that made the Bills front office as well as many fans wary of giving him the huge contract he was looking for. Only time will tell whether it was the right move, but for a team that can't afford to spend big money on a question mark like Peters, it was the only move.
Jonathan from Rochester, N.Y., writes: As a Bills fan I'd like to believe that the Eagles got hosed but we definitely won't know til three years from now. Since his play was declining over the past couple of years we'll see if his heart is really in the game or whether he'll just grab his money and lounge. He's also been a horrible teammate. Last year he put his own wants over the teams by holding out. If last years Jason Peters arrives in Philly then the Bills have made out like bandits. Finally, it's telling that even though a few teams were interested in him Philly was the only one to step up and offer him the contract he wanted and some draft picks. That says a lot IMO.
Jason in Depew, N.Y., writes: Losing Jason Peters is at best a tragedy, at worst professional negligence of the highest order. Yet some fans are actually glad he?s gone and salute the Bills for moving him. It is one thing for the team to make a bad decision; it is quite another for the fans of the team to applaud malfeasance. Jason Peters is the finest athlete to play LT. The Bills? blocking schemes asked Peters to block the opponent?s best pass rusher each week without help. He?s also still new at the position, with the potential to grow into a Hall of Fame caliber talent. Yet, many of the fans somehow manage to ignore all of this, preferring instead to tout some flawed and unofficial sack statistic and complain about his attitude. Peters never wanted out of Buffalo (he was shocked to be traded). All he wanted was to be paid commensurate to his value. With the Bills' below the salary cap, there was no constraint to making this happen. This was a self-inflicted would. The trade degrades the quality of the roster and -- when coupled with the other O-line reshuffling -- all but assures a record 10th straight year out of the playoffs. What exactly are the fans celebrating?
Randy in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Tim,as a long-standing Bills fan since the late '60's I have never felt so bewildered by the management of the franchise as I do now. We are coming off of a season of tremendous disappointment in the wake of a 9 year playoff void. We failed to win a single game in our division which stands as unquestionable proof of our inadequate talent base. Yet, in a league where even average, young left tackles rarely hit the free agent market, our management feels we will somehow be "better" by trading away perhaps the most talented player on one of our most under achieving units for years. We continue to self-inflict wounds yearly by letting talent walk away, and assure ourselves of at best standing pat by having to fill those same holes every year in the draft. As a very loyal fan it becomes increasingly hard to see any long term vision for the Bills by this front office. The Peters trade is another example of "Bills-Vision", where others see the value of our own players ( e.g. Pat Williams, Winfield, and even Jim Leonard), yet our front office continues down this blind path. They are running this current Bills club much like our current government; they address the deficiency of talent on the roster by creating a larger deficit! Then while the other AFC East clubs continue to move forward, the Bills fans get penalized further by witnessing a divisional home game being outsourced to Canada. Bills football is becoming the "Post office" of the NFL; we are paying more for less and less!
Dave in Buffalo writes: No, I don't think the Bills got ripped off in the Peter's trade. Only real wish is Russ Brandon waited until next week and may have gotten the earlier 1st round pick. As for Peter's, good riddance. He may have the physical tools to be the best LT in NFL history, but his mental tools are semi-pro at best. Regardless of the fact he missed all of training camp last year, he gave up 11.5 sacks. No self-respecting all-pro LT would allow that to happen. Just shows he is all about the money, not about the team.
Gordon in Maryland writes: For an UDFA who was developed into a strong LT, Peters did little to show much appreciation for the team that gave him a shot. After receiving an extension previously, Peters selfishly decided to hold out with THREE years left on his contract. As a result, he showed up to camp slow and out of shape. He gave up around 12 sacks and disrupted team chemistry in what was by far his worst year as a pro. Then he has the gall to threaten to sit out yet again? That being said, I would think the Bills could have gotten the first of the Eagles' two first rounders for someone who lucked into a Pro Bowl slot.
Stephen from Parts Unknown writes: The Bills 2008 season summed up thus: "The 2008 Bills: Even our pro-bowler stinks." 2009 looks like this: "The 2009 Bills: Let's see how a young QB handles a revamped O-line and TO."
If the Bills' offensive line were a landscape, the left side would be a gulch.
They previously released left guard Derrick Dockery. They have a new center, too, in a division that features defenses inspired by Bill Belichick, Rex Ryan and Bill Parcells.
"I'll bet Rex Ryan is salivating," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said, referring to the New York Jets head coach. "Not only do the Bills have a new left guard, they have a new left tackle. To completely revamp that left side, there's going to communication errors.
"I would imagine all the AFC East defensive coordinators are happy about it."
Without some help, Bills quarterback Trent Edwards might want to warm up to the idea of peering from his helmet's earhole as he gets off the turf again and again.
"You get Terrell Owens and have all these weapons," Williamson said, "but if you can't keep Trent Edwards upright, you've got big problems.
"I don't think he's the most instinctive quarterback. I don't know that he feels the rush all that well. Defenses will be bringing it form all angles, and you're going to play against all those 3-4 teams, which are really going to challenge him mentally because you don't know who's coming."
Not exactly a Murderer's Row of blindside protectors.
Only Walker, Chambers and Scott have started an NFL game at tackle.
Walker is the lone regular. He was Buffalo's left tackle while Peters boycotted training camp, but Walker was their right tackle for every game after the season opener.
"Walker is a big, stiff right tackle, who's smart," Williamson said. "He's a better run blocker than he is a pass protector, but I certainly don't want him on the left side.
"I don't think he's quick enough out of his stance. I don't think he can handle edge speed. That's what he's going to see moreso than in any other division. That left tackle is going to deal with Joey Porter and whoever New England decides will be their right outside linebacker. And Rex Ryan is going to concoct something for the Jets."
Williamson also gave his take on Bell, a seventh-round draft pick last year out of Northwestern State. The son of Karl Malone is listed at 6-foot-5 and 307 pounds. Bell was inactive for every game last year.
"Bell's a big-time project," Williamson said. "Athletically, he's there. But he had a lot of work to do coming out of college. He's a small-school kid, and asking him to be a starting tackle is a stretch. He was extremely raw. Unless he's improved by leaps and bounds behind the scenes and none of us knows, he's nobody to count on."
In breaking down the trade, Williamson thought the Eagles were clear winners.
"I'm a big fan of Peters," Williamson said. "I think he had a down year last year. He was much better two years ago, but he's still a puppy. That's what people don't realize. He never played the position in college. He's a big tight end. It's all in front of him.
"I think it's a tremendous move for Philly. They're not going to get anybody close to him with that pick and fulfill a need. I look at Philly, and they might have the best offensive line in the league."
|Rich Kane/US Presswire|
|If Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin slips to No. 11 in the draft, you could see Buffalo taking advantage.|
Team needs: Offensive line, pass rusher, tight end.
Dream scenario: Buffalo's situation is fluid. Positional needs today might not match their wish list when the front office gathers in Orchard Park, N.Y., for the draft on April 25.
The Bills have holes on their interior line, at tight end and with their pass rush. They cut high-priced left guard Derrick Dockery and tight end Robert Royal early in free agency, but didn't replace them.
The Bills' biggest weakness on their 4-3 defense was their inability to pressure quarterbacks, especially when Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel went down with a foot injury. There was no help. They registered a paltry 24 sacks.
But the Bills have a brewing situation at left tackle. Jason Peters, a two-time Pro Bowler, held out of all offseason workouts, training camp and preseason games last year because he wants a new contract. He's expected to do so again, with the sides far apart in negotiations. The Bills might be forced to trade him, meaning they could need to fill the second-most important position in football at the draft.
For the second straight year, the Bills own the 11th overall pick. Unless they make a trade, they'll have to wait until the 42nd slot to select again and then 75th. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, will have drafted six times when the Bills have drafted thrice.
But the Bills will conduct a successful draft if they can come away with a pass rusher and a couple of starting offensive linemen. Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin could slip to No. 11, but if he's not there, then Florida State defensive end Everette Brown should be there for the taking.
The Bills should have opportunity to draft a top-three center at No. 42 and move versatile free-agent signee Geoff Hangartner to left guard. California's Alex Mack and/or Oregon's Max Unger probably will be off the board, but the other could be available and too tough to pass up. Louisville's Eric Wood also projects as a second-round talent.
The Bills also have a chance to snag the best guard in the draft. None are expected to be taken in first round. The best of the bunch include Oregon State's Andrew Levitre and Oklahoma's Duke Robinson.
Plan B: Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew is the best player at his position in this year's draft class. He's a strong run blocker, has prototypical size at 6-foot-5 and 263 pounds and has soft hands.
Consensus among scouts, though, is that Pettigrew is not worth the 11th pick. If the Bills want him, they have a valuable asset they can dangle to a team in need of a quarterback, especially if Southern California's Mark Sanchez still is on the board. The Bills can move back a smidge, select Pettigrew and gain a later pick or two.
Scouts Inc. take: "The defensive end need has been put on the back burner by some people, but I think it's huge. This defense is one prominent pass rusher away from being a pretty strong group. I think they'll move that direction on draft day. A guy like Everette Brown will be hard to pass up." -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Owner Ralph Wilson signs off after input from chief operating officer Russ Brandon, top college scout Tom Modrak and head coach Dick Jauron.
Now On the Clock: San Francisco 49ers, April 7.
An NFL source expected Preston to make a decision early this week.
The Bills signed free-agent Geoff Hangartner, who has played both center and guard but likely will be in the middle. Preston would provide depth at center. He started the final 11 games at center last year but also can play guard.
The Bills still need a left guard after cutting starter Derrick Dockery.
|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.
Initial scrutiny of Terrell Owens will deal with the turmoil he created wherever he has been.
Pundits already are wagging their fingers at the Buffalo Bills for signing an aging, divisive figure.
But when it comes to the moribund Bills, let's face it: This might be a risk worth taking.
Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson is among the group who doesn't think the Bills made a wise move by taking on such a volatile player, but he admitted the move should improve the offense of a team that went 0-6 against the AFC East.
"They certainly needed a pass catcher, preferably a big one like Terrell Owens," Williamson said.
"Even though Terrell Owens is slipping, he can still go get it. That guy's a touchdown machine. He can beat you at all levels, but more than anything is he can go into tight corners. He's physical and his ball skills are great."
Owens last year caught 69 passes for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bills have one of the NFL's highest-paid receivers in the speedy Lee Evans, yet they ranked 22nd in passing offense last year at 190 yards a game. Only five teams threw fewer than their 14 touchdowns.
The Bills have thrown 26 touchdown passes over the past two years, the NFL's second-fewest in that span. Owens grabbed 25 touchdown receptions himself.
"Their red-zone passing game is very ordinary," Williamson said. "They've gotten very little out of the tight end position for years.
"Lee Evans is a real good player, but he's easy to take away when there's nothing else there. He's more or less a vertical threat and isn't a great end-zone player. He isn't a great, physical, bang-into-you, get-the-jump-balls receiver. When the field shrinks, so does Evans' potency."
The threat of Owens will help everybody, but especially Evans. While Owens, who turned 35 in December, doesn't get off the line cleanly anymore and will need pre-snap motion to free him up, teams will have trouble defending the whole field.
"Evans should be thrilled about this," Williamson said. "He's been such a focal point. Finally, there's something else to game plan against.
"Evans is the vertical guy. Owens is going to catch a lot of quick slants. He's fearless over the middle."
|Bills WR Terrell Owens meets the media for the first time after being introduced in Buffalo.|
Even so, Williamson isn't overly impressed by Buffalo's decision. He's not sold on Trent Edwards as a deep passer and sees too many holes on a line that wasn't all that swift last year and now is without starting left guard Derrick Dockery.
"It's a desperate team and a desperate player," Williamson said. "I'm sure Buffalo would have liked to go in a different direction, but there's not a lot of receivers out there. I'll bet Terrell Owens would have loved to go in a different direction, but Buffalo probably was the only suitor for him.
"With Terrell Owens' attitude, that could be a huge can of worms. If he's up there just because he feels that's his only option, and they start off the season 1-3, you can read the headlines now. It's not going to be pretty."