AFC East: Geoff Hangartner

Making millions in the AFC East

March, 4, 2011
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Mark SanchezRichard A. Brightly/Icon SMIMark Sanchez is set to earn $14.75 million in base salary next season, the most in the AFC East.
Sports labor squabbles often are described as billionaires arguing with millionaires over money.

While that's a catchy rhyme that sums up fan frustration, the phrase is not entirely true.

Inspired by a blog entry from the minister of all things AFC South, Paul Kuharsky, I looked at NFL Players Association files to count up the number of AFC East players scheduled for $1 million base salaries in 2011.

Granted, up-front bonuses and incentives can make base salaries misleading. But base salaries are the only figures that create a common ground, player for player.

You'll see a vast majority of NFL players make much less than $1 million a year. Although many will make seven figures before they walk away from the game, careers are short and treacherous. They'll never see that kind of cash again for the rest of their lives.

That's why they're fighting for every dollar now.

Of the 226 players under contract in the AFC East, only 62 of them (27.4 percent) will make base salaries of $1 million or more.

The NFLPA hasn't acknowledged any franchise tags that have been signed. Those players are marked with an asterisk and not factored into the totals.

Buffalo Bills
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 19

Players under contract: 54

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 35.2

Miami Dolphins
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 15

Players under contract: 55

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 27.3

New England Patriots
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 60

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 23.3

New York Jets
Base salaries of $1 million or more: 14

Players under contract: 57

Percentage of roster making $1 million or more: 24.6

Seasons greetings from Orchard Park, N.Y.

December, 26, 2010
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Cold, gray and windy is the forecast for Sunday's matchup between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills here at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Temperature at kickoff will be about 23 degrees, but it will feel like 9 degrees, with winds gusting up to 23 mph. The chance of snow is 50 percent.

New England could clinch the AFC East title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while a victory over the Patriots would make Buffalo's season. The Bills have won four out of their past six games, including an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Buffalo has lost 14 straight games to New England and 19 out of 20 in the series.

The inactives:

New England Patriots
Buffalo Bills

Wood, Bess among All-Fundamental stars

December, 16, 2010
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When you stop and think about it, Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Eric Wood being honored for having the best fundamentals at guard is rather amazing.

[+] EnlargeEric Wood
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliBuffalo guard Eric Wood, left, recovered from a compound fracture to his left leg suffered last season.
Wood certainly entered the NFL with a pedigree. A first-round draft choice from Louisville, he was one of the best centers in last year's class, but the Bills converted him to guard. Wood played well, but suffered a compound left leg fracture in Week 10.

Wood not only had to relearn elementary body movements, but also progressed well enough at a new position to be named to USA Football's 2010 All-Fundamentals team.

Wood was recognized for pulling and run blocking at a position he has been playing for just a year and a half and while coming back from a gruesome injury that required extensive rehabilitation.

"You almost have to teach your leg how to do everything again," Wood said. "A lot of the muscle memory you take for granted playing ball your whole life, you've got to get back to it."

Wood started the first 10 games at right guard but was moved to center because Geoff Hangartner has been hurt.

The only other AFC East players to make the All-Fundamentals team were New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson (cuts and following blocks) Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long (hands in pass protection) and receiver Davone Bess (route running and catching).

Honored players are highlighted at AllFundamentalsTeam.com, where youth coaches and players can watch video clips of them exhibiting their techniques. USA Football also provides instruction points and a drills library.

"My technique and my fundamentals are something I really take pride in," Wood said.

Buffalo's O-line needs some duct tape

December, 8, 2010
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills can only draw a deep breath and trudge forward.

Injuries continue to pile up like lake-effect snow, but they still need to field a team Sunday.

The biggest concern is their offensive line. A knee injury will sideline center Geoff Hangartner against the Cleveland Browns in Ralph Wilson Stadium and force the Bills to juggle positions and play more backups.

Kraig Urbik, Hangartner's replacement in Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings, went on injured reserve with a knee injury. Left tackle Demetrius Bell missed Wednesday's practice with a knee injury.

"You're putting your head in the sand if you sit there and say 'It doesn't matter. They'll just pick up where everybody left off,'" Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "You have to think 'How much communication can go on? What can they handle? What can't they handle?' And you have to adjust from there.

"But you can't be so simple that you walk out there and you diminish what you can do with the other people on your team. So there's a balance that you try to reach between all of that."

Eric Wood, one of the nation's top collegiate centers in the 2009 draft before the Bills converted him to right guard, will handle the snaps. A couple of rookie tackles who've gotten reps at guard, Cordaro Howard and Ed Wang, will handle Wood's usual spot.

The interior changes likely will impact the run game more than pass protection. The Bills rank 17th in rushing yards per game. The Browns rank 20th in run defense, but 12th in yards per carry allowed.

The Browns rank 17th in sacks with 24. Outside linebacker Marcus Benard leads them with 6.5 sacks.

Buffalo's O more productive than Miami's

October, 25, 2010
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Compare the offenses of the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.

If you were putting a unit together, how many Bills -- position for position -- would you select ahead of Dolphins?

The Dolphins have what appear to be franchise players all over the place: quarterback Chad Henne, receivers Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess, running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey.

A lot of those players were on fantasy rosters this weekend. I doubt there were many Bills active in your league.

But the winless Bills have put together a vibrant offense that has been unnoticed by a lot of people outside Western New York. They nearly shocked the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday before falling in overtime 37-34.

The Bills can't win because their defense is terrible, but their offense has scored 10 more points than the Dolphins have.

Buffalo has 121 points through six games, not exactly the 2001 St. Louis Rams but more points than three clubs that have played seven games. More impressively, the Bills started with just 17 points over their first two games.

Since Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Trent Edwards at quarterback in Week 3, the Bills are averaging a reasonable 24 points a game and have scored at least 30 points in two of their past four games.

Hey, it's a start, and Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning should be envious.

The Dolphins haven't posted more than 23 points in any game because they can't score touchdowns and settle for field goals far too often. They kicked five field goals in a 23-22 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Competition has been similar between the Bills and Dolphins. They've played three common opponents and each other.

The Bills' different opponents have been the Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Dolphins have played the Steelers and Minnesota Vikings.

The average defensive ranking for Buffalo's opponents is 17.5 compared to 15.7 for Miami's opponents.

Oh, snap! Center-QB exchange important

September, 29, 2010
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Indianapolis Colts fixtures Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday are about to set a record.

Unless an injury befalls one of them, Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars will be the 158th start together for Manning and Saturday.

That will be the most quarterback-center exchanges since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, breaking the record held the past 14 years by Jim Kelly and Kent Hull with the Buffalo Bills.

"The chemistry between those two is a must for a quarterback to be successful," Kelly said. "I was blessed because I had Kent Hull for more than 90 percent of the snaps that I took in the NFL."

Although the quarterback gets the credit for audibles at the line of scrimmage, something Manning is famous for, the center plays a crucial role.

"We would go up to the line and Kent would turn to me and say 'Get out of it,' " Kelley said. "He knew based on the alignment of the nose tackle whether it was a 3-4 or a 4-3. He always knew if the play was going to work by their initial alignment when we'd get up there. I wouldn't even ask any questions or wait to look."

In the AFC East, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and center Dan Koppen are on the verge of breaking into the top five. They've started 103 games together and should surpass Phil Simms and Bart Oates on Halloween. Brady and Koppen have been to four Super Bowls together and won the first three.

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and All-Pro center Nick Mangold have a long way to go to catch up, but they're next at 19 starts.

The Miami Dolphins have rotated their centers every year. Young quarterback Chad Henne and center Joe Berger started six games last year and all three this year.

New Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has started nine games with center Geoff Hangartner.

Brady knows limitations against Fitzpatrick

September, 23, 2010
9/23/10
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Tom Brady much prefers competing throw for throw with Ryan Fitzpatrick and not test bubble for test bubble.

Brady knows the only way he can beat Fitzpatrick with a sharpened No. 2 pencil would be to stab him in the neck with it.

Ryan Fitzpatrick
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireRyan Fitzpatrick will start at QB for the Bills on Sunday.
"I'm not getting into a math contest, thank God," Brady said.

The Buffalo Bills named Fitzpatrick their starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium.

The Sporting News ranked Fitzpatrick fifth on its list of the smartest athletes in sports. He was the highest from football. The list appears in the issue dated Sept. 27 and hits newsstands this week.

Fitzpatrick has a Harvard economics degree. He scored a 1580 on his SAT. At the NFL scouting combine, he took the Wonderlic intelligence test in a record nine minutes and scored a 48 out of a possible 50 points.

"I don't have much of a chance, believe me," Brady said of a brainpower competition with Fitzpatrick. "I passed Michigan on a general studies degree, so ... You know; he's one of those Harvard kids. We've had a few of those around here, but I wouldn't compete with that."

The quarterback Fitzpatrick replaced, Trent Edwards, is a Stanford grad. Fitzpatrick, who was at Harvard when the Patriots won their three Super Bowls, will be playing at New England for the first time in his six NFL seasons.

The Bills will have the smartest center-quarterback exchange in the NFL. Bills center Geoff Hangartner reportedly scored a 47 on his Wonderlic exam, believed to be the highest ever by an offensive lineman at the combine.

Full-pad camp big change for Bills

July, 31, 2010
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills were in full pads again Saturday afternoon, making it three straight days and four straight sessions of training camp new head coach Chan Gailey made his players dress up.

That might sound routine to most football fans, and Gailey seems a tad baffled when reporters ask him about it.

But full-padded practices are a stark contrast to the way previous coach Dick Jauron conducted camps. The Bills were in full pads just a handful of times under Jauron, maybe as few as four or five sessions per camp, and never two days in a row.

"It should have been harder," fifth-year safety Donte Whitner said of Jauron's laid-back approach. "Whenever you're in a professional league -- football, basketball, soccer -- I think you have to be pushed. Sometimes you can get complacent and get used to the old coaching staff and the routine.

"We've seen with these last four practices, things are going to be tough. They expect us to do a lot."

Fans don't like to think of their teams as softies. Of course, the tradeoff for limited contact in training camp is supposed to be reduced injuries. But the Bills have been one of the most tattered teams in recent seasons. They finished last season with 21 players on injured reserve.

"We're definitely going to get a lot of work in pads," said safety George Wilson, "because Coach Gailey is trying to change the culture around here, change the mindset and attitudes and the way we prepare for games, our approach to each and every game, and he's trying to set the tone from day one.

"It's a different change-up from what we've had but, hey, the past 10 to 12 years for this organization haven’t been working so hey, let's give this a try."

Just a decade without the playoffs, George. Let's not make it worse than it already is.

There were no skirmishes Saturday like the one that broke out between outside linebacker Aaron Maybin and center Geoff Hangartner on Friday morning, but there's an obvious uptick in the intensity when the Bills line up for 11-on-11 drills.

"Even some of the drills, doing 35 or 40 reps at seven-on-seven, there's just a difference," Whitner said. "At the end of practice you feel like you've practiced."

Maybin cheap shot fires up Bills O-line

July, 30, 2010
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Aaron Maybin finally did something to stand out at Buffalo Bills practice.

And not in a good way.

In just the second session of training camp, Maybin drew the fury of the Bills' offensive line when he shoved running back Fred Jackson to the ground from behind at the end of a play during an 11-on-11 drill Friday morning. A brawl ensued.

Jackson hit the ground hard and yelled "Come on, man!"

From about 10 yards away, Bills center Geoff Hangartner stormed after Maybin. They engaged, hands in facemasks, until Maybin ducked down to pick up Hangartner from behind the knees and attempted to dump him with a wrestling move.

Offensive and defensive players jumped in to break them up. The combatants toppled to the ground and were being pulled apart when Maybin delivered a punch to Hangartner's cage. The fight happened about 20 feet in front of me.

"Do that again, Maybin! This is football!" defensive lineman Marcus Stroud hollered from a group of observers. Stroud, with his helmet off, was held out of practice for unspecified reasons. "You're supposed to get tackled!"

The tenor remained tense for a few more hard-hitting plays. Then Bills guard Eric Wood expressed a different sentiment to Maybin, the 11th overall pick in last year's draft who didn't start a game and finished the season with nine solo tackles.

"Give back some of that money you ain't [expletive] earned!" Wood screamed at the defensive huddle.

Maybin sat out all of training camp last year before signing a five-year contract that included $15 million in guarantees.

Wood was drafted 17 slots after Maybin last year. He started all 10 games before gruesomely breaking his left tibia and fibula. With a titanium rod in his leg, Wood was with the first-team offense when came opened Thursday.

Long-suffering Bills fans have to appreciate Wood's fiery reaction. I have a feeling the Bills will sell a few Wood jerseys once fans read coverage of Friday's fight.

Wood declined to comment when approached by Associated Press reporter John Wawrow.

"You hit our 1,000-yard rusher in the back when he's not looking, then it's going to cause some hard feelings with the O-line," Hangartner said. "We've got to protect our guy."

Maybin laughed off the altercation and said he didn't hear Wood's challenge.

"It is what it is," Maybin said. "It's a physical game."

"I'm never one to shy away from the contact portion of the game. If there's nobody who's going to be willing to get the practice started, I'll start things off for us."

Bills coach Chan Gailey will hold his daily news conference following Friday night's practice and was unavailable to share his thoughts about teammates tussling. Some coaches, such as predecessor Dick Jauron, abhor it because it demonstrates a lack of discipline and could lead to injuries. Other coaches like it because it indicates toughness.

When asked Thursday why he chose to put his players in pads on the first day of training camp -- Jauron always waited until the first Monday -- Gailey chuckled.

"We're in training camp, aren't we?" Gailey said. "Training camp is a time to go to work. We only have a certain number of opportunities to get out here and get better and be a physical football team. So we take advantage of every opportunity that we have."

Trent Edwards starts camp as No. 1 QB

July, 29, 2010
7/29/10
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- There was little surprise regarding the Buffalo Bills' quarterback pecking order that head coach Chan Gailey declined to reveal until the start of training camp Thursday afternoon.

Trent Edwards took the first snaps of camp behind a starting line of left tackle Demetrius Bell, left guard Andy Levitre, center Geoff Hangartner, right guard Eric Wood and right tackle Cornell Green. Fred Jackson was the running back.

About 10 minutes into the workout at St. John Fisher College, Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterbacked the second unit, leaving Brian Brohm with the third string.

I will report more after hearing what Gailey has to say after practice.

World Cup allegiances allowed to shift

July, 4, 2010
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Buffalo Bills offensive lineman and soccer fanatic Kirk Chambers will share his World Cup thoughts with the AFC East blog throughout the tournament.

When you're a fan of a team that constantly leaves you crestfallen, it's OK to have a backup squad.

Kirk Chambers needed some time to recover after USA's flirt-with-disaster run through the World Cup came to an appropriate end. Ghana snuffed the U.S. 2-1 with an extra-time goal.

"I was heartbroken," Chambers said. "To come so close again, hoping for a miracle and it not happening, it was deflating. All the air was released."

If you're going to continue to follow the tournament, then a rooting interest is desirable.

At least Chambers has Germany left. Germany advanced to the semifinals with a 4-0 rout of Argentina. He also is pulling for German forward Miroslav Klose to win back-to-back Golden Boots as the top World Cup scorer.

But don't think Chambers is jumping onto the bandwagon in his lederhosen. He fell in love with soccer while serving his Mormon mission in Berlin. He speaks fluent German. His father taught German in high school.

"That's where I spent two years of my life," said Chambers, who majored in public policy and minored in German studies at Stanford. "They just play good football. They've just been a machine on how they play and possess the ball. They're team-oriented, not selfish."

But Chambers didn't select Germany or the U.S. to win it all in his ESPNsoccernet Bracket Predictor. He penciled in Brazil as the champion, a decision that will destroy his bracket. Bills center Geoff Hangartner, who knows little about soccer and was cajoled into filling out a bracket, picked Germany.

Chambers' heart will always be with the U.S. team. He's generally satisfied with its showing in the World Cup despite his disappointment the sport will "fall back into obscurity until they start playing qualifiers again."

"A standard's been set to play well in group play and get through," Chambers said. "I'm not going to say they dominated in group play, but they showed up well. They performed as well as they should have when you look at it realistically."

Chambers has been impressed with emerging U.S. players such as Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez and Benny Feilhaber.

Chambers was struck by the dramatic exit of America's ouster. Ghana had a glorious chance to defeat Uruguay when Luis Suarez desperately used his hand inside the cage to prevent a goal. Suarez was ejected. Asamoah Gyan was awarded a penalty kick that should have ended the game. Gyan missed. Uruguay won in the shootout.

"Suarez purposely handballs," Chambers said. "He's in the goal. He knows he's getting kicked out and not playing in the next game. But that was a heads up play by Uruguay and an amazing outcome."

All sorts of reasons to keep watching.

Chambers: Goal restores World Cup beauty

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
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Buffalo Bills offensive lineman and soccer fanatic Kirk Chambers will share his World Cup thoughts with the AFC East blog throughout the tournament.

In about the time it will take you to read this paragraph, the tenor of the world's most spectacular sports tournament changed for the United States. Like a lightning strike, the U.S. turned a stoppage-time counterattack into the most dramatic World Cup goal it ever has scored to beat Algeria 1-0, win the pool and avoid going home dejected.

[+] EnlargeLandon Donovan (10) celebrates his goal with forward Edson Buddle
Adam Jacobs/Icon SMILandon Donovan (10) celebrates his goal with forward Edson Buddle.
"You go from despair to complete exhilaration in the 13 seconds it took to go from one end to the other," Bills offensive lineman Kirk Chambers said.

Chambers didn't see Landon Donovan convert the rebound Wednesday morning. Chambers was on the practice field for the first day of Bills minicamp. "I have to work -- like a lot of people," he said. But when a Bills employee rushed out to inform Chambers of the result, they embraced in celebration.

Chambers loves soccer, but he had been a bit grumpy before Wednesday.

In his previous World Cup analysis for the AFC East blog, he focused on the frustrating flopping phenomenon that makes it tough for Americans to watch and the misery of the blown call that prevented the U.S. from beating Slovenia in its previous pool match.

Had Donovan not scored 45 seconds into four minutes of injury time, then the disallowed goal against Slovenia would have been the signature moment of the World Cup stateside.

"There may be some fans converted here," Chambers said. "Without that goal, then it's just another World Cup where the U.S. disappoints. If three more minutes run off the clock and there's no goal, we have another four years to ho-hum about not making it through group play again.

"It was a big goal. Of course, football is my first love, but this proves that soccer is a fun sport. There really is a lot to love. You just have to put a little effort into it."

Chambers watched Wednesday's white-knuckler on DVR, but he will be able to soak in Saturday morning's match against Ghana at home. Bills camp breaks Friday, allowing Chambers to enjoy U.S.-Ghana with his brothers at home in Provo, Utah.

Chambers should be 2-0 in picking matches so far. He forecasted a 2-1 U.S. victory over Slovenia (should have been a 3-2 victory) and nailed his 1-nil prediction for Wednesday.

He thinks the U.S. will beat Ghana 2-1.

"Ghana, I think we owe them a little payback for kicking us out of group play the last go-round," Chambers said. "They look like a pretty strong side.

"A lot of the U.S. play is just being scrappy. They have to keep that, stay within their game, tighten up on defense and make those runs at the goal when they can."

Bills confident 3-4 defense will stuff the run

June, 24, 2010
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills' defense was atrocious against the run last year.

They ranked 30th in rushing yards yielded. Only one team surrendered a worse average than their 4.7 yards per carry. They gave up a league-worst 134 first downs on the ground and 18 runs of 20 yards or longer.

[+] EnlargePaul Posluszny
Al Bello/Getty ImagesBills linebacker Paul Posluszny and the Buffalo defense allowed a league-worst 134 first downs on the ground last season.
That was when they operated out of a 4-3 defense. Under new head coach Chan Gailey and defensive coordinator George Edwards, the Bills are working out of a 3-4, a scheme that can be susceptible to the run by nature of its design.

How do the Bills plan on improving their run defense in this transition?

In a word, creatively.

"We're trying to show one thing, and we're going to do another, which we haven't done in the past," nose tackle Kyle Williams said after Thursday's early minicamp session in the Bills' field house. "You have guys like Tom Brady; when they know what coverages you're going to be in, it's a tough road to hoe. They can identify where they need to go with the ball most of the time, and they can get rid of the ball quickly. We're going to confuse some things, disguise some things."

As much as the Bills' dreadful offense has taken blame for their problems, the defense under head coach Dick Jauron was just as troubling. Yes, the Bills ranked second in pass defense last year, but a contributing factor was that opponents trampled them on the ground.

Jauron favored a Tampa 2-style defense, using smaller and quicker defenders. Tony Dungy popularized the Tampa 2, implementing it with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and using it to win a Super Bowl for the Indianapolis Colts.

ESPN Stats & Information found the Bills allowed an NFL-worst 5.3 yards per carry against a loaded box (more defenders than blockers).

They also gave up 4.5 yards per carry when they had eight men in the box. That was third-worst in the league behind the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs at 4.6 yards.

Here's another eye-opener from ESPN's researchers: The Bills allowed 6.6 yards per carry on third-and-2 or shorter.

"When Coach Edwards got here," linebacker Paul Posluszny said, "one of the first things he talked about was 'It doesn't matter how many blitz packages we have, how many different schemes we have, if we don't stop the run we're going to have problems.' We've got to be able to do that."

The Bills will be sturdier against the run partially because defenders need to be larger and more rugged than the streamlined athletes used in a Tampa 2.

But in a conventional 3-4, spaces hover over the guard positions before every snap, creating natural holes to run through. The tradeoff is versatility at linebacker. Offenses can't be sure whether they're going to blitz, stuff or cover.

"It's comforting to know when you step in front of somebody, they have no idea where you're going to go," Williams said. "In the past, they pretty much knew what we were going to do. Now they also have to look past [the defensive line] and wonder if a linebacker's coming or what we might be doing."

The linebackers, not the defensive linemen, become are the stars of the 3-4 defense. Roles are too rigid in a 4-3 and limit their opportunities to make plays.

"Our 'backers are coming downhill now and taking guys on rather than fast flowing over the top to the ball, where we got hurt on a lot of cutbacks and things," Williams said. "With the way we're going to do the 3-4, we're going to try to stack things up at the line and make [the runner] bounce outside so we can rally and go get him."

The Bills aren't suited to resemble the AFC East's other 3-4 defenses, which are more traditional. Their rivals have behemoth nose tackles like Vince Wilfork and Kris Jenkins taking on two blockers at a time.

Williams is small nose tackle at 6-foot-1 and 306 pounds, but he's shifty. Bills center Geoff Hangartner said Williams has "been a pain in my behind" in workouts and is "country strong."

Hangartner also noted how the Bills' switch to a 3-4 should help Buffalo's offense prepare for the upcoming season. Buffalo faced a 3-4 defense 11 times last year, and quarterback Trent Edwards has an awful history against that template.

The more the Bills compete against a 3-4 in training camp, the more comfortable they'll be when they see one on Sunday afternoons.

"Our defense last year was the complete opposite of a 3-4," Hangartner said. "It was hard last year to get guys that play a 4-3 to give you a good look in practice in a 3-4. It's only going to help us prepare for games."

Chambers: Soccer flops turn fans away

June, 18, 2010
6/18/10
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Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Kirk Chambers will share his World Cup thoughts with the AFC East blog throughout the tournament.

Kirk Chambers saw plenty of carnage last year.

The Bills finished the season with 21 players on injured reserve. Six of them played with Chambers on the offensive line. Right tackle Brad Butler blew out his knee. Rookie right guard Eric Wood suffered a broken leg reminiscent of Joe Theismann's.

So when Chambers watches soccer, a sport he otherwise loves, he understands how American football fans can be turned off by all the players theatrically thrashing on the pitch.

"As a football player, if I were to roll around on the ground and hold my knee when my I get my ankle clicked," Chambers said, "I think I'd lose a little respect in the business, where in soccer it's accepted, if not encouraged."

Chambers has a passion for soccer, but a few days into the World Cup, he sent me a text message to tell me we had to address flopping in our next blog item about the tournament.

"You think 'Oh, get up, you little ...' What's a word we can use on the blog? 'Get up you pansy,'" Chambers said. "I've seen guys writhing in pain with their hand over their face, and next thing you know their fingers are slit so they can look at the ref and see if it's working. It's just a joke at that point, right?"

Not a joke is the importance of Friday morning's game to the USA's chances of advancing to the second stage. The U.S. will play Slovenia.

Chambers predicts a 2-1 U.S. victory and a more legitimate result than the cheap draw it had with England last week. The U.S. tied on goalkeeper Robert Green's flub.

"In any sport, especially in a tournament like the World Cup, you need to have a little bit of luck on your side, too," Chambers said. "All of the teams that advance are going to get a lucky break. You take it when it happens.

"Would I have liked to see Jozy Altidore score on his run? That would have been a way cooler way to tie things up. But, hey, you take a shot outside the box and it rolls off the keepers' gloves, you take it."

You can follow the ESPNsoccernet Bracket Predictor that Chambers filled out. Also in his public league is Bills center Geoff Hangartner. You can see Hangertner's bracket, too.

Bell under pressure to prove Bills right

May, 26, 2010
5/26/10
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BellScott Boehm/Getty ImagesBills tackle Demetrius Bell is feeling the pressure after a mediocre 2009 season.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Yeah, Demetrius Bell felt the pressure. He had no choice.

It engulfed him when he emerged from the tunnel at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and even more when he was in another team's stadium. The boos were so loud he could feel their percussion, both home and away. He knew the coaches pacing the sideline and his teammates in the huddle were especially counting on him.

"It's everything you can think," Bell said. "It's millions watching at home. It's this Pro Bowler across from you, the player next to you, the preparation that goes into the week."

Six days before last season began, the focus was abruptly on Bell. The Buffalo Bills handed him the second most important job on the field despite the fact he hadn't played an NFL down.

He became a left tackle in the NFL, the quarterback's blindside protector. The team's success could hinge on his every flinch. One false movement and the man he's paid to shield lies in a crumpled heap.

"It's goose bumps," Bell said. "Know what you're getting yourself into. It's probably the greatest experience I ever had in my life, but it can get nasty out there."

Did it ever get nasty. Bell had a brutal season. He became the symbol of Buffalo's overwhelmed offensive line and remains a question mark headed into 2010.

Bell has been unable to participate in this week's voluntary team workouts. He's still recovering from surgery on his right knee. But unless the Bills trade for a veteran, say, Jared Gaither of the Baltimore Ravens or Jammal Brown of the New Orleans Saints, the left tackle job appears to be Bell's to lose.

The Bills didn't take a tackle the first two days of this year's draft and haven't selected one earlier than the fifth round since Mike Williams in 2002.

"I would say I'm still in the driver's seat," Bell said Tuesday after watching the Bills practice from the sideline. "I don't think I've reached a quarter up the ladder. I'd say I'm just now scratching the surface.

"I'm not saying that I know everything about football, but I'm learning."

You have to wonder what the Bills were thinking when they shoved Bell into the starting lineup last year at a position so important it ranks behind only quarterback and defensive end in top-end salaries.

Bell didn't play organized football at any level until August 2005 at Northwestern (La.) State. The Bills took a seventh-round flyer on him in 2008 but allowed him to dress for only one game as a rookie.

"Man, when I first entered the league, I didn't know diddly-squat," Bell said.

Yet he was thrust into the starting lineup last September with zero NFL game experience and at an intensely controversial time for the Bills.

He not only replaced two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, who had forced his way out via trade, but also Langston Walker, their most experienced offensive lineman. Walker was the assumed left tackle when Peters left, but the Bills cut Walker a week before the season opener.

Bell was the NFL's most penalized player before a knee injury in Week 10 ended his season. He also missed a game because of a groin problem. He missed eight games yet still finished the season ranked 12th with 10 penalties committed.

ProFootballFocus.com broke down film to analyze the best pass blockers last year, and Bell ranked dead last among all offensive lineman. ProFootballFocus.com charged Bell with five sacks, seven QB hits and 18 pressures on only 248 pass-blocking snaps.

Circumstances, however, make all performances relative.

"I thought he did a really good job," Bills center Geoff Hangartner said. "It's a tough position to play and all the chaos made it even tougher. You're protecting your quarterback's blindside 99 percent of the time against guys like Julius Peppers.

"The thing that he's lacking right now is experience. The guy works hard at it and when he figures it out and gets some craftiness about him, he has a chance to be a heck of a good left tackle."

Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson has long been a critic of the Bills' decision to play Bell last year. But Williamson sees upside.

"True starting left tackles don't grow on trees, but Bell is interesting," Williamson said. "He was very raw coming out of college, having mostly played basketball in his life. But he moves well, as basketball players do.

"If he has gotten much better fundamentally and with his overall strength, then there might be something there to mold. Players with less talent have been adequate starting left tackles, but it isn't an easy position to play."

Bell admitted fear was his greatest motivator last year. That's common among even the toughest professional athletes, but they don't always like to discuss it out of well, fear, outsiders will consider them weak-minded.

"You can say you're not scared," Bell said, "but I'm telling you. ... I think that makes me play to the best of my ability. It's a gut check. It really is a gut check.

"Don't get beat. That's the No. 1 mentality. Don't let the quarterback get hit."

Added Hangartner: "If you take a poll of any locker room, the biggest motivator is going to be the fear of failure. I honestly believe that's what drives most great athletes."

Bell said he doesn't ever want that fear to subside.

He wants to keep feeling the pressure because it's what makes an NFL player feel alive, especially when he's the one entrusted to protect the quarterback.

"No matter how many snaps you take, there's going to be goose bumps," Bell said.

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