BBD Staff Writer: Ryan Talbot
Offensive line isn’t a sexy position in general, but Buffalo’s offensive line has been unheralded in recent seasons. Last season, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked the team fourth in the league in pass blocking with a +45.2 rating and first in the league in 2011 with a +66.3 rating.
As for run blocking, the Bills didn’t do as well, according to PFF. In 2012 they ranked 21st in the league with -2.3 rating and 15th in 2011 with a -2.7 rating. Bills running backs however have had their fair share of success, so the offensive line is certainly providing C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson with their fair share of opportunities.
For the Bills line to continue being so effective in 2013, the team will have to adequately replace Andy Levitre, their best lineman over the last two seasons, at left guard. Levitre, of course, left via free agency for the Tennessee Titans.
Can the Bills replace Levitre? Will the team continue to thrive in pass protection? It will all depend on the ability of the team’s returning offensive linemen and new additions to step up.
In the following look at the Bills’ roster of offensive linemen, players are listed under their Buffalo Bills roster position. Players listed simply as “OL” can typically play multiple positions.
Glenn is coming off of a solid rookie season where he played and started in 13 games as the team’s left tackle. Glenn should be even better in 2013.
Last season, Glenn hit the rookie wall so to speak. According to PFF, Glenn gave up six sacks on the season, and five of them occurred in the final four weeks of the season.
Entering his second season, Glenn will have better expectations of how he needs to be conditioned so he doesn’t wear down at the end of the season. Glenn does not have any true competition for the starting left tackle role, so as long as he stays healthy, pencil Glenn in for 16 games.
Heading into training camp, the right tackle job is Hairston’s to lose. In 2012, Hairston filled in for Glenn at left tackle when an ankle injury sidelined Glenn. After three starts at left tackle, Hairston was named the starting right tackle. Hairston started five games at right tackle and finished the season playing in 12 total games before being placed on injured reserve with a bone injury in his right foot.
Hairston played well in his second season, giving up only two sacks according to PFF. Heading into his third NFL season, look for Hairston to continue to improve under the new coaching regime. Buffalo’s youth at tackle will benefit them for many years if Hairston and Glenn continue to improve.
Erik Pears is a quality tackle with 54 career starts under his belt, but Pears is likely to backup Hairston in 2013. Pears struggled at times at right tackle in 2012, which led to Hairston taking over as right tackle. His cap hit of $2.8 million makes Pears a surprise cut candidate, although I think this is doubtful. Pears’ veteran presence cannot be replaced at tackle and if either tackle goes down, Pears will be the one called into action.
Welch has bounced around quite a bit in his short NFL career. In 2010, Welch was a seventh round pick of the Patriots but didn’t make the 53-man roster. Welch next went to the Vikings’ practice squad before returning to the Patriots again. The Bills then added Welch to their practice squad before the Rams signed him away. The Eagles claimed Welch off of waivers next before the Bills finally claimed him again. Welch has been activated to the main roster in stints with the Vikings, Patriots, Rams and Bills, but it’s clear that Welch is just a journeyman.
Urbik has played and started in 26 total games in the last two seasons. He’s a sure thing when it comes to starting at right guard for the Bills. Urbik has some durability concerns as he has missed three games in each of the last two seasons, but he has played very well for the Bills. Much like Cordy Glenn, no one is going to compete for Urbik’s job.
Williams was drafted by the Steelers in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL draft. The Steelers released Williams and he was claimed by the Bills. Williams was called up to the main roster in 2012 and played in two games. Williams isn’t in contention to win the left guard spot, but he could earn a roster spot with a strong training camp.
Chibane, an undrafted free agent from Syracuse, is familiar with the coaching staff but he’s not in contention to start on the Bills’ offensive line. Chibane is another player just battling for a roster spot at this point.