BBD Editor: Dan Hope
One of the most intriguing areas of competition to watch at Buffalo Bills training camp, which begins with its opening practice Sunday evening, will be the offensive line. That competition was increased Sunday, prior to the start of practice, with the team’s announced signings of veteran offensive lineman Antoine Caldwell and Tony Hills.
For a team with one wide-open starting spot at left guard, another possible competition at right tackle and a need for solid depth across the line, Caldwell and Hills were brought in to push the players already in place on the roster.
Caldwell has appeared in 39 games with 19 starts over the course of his first four NFL seasons, all with the Houston Texans. All 19 of those starts in Houston came as a right guard, but he has the versatility to play all three spots on the interior offensive line.
Caldwell will likely compete with Doug Legursky and Colin Brown to be the Bills’ starting left guard. Like Legursky, he has a good amount of starting experience, but his overall performance in those starts has been subpar. Pro Football Focus (subscription required for premium statistics) graded Caldwell 66th among the 81 guards who played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps last season, with an overall grade of -8.1.
Caldwell remained unsigned at the start of NFL training camps for a reason, and he is more likely the underdog than the favorite in the three-way left guard competition. His signing is effective, however, in ratcheting up the pressure on both Legursky and Brown to perform immediately in training camp. Between the three players, the Bills are likely to only keep two of them on the regular-season roster.
Hills fits the definition of a journeyman NFL backup. He has played on three different teams in five seasons, and has only one career start, which came last season with the Indianapolis Colts.
Hills is not a serious candidate to start at right tackle, but he does give the team more depth at the offensive tackle position with some versatility to kick inside to guard as well. He will likely compete with Erik Pears, Sam Young and Zebrie Sanders for one of two or three swing tackle/guard spots.
After releasing Chris Scott on Saturday but signing two on Sunday, the Bills currently have 17 offensive linemen on their roster as training camp begins. With the team likely to keep around nine offensive linemen, the majority of the team’s offensive line will be competing for a job in the next few weeks.
Left tackle Cordy Glenn, center Eric Wood, right guard Kraig Urbik and right tackle Chris Hairston should take up four of those spots. The rest of those spots could all be on the line in training camp competition. For young hopefuls like undrafted rookie Zach Chibane and second-year player David Snow, the uphill battle to landing a spot on the final 53-man roster only became steeper with Sunday’s roster moves.
For more on the rest of the Bills’ offensive line, check out Ryan Talbot’s Positional Preview.