BBD Editor: Dan Hope
Going into last week, there were already three major position groups of concern for the Buffalo Bills: quarterback, the offensive line and cornerback. The concerns surrounding the Bills at each of those positions have grown in the past three days.
Potential starting quarterback Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion and No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore suffered a fractured wrist in the Bills’ preseason loss to the Washington Redskins on Saturday, and both are expected to miss a significant period of time. Starting right tackle Chris Hairston, however, is officially out for the season.
The Bills placed Hairston on the Reserve/Non-Football Illness list Monday, which ends his season. Hairston, who started five games at right tackle and three games at left tackle last season, had not played yet this preseason due to an unspecified lower body injury. He ran into injury issues last season as well, however, missing the final four games of the season due to an ankle injury.
Erik Pears will be the starting right tackle with Hairston out of the lineup. This is not new for Pears: he started seven games at right tackle last season, and was a 16-game starter at the position in 2011. Pears also ran into injury issues last season, missing the final nine games of the year due to a groin/hip injury.
Although Hairston has proved to be a better player than Pears over the past two seasons, the change in starters is not the biggest issue with losing Hairston. Neither Hairston nor Pears is among the league’s best right tackles, and the position is one where the Bills should look for a long-term improvement next season. For this season, however, losing Hairston decreases the depth at a position group where depth was already a problem.
The Bills have two shaky starting spots on the offensive line — left guard and right tackle — but their depth across the offensive line is even more concerning. Sam Young will likely have to be elevated to the role of the third tackle with Pears now in the starting lineup. Outside of Doug Legursky, who will likely be the primary backup at all three interior line positions, the Bills have almost no other solid options for offensive line backups.
Two players whose odds of making the roster are increased by Hairston’s injury are guard Antoine Caldwell and offensive tackle/guard Zebrie Sanders, even though neither player has put much on display this preseason.
The Bills should also take a close look at any offensive linemen who are released by the rest of the league’s teams in their final cuts. With a lack of talent and depth across the offensive line, the Bills have a good chance of being able to find at least one upgrade from another team’s waivers.
The rest of the starting offensive line is expected to consist of left tackle Cordy Glenn, left guard Colin Brown, center Eric Wood and right guard Kraig Urbik.