Thursday night's preseason opener at the Ralph will give Buffalo Bills fans a chance for first impressions of the team's 2012 draft class. While much of the focus will undoubtedly be on the Bills' potent defensive line and whether or not they can sack the Washington Redskins' much-hyped Robert Griffin III, it's worth paying attention to the Bills' other group of linemen.
While not nearly as impressive on paper as the team's D-line, the offensive line has been refreshed and revitalized in its own right. Seasons past have seen the O-line as a shaky area of need. It was hard for this fan to have much confidence that a stable group of high quality starters would ever solidify for the Bills in the foreseeable future. Luckily, that's changing.
The team has recently settled on a core group and made some long-term investments. Erik Pears is the solution at RT. Before the end of last season, the Bills signed him to a 3-year extension worth $9.3 million dollars. Considering that Pears was the stand-out player on the O-line last year, he's well worth the price tag.
Of course, the other O-line stand-out is Eric Wood at center. In fact, Wood's absence throughout a good chunk of last season due to injury made many fans realize just how valuable he is. The lack of a reliable starter like Wood in at center was sorely felt. Keeping Wood healthy this season will be especially important so that Kraig Urbik can stay right where is at right guard. Although Colin Brown and Mark Asper are listed behind Wood on the depth chart, it's hard to imagine that the Bills wouldn't consider reshuffling the line the way they did last year.
Gone is Demetrius (aka Demetress) Bell, who had mixed success at LT, and his future in Buffalo had long seemed like a question mark. With Bell out of the mix, it seems that Chan Gailey and company have gone with last year's 4th round draft pick Chris Hairston, out of Clemson, to fill in. As of now, Hairston is listed as the starting left tackle and it's not hard to see why. When Hairston took over for an injured Bell last season, the rookie did much to impress the Bills brass.
Hairston's experience on the field, limited though it might be, was apparently enough to get him the nod over a guy named Cordy Glenn. The OT out of Georgia, picked 41st overall in the second round, is currently sitting behind Hairston on the depth chart, but make no mistake; Glenn is the O-line's x-factor, the ace up the sleeve of offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris's sleeve.
In 2011, Glenn was named First Team All-SEC, and earned an All-America Third-Team pick as well as an SEC Offensive Linemen of the Week nod. In the lead-up to this year's draft, the Sporting News had him pegged as their No. 14 prospect overall, saying "his exceptional athleticism, given his measurables, provides him with the versatility to start at any position along the offensive line." If Glenn lives up to (or surpasses) expectations, he could make as big an impact as Stephon Gilmore.
There is no doubt that Glenn is the starting offensive linemen of the future for the Bills. While it looks like he'll stay listed as a backup going into the regular season, you can bet that he'll get time on the field. Glenn's versatility means that the Bills will have an extra layer of O-line depth this year in the form of someone who might just be among the most promising young offensive linemen in the NFL right now. Depending on how things go down this year, Glenn might well be poised for a breakout rookie season. Keep your eyes on him.
Taurus Londono grew up in Buffalo, NY, where he watched the Buffalo Bills go to four consecutive Super Bowls. He is a lifelong fan of the team.
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