Nix: Offensive line depth Bills' primary concern
PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP)
Lack of depth along the Buffalo Bills offensive line has become general manager Buddy Nix's primary concern three weeks into training camp. And he's not sure whether that can be addressed before the start of the season.
''We don't have enough offensive linemen. We don't have enough depth,'' Nix told The Associated Press on Tuesday. ''Our guys are a work in progress.''
Nix based his observation on what he's seen in practice at camp in suburban Rochester and on how the line performed in a preseason-opening 10-3 loss at Chicago on Saturday.
While starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick moved the ball effectively in his two series with the starters, the backups struggled in both protecting the quarterback and opening holes for the running attack. Buffalo managed 89 yards rushing, 55 of those coming from its quarterbacks on both broken plays and designed runs.
Nix expressed confidence in the Bills starting five linemen, but wasn't sure whether he'll have to wait until the offseason to add proven depth.
That's not encouraging for an offense that showed signs of spark once Fitzpatrick took over as the starter, but still finished 25th in the NFL in yards gained and scored more than 20 points only four times en route to a 4-12 finish last season.
Coach Chan Gailey isn't waiting for help to arrive. He began tinkering with his line in practice Tuesday by having Chad Rinehart work at left guard in place of two-year starter Andy Levitre. Gailey has been impressed with Rinehart's play in camp, and wants to give him a shot to compete for the job by having him split time with Levitre.
Asked if he's unhappy with Levitre's play, Gailey said: ''No. Chad's just earned a shot.''
Rinehart spent two seasons with the Redskins before signing with the Bills in October. He spent a month on Buffalo's practice squad before appearing in the team's final four games, a stretch that included three starts at right guard.
The apparent demotion surprised Levitre, who's been starting at left guard since the Bills selected him in the second-round of the 2009 draft.
''Honestly, I don't really know what their plan is,'' Levitre said. ''It's frustrating, but you've got to keep going out there and working hard and getting better. That's the big thing: I've got to prove to them that I can still play.''
Gailey opened camp with a line shuffle by moving right guard Eric Wood to center, replacing veteran Geoff Hangartner. And one of the thinnest positions is left tackle, where the Bills have little proven depth behind starter Demetrius Bell.
The offense, as a whole, performed poorly in practice on Tuesday. It didn't matter what lineup was on the field during team drills. The quarterbacks had little protection, and practice ended with a dud, when Fitzpatrick fittingly had a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage.
The Bills offensive line has been unsettled for much of the past decade as the team has failed in attempts to patch the unit with both journeymen and high-priced free agents. Injuries have also played a factor.
Two years ago, Levitre and Hangartner were the only two linemen to play in all 16 games. Last season, only Levitre and Bell started all 16 games on a unit that had three players spend time at right tackle.
Except for using a fourth-round pick to select tackle Chris Hairston in the draft in April, the Bills did not make any notable improvements to their line this offseason.
Nix said he entered the draft to focus on improving what had been a porous defense. Tackle Tyson Clabo did express interest in signing with the Bills in free agency last month, before electing to re-sign with the Atlanta Falcons.
''You can't,'' Nix said, ''fix everything at once.''
NOTES: Rookie sixth-round pick, LB Chris White, will miss about three weeks after suffering a leg injury against Chicago. Gailey didn't specify the nature of the injury except to say someone rolled up on White. ... WR Craig Davis will miss a week with a strained leg. ... The Bills have two more days of practice before they break training camp.