Open Opportunity for rookie guards

Eric Wood (Getty Images)

Eric Wood and Andy Levitre could both wind up starting on Buffalo's offensive line by Week One...

The Bills are likely to open the season with two rookie guards on their offensive line, but these aren't just any two rookies.

The team spent a first-round pick on Louisville's Eric Wood and a second-round pick on Oregon State's Andy Levitre, moves signifying the seriousness of their plans.

While much can change between May and September, when the Bills open their 50th anniversary season under the pressure of "Monday Night Football" at rival New England, Wood (right guard) and Levitre (left) are lining up with the first team when activities reconvene on May 18 with voluntary organized team activities.

"We may just leave them alone but we know that they are guys that give us flexibility and they can move around," coach Dick Jauron said. "Obviously Eric played center (in college) and we know he can play guard. Andy has played guard and tackle and he's actually snapped in practices, too. We may leave them alone. It just depends on how it goes, but as it moves along we know they have flexibility."

The Bills will have some interest in signing left tackle Levi Jones, released on Wednesday by the Cincinnati Bengals. If they don't sign Jones, their starting line heading into their busy offseason work schedule looks like this: Langston Walker at left tackle, Levitre at left guard, Geoff Hangartner at center, Wood at right guard, Brad Butler at right tackle.

That's three new players overall and new faces at all five positions. Walker shifts from right to left tackle to replace Jason Peters (traded to Philadelphia) and Butler shifts from right guard to tackle, his natural position.

As rookies, Wood and Levitre will draw a lot of attention from opposing defensive coordinators, fans and media. One thing is clear at this stage: They don't lack confidence and aren't afraid to work.

"I'm coming in to compete for a spot, and wherever my competition lands me, if I'm a starter that's great, but ultimately I want to be a starter for this team," Levitre said.

Said Wood: "I know they want me to come in and compete, and that's what I'm going to do. I have a lot of respect for the guys that are here and I have to come in and earn my spot. I don't want a penciled in starting spot until I've done something on the field."

They earned their opportunities with tremendous college careers.

Wood, 6-feet-4, 304 pounds, started 49 consecutive games for Louisville at center, registering 328 knockdown blocks and 46 touchdown-producing blocks.

Levitre, whom the Bills traded two picks to the Dallas Cowboys in order to move up 24 positions, started 39 games for Oregon State, all at left or right tackle. But at 6-2, 306 with shorter arms than desired, he's projected as an interior lineman at the NFL level. As a tackle, he had 173 knockdown blocks and 23 touchdown-resulting blocks for his career.

During last weekend's rookie minicamp, Wood and Levitre got acquainted and began breaking in their playbooks.

"Last night we actually sat down and we were going over the plays and stuff making sure that we were pretty clear on what we were going to be doing," Levitre said. "But we're getting along very well and I think the both of us are going to help contribute to this offensive line."

Wood expressed amazement by how much he was picking up working with the offensive line coaches.

"Just to get another viewpoint on correcting your weaknesses," he said. "Coach (Sean) Kugler and Coach (Ray) Brown do a great job. I've learned so much in the last day and a half, it's not even funny."

The Bills were believed to be among a handful of teams that inquired about Jones, who has a history of injuries. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2002 draft and started 89 games for the Bengals, who spent their first-round pick on Alabama's Andre Smith.

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