Immediately after the dust settled on draft weekend, Sean Kugler called Brad Butler with the news. Langston Walker was moving to left tackle. Butler was moving to right tackle. The two new rookies would fill the interior.
The offensive line coach needed to ensure that Butler was on board with the Bills’ full-scale overhaul. Moving to tackle is a big deal.
“I immediately told them that I wanted to do whatever was best for the team,” Butler told BuffaloFootballReport.com last week. “If they told me they needed me at field goal kicker, that’s what I’d do.”
So for the next few months, class remains in session. Offensive tackle is not a completely foreign to him. The towering, 6-foot-7 Butler played tackle for four years at Virginia in college. When the Bills drafted Butler in fifth round of the 2006 draft, they slid him inside to spark the development of Jason Peters at tackle.
Now Peters is gone and Butler is being re-groomed at his homegrown position.
In the ACC, Butler thrived in the thick of an overpopulated hatchery of speed rushers. The likes of Shawne Merriman, Kamerion Wimbley and Mathias Kiwanuka, presented daunting challenges every Saturday. The foundation should be engrained.
“Every week was a test,” Butler said. “You had to prepare every week to go against some top pass rushers.”
Butler has the SparkNotes for many aspects of the guard-to-tackle transition. He played against Virginia’s own 3-4 defense every day at practice during college. He is, well, 6-foot-7. And further, Buffalo utilized "fan" blocking against 3-4 fronts last year, which demanded Butler to swing outside and fend off defensive ends. Facing the taller, more finesse creatures on the edge isn’t a new obstacle. Butler fanned out half the time last season, he said. Against 4-3 defenses, this concept endures.
On the flip side, he must now stave off speed-rushing, 3-4 outside linebackers. Ten of Buffalo’s 16 opponents this season utilize 3-4 defenses. That means Miami’s Jason Taylor, New England’s Pierre Woods and possibly the New York Jets’ Vernon Gholston are on Butler’s radar twice each.
The Bills are counting on Langston Walker and Brad Butler holding serve at tackle.
Butler is working overtime with Kugler for 10-15 minutes after practice to get his steps down. Offensive tackle is all about establishing position quickly.
“On the outside edge, there’s more space out there and you’re against guys that are more athletic so you need to use your feet better,” Butler said.
There will be a learning curve. Being isolated on an island every pass play can be intimidating. Every mistake is magnified. After the Bills’ opted to reshuffle rather than reload at offensive tackle, Butler will be under pressure this season.
Yet still, Buffalo’s improvement on the offensive line is more about the forest and less about the trees. Last season, a verbal disconnect on the line doomed Buffalo.
In general, Butler said that when a quarterback gets sacked in the NFL it’s a direct result of communication breakdowns on the line “over 50 percent of the time.” Not 1-on-1 moves by ends. Not a speed rush. Not any physical miscue. Rather, pre-snap chatter. That was the problem last year. Center Duke Preston was shaky with his blocking calls at center and the line allowed 38 sacks — 10th most in the league.
Free agent pickup Geoff Hangartner and the rookie tandem of Eric Wood and Andy Levitre should remedy this problem.
“The people they brought in and the people they drafted are all great communicators,” Butler said. “That’s something an offensive line needs to succeed. It’s the one position on the field where five people always need to be communicating.”
Hailed as heady interior linemen, Wood, Hangartner and Levitre should change the climate up front. The Bills’ line wasn’t the smartest at times last year from Peters’ midseason lapses to Preston’s head-scratching skirmish in the finale.
This off-season, cohesion is being emphasized on a daily basis.
“Even though I’m playing right tackle, I need to know what the left tackle is doing all the way on the other side,” Butler said. “For us to have drafted and brought in some smart, bright, well-spoken people will help us in the long run.
“It’s important to have guys that understand what we’re trying to do out there every single play so breakdowns don’t cause sacks.”
The wild card now is Butler.
When Butler entered the league, he admits he wasn’t strong enough. At his size, the tendency is to play too upright. In the NFL, one wayward tilt upward can lead to a sack. Both guard and tackle require a strong, low base at the point of attack, Butler said. Not the stereotypical brute body-building associated with linemen.
“People always say, ‘What’s your bench press,’” Butler said. “Well, how often in a game did someone block somebody with a bench press, with their arms completely out?”
So with the help of trainers, Butler’s core and leg strength improved dramatically. Power cleans, hang cleans and abdominal work were emphasized. Butler quickly became Buffalo’s best guard — outshining the then-richest player in Buffalo sports history (Derrick Dockery). Last year, Butler was rewarded with a three-year, $8.8 million contract.
He’s been the go-to road-grader for Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson for two seasons. Now, Trent Edwards needs Butler. With off-season dough spent on the interior, the Bills are counting on Butler at right tackle.
It’s not a total eclipse, but it is a daily grind. Butler is 100 percent on board. He wants to stay in Buffalo for the long haul. A Sabres season-ticket holder, Butler repeatedly expressed his love for the city and the organization. When his friend and mentor Jack Kemp passed away, Russ Brandon’s secretary gave Butler an autographed football she found in her closet.
"It’s those little things that really mean a lot to me,” Butler said. “It’s been a blessing to be in Buffalo these past four years. The organization is amazing.”
Butler knows overturn runs rampant in the modern game, but he plans on staying in Buffalo for a long time. Doing so, hinges on how he adjusts to offensive tackle.
“The transition is not going to be like it was for George Wilson, moving from offense to defense a couple years ago,” Butler said, “but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and effort on my part. I feel like now is the time, minicamp is the time, to really make that transition smooth.”
Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com and also writes for the Buffalo News, Olean Times Herald and Packer Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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