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BILLS TO GET LINE ON TACKLE SPOT AT DRAFT

This is the first in a seven-part series previewing the NFL draft. Today's
installment looks at the offensive line.

The Buffalo Bills' offensive line picture should come into focus in two weeks when the NFL holds its annual college draft.

By then we will find out the likely solution to the biggest hole in the Bills' starting lineup -- left tackle.

Will it be the No. 1 option on the current roster, center Trey Teague? Will it be veteran L.J. Shelton, if the Bills and Arizona Cardinals pull the trigger on a trade for running back Travis Henry? Will a rookie drafted in the second or third round vie for the job? And with Teague entering the last year of his contract, will the Bills take one of the promising centers in the draft.

The possibilities are numerous.

One thing is certain regarding the 2005 offensive line draft crop. There are not any All-Pros-in-waiting coming out of the college ranks this year. This draft is expected to be the first in six years in which no offensive lineman is taken in the top 10 picks.

But that does not mean the talent pool on the line is thin.

"I think there's going to be some good, solid players taken on the line from the second to the sixth rounds," said Dan Shonka, a former NFL scout and current general manager for Ourlad's Scouting Services. "There's not the big, big stars, but we're talking a lot of guys who will play in the league."

Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe concurs.

"Every year there are guys in the middle rounds who become starters, who wind up going to Pro Bowls, and some who even may become Hall of Fame players," Donahoe said. "You have to find them."

"I think the depth at guard and tackle is up this year," Shonka said, "At tackle we're talking about a lot of guys in the fourth, fifth, sixth rounds who could develop in the right situation. A lot of them are big guys. You go down the list and they're 6-7, 6-7, 6-8. . . . There are guys with raw ability."

Three linemen, all tackles, are likely to go in the first round -- the Florida State's Alex Barron, Washington's Khalif Barnes and Oklahoma's Jamaal Brown.

The Bills appear more likely to find an immediate starter at center than at left tackle with their first pick, whether they stay at No. 55 overall two thirds of the way into Round Two or whether they find a way to move up in the second round.

The top centers available are Mississippi's Chris Spencer and Michigan's David Baas. Spencer might still be available with the 55th pick. He has exceptional athleticism and quickness for a center. Some scouts consider him a bit raw, but many think he has the potential to develop into one of the best centers in the league.

Baas probably will be there at 55. He played guard for three years before switching to center as a senior. He was well regarded in the fall but moved further up the draft charts in the postseason due to strong workouts. He has ideal size, at 6-foot-5 and 319. He had the third-best 40-yard dash time among centers at the scouting combine and the sixth-best Wonderlic intelligence test score among all players.

The fourth best tackle available is Syracuse's Adam Terry, who started for 3 1/2 years at left tackle for the Orange. He has a huge frame -- 6-8 and 325 pounds. He needs to improve his strength, particularly in the lower body, so he can deal with bull-rushing defenders. But he moves well for a man that tall and is a good athlete. Bills line coach Jim McNally worked out Terry at the Syracuse pro day three weeks ago. Many project Terry as a third-round talent but don't be surprised if he climbs into the second round. Tackle is a priority position.

"Some taller guys have problems at that position," Donahoe said. "But he's a big guy, a strong guy, he's done a good job in pass protection. He did a very good job this year."

"He's probably a third-round guy in our view," Shonka said. "The angular guys have to be able to bend. The question is can he bend well enough?"

If the Bills want to look to the offensive line in the third round, their medical evaluations may come into play. The next best left tackles behind Terry might be Alabama's Wesley Britt and Tennessee's Michael Munoz. But both have question marks due to health.

Britt was a four-year starter for the Tide. However, he broke his leg late in the 2003 season and suffered a leg fracture at the Senior Bowl in January. He played in a run-oriented scheme and probably needs some development time.

Munoz is the son of Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, whom McNally tutored in Cincinnati. Munoz has the frame to be a standout pro. But he missed the 2001 season with a knee injury and played through shoulder and ankle woes at other times. Munoz had a good senior season but then had to miss the Cotton Bowl because of shoulder surgery. Is he durable?

Other first-day center prospects to watch include LSU's Ben Wilkerson, North Carolina's Jason Brown and Alabama's Evan Mathis, a guard who some scouts think can convert. He lifted 225 pounds 35 times at the combine, the fifth-best total among all players. Some teams may have Nebraska's Richie Incognito No. 1 on their center list. He's a second-round talent who has character and injury question marks. Sleepers at center include North Dakota State's Rob Hunt, an athletic, Adam Timmerman type, and Chase Johnson (TCU).

Most of the other tackle prospects targeted for the first three rounds seem to fit the right side best. Other left-side candidates include sleepers Todd Herremans (Saginaw Valley), Michael Roos (Eastern Washington), Calvin Armstrong (Washington State), Adam Kieft (Central Michigan), and Daniel Loper (Texas Tech).

TOP OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
PlayerSchoolPos.Line is overdrawn Ht.Line is overdrawn Wt.Line is overdrawn 1. Alex BarronFlorida StateOT 6-7 320 Line is overdrawn
2. Khalif BarnesWashington OT 6-5 305Line is overdrawn
3. Jamaal BrownOklahoma OT 6-5 316
4. Marcus JohnsonMississippi OG 6-6 310
5. Chris SpencerMississippi C 6-2 1/2 308Line is overdrawn
6. David BaasMichigan C 6-5 319
7. Adam TerrySyracuse OT 6-8 325Line is overdrawn
8. Logan MankinsFresno State OG 6-4 307Line is overdrawn
9. Elton BrownVirginia OG 6-5 312
10. Michael MunozTennessee OT 6-5 305Line is overdrawn

Next: Quarterbacks

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com