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LEFT-HANDED COMPLEMENT Jason Peters' smooth transition to left tackle has Bills' offense heading in a new direction

When the Buffalo Bills decided to move Jason Peters from right tackle to left tackle seven weeks into the season, they didn't know what to expect.

They knew he had the athletic ability to make the switch. They also knew he would commit himself to learning the position.

What they didn't expect was this: Peters isn't just playing well at left tackle, he's excelling at it.

"I guess I am surprised a little bit because of the new position he's playing," Bills offensive line coach Jim McNally said. "But he just works like crazy on his techniques. He's a gifted athlete and he just kind of figures it out. Every day and every week he gets better."

Peters is just as surprised at how quickly he's adapted to playing on the left side.

"I didn't think it was going to be easy, but so far, so good," he said. "It's a blessing to have a coach like Mouse [McNally's nickname] to teach me. I really didn't know anything about the offensive line before I started working with him, so I'm taking it all in."

Left tackle is unquestionably the most important position on the offensive line because that player usually faces the opponent's best pass rusher. In the six games at his new position, Peters has held his own against the likes of Green Bay's Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney and San Diego's Shawne Merriman.

Next on the list is Miami's Jason Taylor today.

"Whether it's on the right side or the left side, just being able to go out and compete against the best is what it's all about," Peters said. "I look forward to each game to see if I can meet the challenge of blocking the guy in front of me."

The Bills didn't think Peters would be this good this fast, but they recognized he had plenty of raw talent to work with. At 6-foot-4 and 328 pounds, Peters possesses startling agility and speed (he ran a 4.8-second 40-yard dash time coming out of Arkansas).

He plays with good flexibility, uses excellent leg drive and the strength to redirect defenders as a run blocker. He can handle most speed pass rushers because of his quick feet and lateral movement.

All of Peters' skills were on display last Sunday against the New York Jets.

*Power: He drove Jets defensive end Bobby Hamilton off the line of scrimmage and then turned him inside to open a crease for Willis McGahee to score on a 57-yard run.

*Athleticism: Peters sprinted downfield and buried a cornerback, allowing wide receiver Roscoe Parrish to gain 11 yards on a reverse.

*Agility: Jets outside linebacker Victor Hobson got a quick jump off the snap before Peters had set up in pass protection. But Peters recovered quickly, slid laterally and delivered a powerful punch to slow down Hobson's pass rush.

"I know maybe [Seattle's] Walter Jones and another here or there that are pretty good, but there's possibly not a more gifted athlete playing the position than Jason Peters," McNally said. "He's such a gifted big man. He's quick, he can bend. If he knows exactly what to do in the technique to do it, he's a tough man to beat."

Because Peters has played so well, McNally said he's often asked why the move to left tackle wasn't made sooner. Actually the Bills began priming Peters for that position when he served as Mike Gandy's backup for part of his rookie season. McNally eventually put Peters at right tackle, reasoning that the player would be more comfortable there.

But when the offensive line struggled in pass protection and didn't get much push in the running game through the first seven games, a change was in order. During the bye week, Peters went to left tackle. Gandy moved to left guard, rookie Terrance Pennington was inserted at right tackle and Duke Preston replaced the injured Chris Villarrial at right guard.

After a couple of weeks of adjustment, the retooled line got better. The sacks allowed decreased and the rushing attack appears to have gotten its groove back.

Peters is a big reason for the O-line's improvement. The Bills have become a predominantly left-handed offense, running mostly behind Peters. Quarterback J.P. Losman also is feeling more secure in the pocket with Peters protecting his blind side.

"He's certainly an impact, particularly in the running game, and he's certainly an impact in pass protection," McNally said. "Jason makes our entire offensive line better."

Offensive tackle was expected to be a high priority for the Bills in next year's draft. Peters' emergence has changed that. In him, they have a guy who should man the left side of their line into the next decade.

He might even be the best player the Bills have had at the position since Will Wolford in the late 1980s and early '90s.

"And the good thing about Jason is he's only going to get better," said McNally, who compares Peters' athleticism to another protege, Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz. "I don't see why in the future he can't be one of the elite offensive tackles in football."

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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