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Walker's out, paving way for Bell Surprising release of veteran saves Bills $3 million

The Buffalo Bills discarded their best-laid plans for the left tackle position Tuesday and embraced their offensive line's youth movement with open arms.

Six days before the season opener, veteran starter Langston Walker was released.

He will be replaced in the starting lineup by second-year man Demetrius Bell, presuming Bell's sore back is healthy in time for Monday's game at New England.

Bell, a seventh-round pick from 2008, never got into a game last season. When he takes over at left tackle, the Bills will have three starters on the offensive line who never took a snap in an NFL regular-season game before this year. Rookies Eric Wood and Andy Levitre are starting at guard.

The move comes three days after offensive coordinator Turk Schonert was fired.

Walker's release saves the Bills $3 million in cash, which was to be Walker's base salary. Walker still will count $4.5 million against the salary cap due to past bonus payments that he received.

Walker's play this preseason was not impressive. He struggled against both Pittsburgh and Detroit in the final two exhibition games. The Bills decided he had regressed during the course of the summer, according to a source within the team. The decision was made that the Bills might as well go with a starting line that the team hopes will be tougher and more competitive with Bell on the field.

Nevertheless, the Bills spent all offseason planning on Walker filling the shoes of Jason Peters, who was traded to Philadelphia in April. At that point, head coach Dick Jauron and the Bills' front office made the decision that Walker was capable of doing the job.

Walker took virtually all of the snaps with the starting offensive line all spring and all summer.

Bell took some snaps with the starting unit in the preseason game at Green Bay on Aug. 22. But Bell hurt his back in practice two days later and has not practiced since.

The Bills were not able to swing a trade for Walker before releasing him. To fill Walker's roster spot, the Bills re-signed veteran tackle and guard Kirk Chambers, who had been released Saturday. If Bell can't play Monday, Chambers will start at left tackle.

Bell has prototypical size, at 6-foot-5 and 307 pounds. The reason he lasted till the seventh round was he went to small Northwestern (La.) State and he's relatively new to the sport of football.

Bell went to college on a basketball scholarship. This year is only his fifth in organized football at any level and only his fourth at the tackle spot. Bell started at tackle for his last two seasons in college. Bell's father is NBA great Karl Malone.

"Football is still new to me, but a lot of the footwork and movements are similar to basketball," Bell said during training camp. "Right now, the key for me is honing . . . my techniques and just focus on becoming a better football player. The only thing I'm lacking right now is playing time on the field. The more of that I get the better I'll be down the road."

"He's got a lot of raw talent," Bills offensive line coach Sean Kugler said last month. "But over the last year, Demetrius has really blossomed. He's athletic and he's competitive. He's a willing worker, so I'm real excited about Demetrius."

The Bills signed Walker to a five-year, $25 million contract in 2007. He played the 2007 and '08 seasons primarily at right tackle. The Bills thought he did a solid job in pass protection on the right side and was better at pass protection than run blocking. Hence, he was shifted to the left side.

Walker wound up getting paid $13.5 million over the past two-plus seasons.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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