A Tale of Two Tackles

Two former standouts from Colgate football’s offensive line are getting their chance in the NFL. Right tackle Nick Hennessey recently signed a free agent contract with the Buffalo Bills, while left tackle Steve Jonas inked with the Detroit Lions. Both players had stellar careers at Colgate. Jonas was named to four All-America teams after this past season, and he was also a first team all-Patriot League selection. Both were key components of a stellar rushing attack for the Raiders last season, which was ranked fifth in the nation.

Neither Buffalo nor Detroit have been very successful as of late. The Lions are coming off a winless season, and neither franchise has made the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season. However, for Jonas and Hennessey it will no doubt be a thrill just to make a regular season roster, no matter who it is with.

Hennessey’s chances are better than they would have been a few weeks ago, as the Bills traded Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters just before the draft. The Bills only kept three tackles last season and they will almost certainly not have more than four this year. Langston Walker and Kirk Chambers are locks to make the active roster. Fortunately for Hennessey, the Bills did nothing to really address the tackle situation in the draft. There are thus four people competing for between one to two open spots at tackle, and Hennessey is very much in the mix. The leading candidate is probably Demetrius Bell, a 7th round pick of the Bills in 2008 who played on Buffalo’s practice squad all of last season. Also competing for the tackle position is former Lions draft pick Jonathan Scott, and 6’7″, 315 lb. Joel Bell, an undrafted free agent out of Furman. The Bills, who were surprised Bell went undrafted, seem a little higher on him right now than Hennessey. This is mostly because he is a little bigger, and more of a natural tackle.

According to the Bills though there is also a chance that Hennessey would move to guard. “He’s athletic enough to be a tackle,” Bills coordinator of college scouting Doug Majeski said in an article on Bufffalobills.com. “He’s got good size, but he’s a bit raw and I think he might project to guard. He has to adjust to the level of competition as well. He certainly has the height and length to play tackle.”

If Hennessey does move to guard the competition will be much stiffer. Despite the Bills’ loss of Derrick Dockery the team did a good job of addressing the guard situation in the Draft. They added Eric Wood from Louisville and Andy Levitre from Oregon State. Both will probably play guard in the pros. Add to that veterans Jason Whittle, Duke Preston, and Brad Butler, and the chances of Hennessey making the team as a guard are slim. It will be a tough road at tackle too, but Hennessey should be encouraged by the fact that the Bills last starting left tackle, Jason Peters, was undrafted as well.

In Detroit, Jonas also faces a difficult, but not impossible road. The Lions were not the only team that contacted him. The Bills, Jaguars, Chargers, Dolphins and Eagles did as well. Jonas probably picked the right place to go if he wants to make a team. Aside from starting left tackle Jeff Backus no one is guaranteed a spot on this roster, though the Lions do have a lot of depth at the position. Jonas will also be competing with two other undrafted free agents, as well as Lydon Murtha out of Nebraska, who was drafted by the Lions this year in the seventh round. The field is basically wide open for Jonas, but he’s got a lot of competition. Like Hennessey he is lucky to be on a team that failed to address all of its offensive line problems in the draft, but it will still be difficult for him to find his way onto the regular season roster. That said, both tackles have an extraordinary opportunity before them, and as Jason Peters has shown in the past, you don’t need to be drafted to make it in the NFL.