“Let me learn the passing, and I’m sure I can probably run that, too,” the jack-of-all-trades offensive lineman said. “Nah,” Levitre then added with a wink.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t entirely rule out that possibility, by saying: “I think he’d do a better job at quarterback than I would at left tackle.”
Fitzpatrick was joking, and he need not be looking over his shoulder because Levitre’s true value has been the versatility and not-miss-a-beat stability he’s provided in anchoring what’s become a banged-up offensive line.
“It’s hard to shuffle around, but he does a good job with it, and that’s why he’s so valuable,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m sure he’s going to do just fine there at center.”
That’s where Levitre will make his debut as a starter Sunday, when the slumping Bills (5-4) attempt to restore their early-season momentum in traveling to play the Miami Dolphins (2-7). Levitre is making the switch after Buffalo lost Eric Wood to a season-ending knee injury in a 44-7 loss at Dallas last weekend.
It’ll be the latest move for the second of Buffalo’s two second-round 2009 draft picks. After opening the season at left guard, Levitre started the previous three games at left tackle due to injuries to starter Demetrius Bell (shoulder) and his backup, rookie Chris Hairston (ankle).
With Hairston now healthy, Levitre will move into the middle, where he’s had very limited experience. He filled in at center for a few plays last year, and had a short stint making snaps in garbage time of a season-opening 41-7 win at Kansas City.
He’s not worried. And it helps that he’s familiar with playing two other positions, which should make it more comfortable for him to make pre-snap blocking adjustments, which is part of a center’s job.
“I feel like I could adapt,” Levitre said. “You get enough reps in practice and walkthroughs that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to get it.”
His is a quiet, no-nonsense approach that is the result of a self-confidence borne out of Levitre’s curious path in pursuing a career in football. Levitre’s versatility is not limited to the playing field, because he turned out to be an inventive and persistent self-promoter coming out of high school in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Largely overlooked among college recruiters, Levitre took it upon himself to raise attention. Each day after school, he’d sit in front of two VCRs and make highlight tapes of himself in action to send to Division I schools around the country.
“I was pumping out two or three a day. I’d have an address and give it to my grandpa, and he’d send it out for me,” Levitre recalled. “I figured if I was going to get recruited, that was the only way to do it.”
Of the 100 videotapes he estimates sending out, Levitre got only a few positive responses.
Oregon State was among the first to express interest, which is where he elected to play. Splitting time at right and left tackle at college, Levitre developed into a two-year starter, and was an Associated Press second-team selection following his senior year.
What Levitre never envisioned while making his tapes was a chance of ever playing in the NFL.
“Ultimately, that was my goal, but it wasn’t a huge goal because you’ve got to make the steps in order to get there,” he said. “I was just trying to get a chance to play football somewhere, you know?”
Levitre has not looked back. He’s been the Bills most durable linemen, having not missed a game. And he’s played a significant role in both run- and pass-blocking situations.
Bills running back Fred Jackson leads the NFL in both yards rushing (917) and yards from scrimmage (1,309). Despite its line shuffles, Buffalo has allowed a league-low 10 sacks.
Coach Chan Gailey’s only worry about Levitre playing center is pre-snap communication. Otherwise, Gailey doesn’t have any other concerns.
“Toughness won’t be an issue. Quickness won’t be an issue. Snapping won’t be an issue,” Gailey said. “He’s so valuable because he’s good, and he’s versatile.”