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O-line looks to Wood to lead

Posted Dec 8, 2010

While the Bills have an unfamiliar offensive-line situation this week, it’s nothing new for Eric Wood.

Wood, coach Chan Gailey said Wednesday, will handle starting center duties for Sunday’s 1 p.m. home matchup with Cleveland, becoming the first Bill other than Geoff Hangartner to head the offensive line since Duke Preston did so on Dec. 28, 2008.

Buffalo’s second  first-round draft pick in 2009 was a two-time first-team All-Big East center at Louisville, and was the second center selected in the draft – behind Cleveland’s Alex Mack.

Wood has played right guard exclusively since joining the Bills, but said he is very comfortable and excited to return to what he calls his natural position.

“There are some little nuances of the position that are different than any other spot,” he said. “Obviously, playing your hand between your legs is one of them. (I’m) just getting used to that and getting adjusted to coming back to playing.”

Injuries have been Wood’s main nemesis in his short professional career. He missed the last six games of his rookie year with a fractured tibia and fibula, and missed the last two games after sustaining a knee injury in the Nov. 21 win at Cincinnati.

After Hangartner and his replacement, Kraig Urbik, went down with injuries last week at Minnesota, left guard Andy Levitre was forced in to emergency center duty.

With Urbik now on injured reserve, Hangartner out for at least two games, Wood – the only healthy player with extensive past experience at center – said he is not only trying to shake off the rust, but unite an injury-riddled front five.

“These first couple of days will be a challenge, getting these new guys we got coming into the lineup rolling and just everybody jelling,” Wood said. “We need to get off … to a fast start this week. We need to play some catch-up time working some new guys in and getting (them) some experience.”

Aside from Wood in the middle, the left side of the line also remains intact this week with Demetrius Bell and Levitre at left tackle and left guard respectively. Mansfield Wrotto will remain at right tackle.

At right guard, the position vacated by Wood, Cordaro Howard and Ed Wang will split duty. Gailey explained that Howard is still not 100 percent recovered from a shoulder injury suffered last month and will be spelled by Wang through the course of the game. The team also promoted guard Chad Rinehart from the practice squad Tuesday. 

Levitre, drafted out of Oregon State one round after Wood, said he has no worries about his draft classmate stepping in at center.

“I know he’s smart, so he’ll have the calls ready,” Levitre said. “He watches a lot of film … (and) he’s a good technician, so all those things he brings to the table are really going to help us this week.”

Howard agreed that Wood is a very intelligent player who he is familiar with and trusts will get the job done.

“Just from playing beside him previous games, I know he knows the whole offensive line,” Howard said. “Throughout his college career he was a center, so it’s an easy transition for him. I have a lot of confidence in him, just from being in there with him at practice. He’s real sharp in assignments, reads and communication.”

Wood and Howard made three starts together at right guard and tackle, respectively, earlier in the season.

Wood said that experience helps a little, but there are still other adjustments specific to the new positions that need to be made.

“I think any time you can work with guys you’re familiar with, it helps,” Wood said. “I’ve worked with Cordaro before, so it won’t be completely foreign; but at the same time, it’s different positions and I have a little more responsibility making all the calls this week.”

Wide receiver Lee Evans said the line is the foundation of the offense, and he believes Wood will organize the line well and give quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick time to throw.

“We trust Eric to do the things that we need to do to get the line together – get guys on the right people, get them blocked,” Evans said. “There (are) a lot of young guys that are going to step up and play well. We expect them to do so, and they’ve been showing signs of some very good potential. Now will be there time to show it.”