Three days of practice was all it took for Buffalo Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel to feel encouraged that his sore left foot won't keep him off the field for the start of this season.
"I'm just glad I got this week done, and I felt I made it through feeling good. That was the main thing," Schobel said Wednesday after the Bills completed a three-day voluntary minicamp. "I think it's one step at a time."
This week marked a big step forward for the Bills' leading pass-rusher in determining how much the sprained ligament attached to his toe has healed after he missed the final 11 games of last season.
Though he occasionally walked with a slight limp and complained of feeling a little stiffness in his foot at the start of each practice, Schobel noted that was expected. He also added that his foot felt better as he warmed up.
"I still feel it, but once I start running, it doesn't bother me," Schobel said. "I think it's going to nag me, but as far as affecting the way I play, I won't feel it."
Schobel said he's learned how to play with the discomfort because he has scar tissue in his right foot from an injury he experienced four years ago.
"I feel I've still got the speed I've always had and the quickness I've had," Schobel said. "The only thing that feels different for me from three, four years ago, is that it takes a little longer to get loose. But once I'm loose, I'm the same as always."
Schobel's participation in practice was limited. The eight-year NFL veteran sat out numerous running drills and saw only spot duty with the starting defense during team drills.
Schobel said he'll miss the next two weeks of voluntary practices to spend time with his family in Texas and also rest his foot before returning for a three-day mandatory minicamp that opens June 9.
Coach Dick Jauron was encouraged in seeing Schobel practicing for the first time this offseason.
"He is one of the premier players in the league at his position and we miss him when he's not on the field," Jauron said. "We definitely missed him, so it's good to see him back in action."
Schobel was initially hurt in a 31-14 win at St. Louis on Sept. 28, then aggravated the injury a week later at Arizona. Schobel was eventually placed on season-ending injured reserve on Dec. 11 after the foot still bothered him during a series of light workouts.
He was told that the injury would likely heal with rest. And doctors determined in February that Schobel would not require surgery.
The Bills sorely missed Schobel's presence in finishing with a 7-9 record after getting off to a 5-1 start. After generating 10 sacks in the first five games with Schobel in the lineup, the defense managed just 14 sacks down the stretch without him.
Schobel's absence also allowed opponents to focus on double-teaming nose tackle Marcus Stroud, negating his effectiveness in the middle.
In a bid to bolster its pass rush, Buffalo selected Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin with the No. 11 pick in last month's draft. Maybin is expected to compete to play on the left side, opposite Schobel, particularly in pass-rush situations.