Knowing Kyle Williams is going to miss another game or two and may not ever be 100 percent again this season with his foot injury, and that Torell Troup is far from 100 percent as he battles persistent back problems, filling the nose tackle void falls to first-year player Kellen Heard.
After being a practice squad signee late last season, Heard put together a solid training camp and preseason this past summer. He ultimately earned a roster spot and through the regular season's first six weeks he's performed when called upon.
"He may have made the most progress of anyone on our football team," said head coach Chan Gailey. "He really has improved. He's a little bit quicker and faster. He's keeping his weight steady, which helps him. And he's got a little bit of nasty to him when he plays, which is good."
Heard (6'6", 346) has tried to absorb as much as he can from the veterans in the defensive line meeting room, knowing he's essentially a 25-year old rookie.
"It's definitely a big learning curve," he said. "I'm learning how to play faster and recognizing tendencies and stuff. It's a process."
Yet another undrafted talent on Buffalo's roster, Heard realizes he might not be seen as a defensive lineman with much pedigree. He relies on the faith his teammates and coaching staff have in him knowing he stands a good chance of getting 40-50 plays on defense the next couple of weeks.
"We're all capable at this level," he said. "I pretty much buy in to what my coach teaches me and learn formations and being more familiar with anything mentally that gives me the edge over someone. Injuries are a part of the game. I know Kyle (Williams) and I know my coaches don't think they're taking a step back with me in there. I just have to fill the void and keep going."
Heard says defensive line coach Giff Smith has been in his ear the most about playing fast, staying in his gap and not getting reached by offensive linemen. What will be most important for Buffalo's defense is Heard capably manning the nose tackle spot, handling double teams and allowing the linebackers to make plays.
"You've just got to seize the opportunity," he said. "This is a once in a lifetime thing. This period in your life can be a short-lived opportunity, so I have to take it and live up to my best capabilities."