Losing a pair of starting offensive linemen is a scenario no NFL club wishes for, especially when those two injuries occur in the same game. Bills GM Buddy Nix however, has put an emphasis on building roster depth and it has put Buffalo in the fortunate position of having a swing tackle and swing guard that are more than capable of filling the void left by the injuries to Cordy Glenn and Kraig Urbik.
Buffalo's starting left tackle and right guard both went down with ankle injuries last week in the Week 4 loss to the Patriots and will not be in the lineup this week. That presses Chris Hairston and Chad Rinehart into action at those positions, but both have game experience with the unit.
"We've got guys that we have a comfort level with, that have played in games so we're ahead of the game compared to two years ago," said head coach Chan Gailey.
Rinehart is in his third season with the Bills and with injuries persisting the past couple of seasons he's appeared in 20 games for Buffalo the past two years including 15 starts, all at right guard.
"Going into the season I expect to go in, you just never know what time it's going to be," Rinehart told Buffalobills.com. "Very rarely does the whole unit make it through the season (healthy) so I knew I was going to have an opportunity at some time, but it just seems it comes a lot sooner than you're planning on. Fortunately I have a lot of experience playing with the guys so Chris and I will step right in."
Rinehart started 12 games last season so he has a wealth of playing time with right tackle Erik Pears. He split his time with Eric Wood and Kraig Urbik, who had to replace Wood at center after he went down with a season-ending ACL injury last year.
"Last year I played a lot with them and going into this season Kraig took most of the reps at right guard, but playing in last week's game and getting in practice with them this week, and getting to watch the film to see how we fit up together will be beneficial."
For Hairston the situation is very similar. He appeared in 13 games as a rookie last season making seven starts at left tackle. So he's comfortable lining up alongside Andy Levitre.
"I played quite a few snaps with Andy last year and I think each one of those snaps will help me with the continuity and the communication and the fits on blocks," said Hairston. "We work at it every day."
Hairston admits he was frustrated by the circumstances he was faced with in training camp. He was in the midst of battling Glenn for the starting left tackle job, but a groin injury by Erik Pears forced the Bills to plug Hairston in at right tackle for the majority of the preseason. Glenn became the starting left tackle almost by default with Hairston pulled from the competition to play on the right side.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't frustrating, but that's how it is," he said. "I've got to understand my role on the team and when my number is called I've got to do what I've got to do."
What he'll have to do now is contend with the likes of 49ers DE Justin Smith and OLB Aldon Smith on Sunday as the pass rushing duo make up part of one of the more physical front sevens in the league.
"Great defense," said Hairston of the San Francisco front seven. "They've got great D-linemen, great linebackers and they've done a great job as a defense. It'll take a little film study and lot of work on the practice field to be ready for them. But the O-line takes pride in playing good teams and doing what we can to assert our dominance. I'm sure this week is going to be a tough task with the guys we've got to go up against."
Even though the 49ers are a top five run defense, the Bills men up front are determined to re-establish their run game, which struggled to be productive last Sunday.
"Just struggling one game doesn't really indicate anything," said Rinehart. "Fred and C.J. have both put in their time and shown what they're capable of. As an offensive line we're not worried about it. We know what they can do. We just worry about opening holes for them and we know they'll produce when we do that."
Knowing how important it will be for the Bills to bounce back off their most recent defeat Hairston and Rinehart are glad they get to have a hand in the effort to post a winning performance this Sunday.
"Anytime we get a chance to get out there and help the team is great," said Hairston. "This week is going to show how this team is coming together and circle the wagons up and go out and play a good game."