Bills linebacker Keith Ellison took to the practice field Wednesday and made his way through practice as he always does in preparation for the upcoming opponent. About midway through the mid-week workout however, he noticed something.
Eleven of his teammates were either absent or not participating. It made for Buffalo's longest injury report of the season, which included Larry Tripplett, who participated on a limited basis to make it an even dozen.
"I really didn't even pick up on it until the middle of practice that we were missing so many guys," said Ellison. "It's just kind of been our season. Guys get injured and step out and somebody else steps in. We just try to keep on rolling."
On offense it was a lot more noticeable for Fred Jackson, who took first team reps at running back, with Marshawn Lynch still recovering from a high ankle sprain and Anthony Thomas down with a calf injury. Add in Roscoe Parrish out with an illness and Robert Royal not participating with an ankle injury and players started looking around wondering if they had enough people to practice effectively.
"It's something that we notice," said Jackson. "Before we started though Josh (Reed) brought us into the huddle as an offense and said, 'Look guys we're injured, we have people that are sick, but the coaches have faith in us and we know that we have to go out and practice like everybody is here, so the guys that are here we have to practice and perform and be ready for Sunday.'"
Reed admitted he didn't notice the number of players missing until a couple of trainers alerted him to it, but still felt like practice went well.
"With us experiencing this and going through this it's going to make us a whole lot stronger as a team and just appreciate the guys that we still do have," said Reed.
That has certainly been the case on defense, where every hole has seemingly outnumbered those on offense by a two-to-one margin. And it was no different Wednesday with seven of the 11 non-participators coming on that side of the ball.
"It's shocking," said Kyle Williams shaking his head. "You sit down and stretch after practice and you look down the line and you're missing four or five guys and that's just on the defensive line. It's tough and it hasn't let up all year. You think maybe it's just a freak thing that happened for a few weeks and it'll get better, but it really hasn't."
The defensive tackle position is one of the few areas that has remained remarkably healthy this season, but defensive end has been a whole different story. It began in the preseason with Ryan Denney's broken foot and his free agent replacement Al Wallace was on injured reserve before the preseason was over.
Denney is still dealing with soreness in that surgically repaired foot and the team tries to keep him off of it during the practice week for at least one day, which was the case Wednesday.
Buffalo was forced to rely heavily on Chris Kelsay and Aaron Schobel two players that have never missed a game in their respective careers. But Kelsay's 75-game streak is now in jeopardy after suffering the same sprained ankle that almost kept him from playing a month and a half ago.
With the team fighting to stay in the playoff hunt Kelsay knows if he can't play Sunday it will be anything but easy to watch.
"It makes it extremely difficult, especially with the kind of season we're in," said Kelsay. "We have five games and we have to win all five in order to get a berth in the playoffs. You don't like watching your teammates and your coaches out there working without you. It's disappointing. I haven't missed a single practice in my career with Buffalo up until this season so to go through some injuries that I've gone through with the ankle is frustrating more than anything to me."
The injuries have compromised continuity for a young team still trying to develop consistency in their respective offensive and defensive games. The offense has been without their most dynamic player, while the defense has been without three starters since week three.
"It's very frustrating," said Williams. "You know people are going to get hurt because it's a part of the game. You just don't expect this many people to get hurt. And when that many people go down it pisses you off and aggravates you. But our mindset has to overcome that and we keep pressing on."
And the Bills have pressed on pretty admirably overall when you consider the fact that entering week 12 they're still able to cling to playoff hopes slim as they might appear at the moment.
The players believe with the injuries being a season-long adversary they've become accustomed to adjusting to it. In a way they've almost become desensitized to the challenges that mounting injuries can sometimes pose.
"We've been facing this all season," said Kelsay. "When guys get an opportunity to come in and step up and play they've done a good job so far this year in light of everything. The team has stepped forward and made progress, so I don't see any different steps to be taken."
"Regardless of who is in we have to get the job done," said Williams. "And that's what we're aiming to do."