Remaining healthy has been the biggest concern for the offensive line of the Buffalo Bills in the past year. For a unit that was very inexperienced entering last season, the loss of rookie guard Eric Wood and tackle Demetrius Bell to serious leg injuries was a significant setback for the Bills offense as the team closed out the 2009 campaign.
Both men returned to the lineup in Thursday night's 34-21 victory over Indianapolis at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, a welcome sight for Buffalo's coaching staff and the quarterback currently atop the depth chart.
"It's nice having those guys out there that I feel are going to fight for me this season," quarterback Trent Edwards said. "Having them here in the preseason game, having them all back together, I think it was good to have them all back out there."
While it was the second game this preseason for guard Andy Levitre and center Geoff Hangartner, Wood, Bell, and tackle Cornell Green all saw their first full speed action of the summer. Green returned to the lineup after sitting out with a knee injury suffered in training camp almost a week ago.
In preparing for the long haul of the NFL regular season, chemistry with one another as a unit in the exhibition slate can pay dividends down the road.
"We're really confident with the group we have. I think we run probably seven or eight deep where we're really confident with people stepping in," Wood said. "That's kind of where we ran into issues last year. We had people get hurt and we had a lot of lapses throughout the offensive line. We're all working to get better and that's all we can do right now."
The first team finished the opening quarter with two scoring drives to its credit, and seemed much crisper in their execution than one week ago against Washington. From what he saw in real-time, head coach Chan Gailey was pleased with the rhythm the starting group had bringing Wood and Bell back into the fold.
"It was good just to have them all there, that was good. I think Demetrius only got 10 plays, and he's sore, but it's good," Gailey said. "He got out there and got some action, and he's sore, but no worse for the wear. If we can continue to build on that kind of stuff, we have a chance to have that group together when we hit the first game, and we will hit the ground running hopefully."
Wood saw additional reps after Bell was replaced by Jamon Meredith, but that was to be expected, as Wood returned to the practice field before the end of spring OTAs, while Bell was not officially on the field until the start of training camp. Both men have been limited since camp began on July 28, and the game in Toronto was a big test to see how each would respond after months of rehabilitation in the offseason to return from severe injuries.
"We've got a lot to prove this year. I've said it before, we played bad last year as an offense and up front especially," Wood said. "We've got a lot to prove and we're confident as a group. We just need to go out there and play on the field."