Even though Bills right guard Eric Wood and left tackle Demetrius Bell have yet to participate in voluntary OTAs this spring due to injury, the rest of the offensive line has been hard at work, refining its craft in Chan Gailey's new offensive system. Both Wood and Bell, starters on last year's youthful front five, will compete to retain those jobs in 2010.
Those who have participated in practice say they have learned a great deal in the handful of weeks working with Gailey and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins.
"I think we've come a long way since day one. We've installed a lot of plays over the last few weeks, and we're still learning a lot of things every day," said second-year left guard Andy Levitre. "We still have a lot of time to get to work on things, we have the next month or so to get ready for training camp, but I think we've made some pretty good progress so far."
Levitre, who started all 16 games of his rookie campaign, played extensively with Wood and Bell last season and does not believe that lost reps will impact the players once training camp begins.
"It's tough, but it's nice to get reps with Jamon (Meredith) and Kirk (Chambers), getting reps with the guys competing for positions. If something happens down the road, we will be just as comfortable as we are with them (Wood and Bell)," Levitre said. "Demetrius has worked next to me and Eric next to (center) Geoff (Hangartner), though he hasn't worked with (right tackle) Cornell (Green), but they should pick it up quick. Cornell is a seasoned veteran, and Eric has some experience, so it shouldn't take long to get a nice little bond going."
The aforementioned Green, entering his 10th NFL season, may be a newcomer to the Bills, but has logged significant playing time with Oakland, Tampa Bay, and the New York Jets. He said that the ability to work with different players at key positions will help the team take its potential to another level.
"We all need to work and jell because things happen throughout the year," Green said. "This gives us an opportunity to work with different people and different combinations."
Gailey, who wanted to get players as many reps as possible during his first set of OTAs as Buffalo's head coach, said that Wood and Bell have progressed nicely thanks to the hard work of the Bills training staff.
"I have to give (Head Athletic Trainer) Bud Carpenter and his group kudos because they have done a great job of getting those two guys to where they are today. Eric, we've even talked about maybe letting him get on the field and do some things before we get out of the last minicamp. That's an amazing recuperation," Gailey said at a recent press conference. "And Demetrius is way ahead of schedule as well. Like I said earlier, you can never have enough good football players on a field."
Through the injury issues that the offensive line dealt with last year, coupled with a seemingly endless revolving door of personnel on game day, Levitre believes that the unit's closeness, in good times and in bad, has made the group that much stronger heading in to 2010.
"We all hang out with each other, crack jokes, have a good time together. Spending time with each other off the field helps you through times that are tough," Levitre said. "It's like you're standing next to your buddy out there, playing alongside your buddy. Even as an entire offense or defense, the unity that you have with your team comes into play in those tough times."
With Wood and Bell due back in the coming weeks, things seem to be coming together at just the right time for the Bills "trench men." Getting those missing pieces back in the fold has Levitre feeling very optimistic about the upcoming season.
"I think we can accomplish anything we want to," Levitre said. "We've got the guys who can make plays, we've seen it on the field in practice, so it's a matter of coming out and executing, especially on game day."