A steadying force on the right side of Buffalo's offensive line, veteran offensive tackle Erik Pears took a second chance at a starting job in the NFL and made it a personal success story. That hard work and effective play was rewarded by the Bills with a multi-year contract extension on Tuesday.
"I can't thank this organization enough for believing in me and giving me a real opportunity," Pears told Buffalobills.com. "I look forward to building on what I've done and continuing to get better."
In the first half of last season Pears was bouncing around the league despite previously being a two-year starter on a good Denver Broncos team. Bills GM Buddy Nix brought Pears in, let him get acclimated and then Chan Gailey had him play in the last two games of the 2010 season. Right away the veteran tackle had made an impression. Pears then committed himself to taking that opportunity and turning it into something bigger as he prepared for the 2011 season.
"Being at home and not being on a team and seeing guys playing every Sunday puts that chip back on your shoulder and drives you to work even harder and I just knew if I got another opportunity I was going to make the most of it," he said.
Pears won the starting right tackle job coming out of training camp after adding several pounds of lean muscle mass to his 6'7" frame.
"Every other team that I've been on before they've kind of liked their offensive linemen a little bit lighter with the zone schemes," said Pears. "When I got here Mr. Nix told me this game is for big players so I made it a point in the offseason to work my tail off. I put on about 15 to 20 pounds and came back in and I think it made a world of difference."
"The guy will do it exactly how you coach it," said Bills offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris. "You can tell he's a pro."
Pears has started all 13 games for Buffalo this season at the starting right tackle spot. Knowing his role coming into the 2011 season Pears was better prepared and more acclimated as to how to work with his fellow linemates.
"It's a great group," said Pears of his offensive line contingent. "We're all on the same page when it comes to working. When we come to practice we make a point to get working and get what we need to get out that practice to get better."
"Erik has done a really good job for us," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "When he came in to training camp you could just see that he bulked up and transformed his body and put some meat on his frame and you knew he was serious about coming in and really nailing down that spot at right tackle there. He's played well all year. It was something we hoped for and he's played even better than we hoped for."
The 29-year old has been an instrumental reason why the Bills offensive line has kept Fitzpatrick so clean this season. Despite their recent struggles in the win column of late, Pears and the rest of the men up front still rank first in the league in sacks allowed per play. Buffalo has allowed just 17 sacks on the season.
"They've done a great job all year," Fitzpatrick said. "On the ones where the sacks have happened, a lot of it has been they're still holding up and for one reason or another I'm holding the ball. So even that number could be lower with what they've done in terms of the blocking. That helps us so much."
Locking up the right tackle spot was important for the Bills knowing the left tackle position could still be in a bit of flux. Though Chris Hairston offers promise as a blind side protector, the future of Demetrius Bell is an unknown at this point as he's headed for free agency this offseason.
What helped was Pears wanted to be in the fold for the foreseeable future. Much like Kyle Williams and Fitzpatrick, who have also signed extensions this season, the right tackle wants to see this team turnaround through. "We kind of hit a rough patch, but I have all the confidence in the world that we're on the right path," he said. "The way we work and injuries can't hit us again like they've hit us this year. We cross our fingers. We want to finish this season out the right way so we've got something good going into next year. We'll be back."