The 2010 season for Eric Wood was one that he simply had to grind out. Coming off a major leg rehabilitation in the offseason the lineman had to redevelop his game on the fly. In the final quarter of the season he also had to rediscover his talents in the pivot making four starts at center for an injured Geoff Hangartner. His time at center has now presented Buffalo's offensive staff with a good dilemma this offseason, but a dilemma nonetheless.
Wood, who had 49 career starts at center in college, adjusted quite well to the center role in the last month of the season giving head coach Chan Gailey and his staff pause as to whether guard or center might be his best position for Buffalo's offensive line.
"He played well at both," said Gailey. "He played well at center and well at guard and I think we've got to do what's best for our football team and I don't know where that is today."
The Bills made a respectable investment in Hangartner two offseasons ago, signing him to a four-year contract to be their starting center. Part of the reason Hangartner chose to sign with the Bills was so that he could be a starter in the league.
Hangartner has fared well as the starting center for the Bills and is widely respected on Buffalo's roster, as evidenced by the naming of him as an offensive co-captain after Trent Edwards was released in the first month of the season.
It's clear that Buffalo's coaching staff respects Hangartner's game and work ethic as well.
"We've got a good player in Geoff Hangartner and now you've got a good player in Eric Wood, so it'll be an interesting process," said Gailey. "You've got good guards and you've got good centers. It's a much better scenario than we started the season with I know that."
The job of the coaching staff is to put the best five linemen on the field. With Wood playing steady at center despite limited time in the middle and coming off a major injury, the staff likely believes with a full offseason of preparation he could be even better next season.
"I think our offensive line improved as the year went on and we were able to get through the year with Eric Wood and Demetrius Bell being healthy, which sometimes I thought we might not make it through the whole year with those two guys being healthy," said Gailey. "They made it so that gives us a chance to build on what they can do for next year."
"Coming off the leg injury I kind of had that bum left leg all year," said Wood. "As the year went on whether it got better or I just learned to play with it, my play definitely improved from a grading standpoint in how the coaches have graded me. So I'm looking forward to coming back 100 percent next season."
The decision would be easy had it not been for the emergence of other guards capable of stepping in at Wood's vacated right guard spot. Kraig Urbik, Chad Rinehart and Cordaro Howard all showed they were capable of holding down a starting role. Urbik would be the presumed frontrunner to start at right guard if Wood in fact made a permanent move to center.
Wood has said he feels more natural at center, but that guard appeals to him as well because he gets to throw his weight around a bit more. One thing Gailey is sure of is that he won't platoon Wood at both positions heading into the 2011 season.
"It's not fair to him to play him at both, trying to do one, trying to do the other," Gailey said. "We need to get him settled into a spot and let him play. So we have to make a decision, but we've got other good players at those positions, too, so that's going to be a tough call for us to be honest with you, down the line, about who's going to play where. That's going to be a hard one. I'm not looking forward to that one."