The last time Bills fans saw Eric Wood in uniform he was being carted off the field after a horrific injury in Week 11 at Jacksonville. His left tibia and fibula were snapped when the full weight of Jagaurs defensive tackle Montavious Stanley sideswiped Wood's leg. The injury was so severe that even the producers of the CBS telecast aired the replay just once.
Now more than two months removed from surgery, Wood still has a long road ahead of him, and the memory of the injury is still fresh.
"When I first got hurt I tried to get back up, but after laying there for a second that's when the pain starting setting in," Wood told Buffalobills.com. "I heard it break, but I didn't want to really acknowledge it myself that I had broke my leg. Then everyone rushed over there."
Wood never made the trip back to Buffalo with the team. He was taken directly to a local Jacksonville hospital for surgery where a rod was inserted into his leg to stabilize his tibia, the main weight bearing bone of the lower leg. Prior to surgery however, modern technology provided an unusual scene.
"Before I went in for surgery the doctors were watching it on their phones," said Wood. "They were telling me, 'You're going to want to see this.' So I watched the replay of the injury from my hospital bed and it was pretty gruesome."
After surgery, Wood spent more than a month in a wheelchair with his left leg completely immobilized. He's out of the chair now, but still very limited in terms of using the leg.
"I'm walking finally, which was a long time coming," he said. "It feels pretty good. I'm not pushing it real hard, but at the same time I'm kind of in a rush to get back and try to help this team. We've got a new coaching staff and I have to re-earn my job and I'm looking forward to the challenges that are ahead."
As much concern as Wood has with respect to the team's future under new head coach Chan Gailey and his role on Buffalo's offensive line, he understands that for the next several months he has to focus on himself and nothing else.
"At this point it's about me and my career. The Bills have been nothing but supportive of me and they've been doing anything they possibly can to make sure I have everything I need," said Wood. "They've let me go back home and they fly me up to Buffalo for checkups whenever needed. I couldn't ask anything more of the Bills, but it is about me at this point. I have to do what's best for me as far as when I can come back."
When he can come back is very much up in the air. It won't be soon, but Wood has a goal in mind.
"I have a lot of time before training camp which is my goal to be back by, so I'm not pushing it too hard," he said. "I'd love to be back for OTAs, but I think everyone has seen the YouTube video of my leg, so I don't know how realistic that is. We'll see. Hopefully I'll be back by training camp and I'll be back at St. John Fisher and everything will be running smoothly. But if not, sometimes you have to be worried about yourself even though you're a part of the ultimate team game."
Wood knows rushing through the rehabilitation process is not a good idea. It only increases the potential for setbacks, something he witnessed with a former teammate while still at Louisville.
"I watched a friend of mine go through this," said Wood. "Michael Bush broke his leg in our first game his senior year in college and he rushed back as fast as he possibly could trying to get through the draft process and ultimately participating in the (NFL) combine."
Bush however, would require a second surgery a month after the combine and did not have the opportunity to hold pre-draft workouts for NFL clubs. The former Heisman trophy hopeful plummeted to the fourth round and still wasn't ready to play in September.
"I watched him sit out his rookie year because of it," said Wood. "He had some minor complications with it that he couldn't overcome. As much hard work as you can possibly put into it sometimes it's just not going to work out in time. Michael is back now and watching him play as well as he has played the past couple of years has allowed me to see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Wood is still getting used to putting his 315-pound frame back on two legs, though his surgically repaired leg is still inhibited.
"I walk around in a boot all day when I'm up. I try to stay off of it as much as possible," he said. "I'm rehabbing it seems like all the time. Mostly just balance stuff. It's almost like you're a little kid teaching yourself how to walk and get all the strength back in the leg. I was off that leg for close to 10 weeks so a lot of the muscle memory as far as balancing and walking had to be re-taught."
The plan for now is to keep the rod in his leg, but the four screws that are also in there could potentially be removed. If going back under the knife again to remove the screws sets his timeline back however, Wood isn't interested.
"Whenever I'm doing more stuff we'll make an assessment of what we'll do with the screws," he said. "Ideally I'd like to keep everything in there and maybe one day hopefully a long time down the road when I'm done playing we can get them out and do what I need to do. But any time you're breaking the surface of your skin for a surgery, to me that sounds like more time away and that doesn't sound all that appealing right now. Ideally we're going to leave everything in and hope it all just works out fine and (I can) come back 100 percent."
Wood is spending the majority of this offseason in his newly purchased home in Louisville. Ironically, the offensive lineman bought the house the day before his injury. Living with him is Bills quarterback and former college teammate Brian Brohm.
"I've just been hanging out here. Brian lives with me, so we've been hanging out," Wood said. "Now that I can walk we play pool and (I'm) just waiting for this leg to return."
The Bills are naturally hoping for the same. Wood displayed an awful lot of promise in his rookie season. Though he and fellow rookie guard Andy Levitre took their lumps at times, there was noticeable improvement as the year wore on. At this point though it's premature to determine what is and what is not realistic.
The blue collar lineman admits that he has mentally prepared himself for any and all outcomes with respect to the 2010 season. But he's only focused on the most positive scenario. "I do know mentally that another year off could possibly happen, but I don't want to think about that," Wood said. "Hopefully Bills fans don't want to think about that either. It is partially reality, but as far as it feels now, it feels fine walking around on it. Right now if I was planning on being on the PUP list it wouldn't be as easy to go to work and go to rehab every day if I didn't have hopes of getting back for training camp. As far as we're concerned I'm going to be back for training camp and that's the way I want it to be."