For years, there's been something in the water. Or maybe it's a case of pure rotten luck.For whatever reason, the Bills have suffered an above average number of injuries over the past several years, a contributing factor to their playoff drought reaching an NFL-high 12 seasons. Not that anybody in professional football is sympathetic. The good news for the Bills heading into training camp is that all of the key injured players from a year ago, when Buffalo placed 17 players on injured reserve, are expected to be ready when camp kicks off July 26 at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. [Les Carpenter: Former prep star Brian Banks could help the NFL as more than a player ]
"Yes," said coach Chan Gailey when asked if he anticipates everyone being ready for training camp. "Now whether they can practice every day, it might be every other day to start with and then work them slowly in. But I expect them to be ready to go at camp."The seven starters coming back from season-ending injuries were all able to get some quality work in during offseason organized team activities and minicamps. They are running back Fred Jackson (leg), wide receiver Donald Jones (ankle), center Eric Wood (ACL knee), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (foot), linebacker Shawne Merriman (Achilles), cornerback Terrence McGee (knee) and kicker Rian Lindell (shoulder). "I feel good," said Merriman, the former San Diego All-Pro whose two years with the Bills have been hampered by the same leg issues that ended his time with the Chargers. "Obviously (I was) out there every day. I know it's going to be a question for a long time but I've been working every day. I've been very happy being able to come every day during offseason workouts and through the OTAs and minicamp. I'm just going to keep working and keep progressing." The Bills need the same thing to happen with all their key injured veterans. Wood on offense and Williams on defense are the anchors of their respective lines and each is trying to come back from serious injuries. How well they bounce back will be a closely watched story. Buffalo's depth and talent level just isn't good enough to not have Wood and Williams bounce back 100 percent. There is depth behind Jackson (C.J. Spiller) and Jones (rookie T.J. Graham among others). The same goes for McGee, with Leodis McKelvin and Aaron Williams capable of stepping in at one of the starting corner spots. Rookie first-round pick Stephon Gilmore will be given the opportunity to start at the other spot. Lindell, one of Buffalo's top two kickers ever, is fully recovered and was retained with a four-year, $11-million deal. Meanwhile, No. 1 wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who had offseason groin surgery, also is expected to be ready for camp. He was able to partake in minicamp on a limited basis. Johnson played all last year with a nagging groin issue and still managed to catch 76 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns.
"It popped in training camp and for a week I was just feeling like 'Dang, is this serious? I have never felt anything like this before,'" said Johnson, who signed a five-year, $36-million contract to remain a Bill. "I ended up going into the season and I was already two or three weeks into the groin injury. During the season I was really [plagued by the groin], I was just getting work done. Right now I think all it is going to take is about a week and then I'll be back to what I usually do."As a team, the Bills are feeling well prepared and confident, infused by the additions of free-agent defenders Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, backup quarterback Vince Young, a promising draft class, the promotion of Dave Wannstedt to defensive coordinator and a full offseason of work as a team. Last year, the labor lockout prevented teams from gaining much traction heading into the season. "It was a little bit frustrating at times just because you are going in with a lot of unknowns," said Gailey of what last year, his second in Buffalo, was like. "It was not like we had everything in place going into it. We had a few things in place but not a lot of things in place. We needed the work. We were a team in transition, in progress and we needed the work and did not get it. (So) I think we are ahead. I do not know how much quantum is -- I am from south Georgia (laughing) -- but we are ahead for sure."
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