Bills coach Gailey's mandate: O-linemen must wear knee braces

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Despite recovering from a severely broken leg, Buffalo Bills starting right guard Eric Wood didn't intend to wear any type of protective brace this season.

Too bulky, awkward and restrictive, Wood complained after wearing them in college. "It's an extra pound or two on each leg," he said.

Turns out Wood doesn't have a say in the matter.

Under first-year coach Chan Gailey's orders, all 15 of the Bills' offensive linemen are required to wear a knee brace on each leg throughout training camp in a bid to prevent injuries. It's a practice that Gailey and offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris first began considering more than 20 years ago when they were together with Birmingham of the World League of American Football.

Gailey said he didn't start implementing the mandate until about 11 years ago. Though he doesn't know of any statistical evidence that show knee braces prevent injuries, Gailey said he has seen too much visual proof to know they must help.

"I believe it because I know it, because I've seen it with my own eyes," he said. "I've seen bent knee braces come off the practice field and the guy's not hurt. So I know it works."

And it doesn't matter to Gailey that most players don't like wearing the braces.

"No, they don't like it, but I think they're smart enough to understand why," Gailey said, though he won't require players to wear the braces during games. "With all the injuries we've had around here, I think that they weren't quite as reluctant."

The knee-brace mandate is new to the Bills and uncommon throughout the NFL.

The Miami Dolphins are one team that has such a policy, which shouldn't come as a surprise because of Bill Parcells' presence as the team's executive vice president of football operations. Parcells instituted a similar knee-brace mandate as coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Otherwise, there are at least 11 teams, including the current Cowboys, that don't require braces.

Bills center Geoff Hangartner initially wasn't a fan of the policy and made sure to voice his thoughts to D'Alessandris. But Hangartner has come around.

"Joe knows there's a reluctance on some of our parts to wear them, but he believes in them," Hangartner said. "And as beat up as we were last year, if it prevents one injury, then it's worth the pain that it is to put them on every day."

Knee injuries took their toll on Buffalo's offensive linemen last season. Wood, starting left tackle Demetrius Bell, starting right tackle Brad Butler and backup tackle Seth McKinney all finished the season on injured reserve after hurting their knees or legs.

Bell, who was hurt in Week 10 last season, already was planning to wear a brace on his surgically repaired right knee. Now he's growing accustomed to one on his left knee, as well.

"They feel funny, even in your stance," said Bell, who participated in full contact drills Sunday for the first time this offseason. "But it'll help us out in the long run, and I feel it's already helped us out, so I don't think it's a bad thing."

Offensive linemen are most susceptible to knee injuries because of the nature of their position. Aside from having to start from a crouched position, the players rely on their legs to get leverage in blocking defenders. There's also a bigger potential for offensive linemen to have their knees cut out from behind or from the side, as happened to Wood during an 18-15 loss at Jacksonville on Nov. 22.

Wood was blocking one defender near the line of scrimmage when Jaguars defensive tackle Montavious Stanley made a diving attempt to tackle quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Stanley got only a piece of the quarterback and landed directly on Wood's lower leg, bending it sideways, in an injury that was so gruesome that CBS elected against showing more than one replay.

Despite his reluctance to wear braces in practice, Wood said he's becoming accustomed to them and just might continue wearing them in games.

"Oh yeah, the statistics show they reduce a lot of injuries. I was thankful I wore them in college. I had a couple of close calls," Wood said. "I'm not a huge protester of them. They're not fun to wear in practice, not fun to get used to again. But you deal with it."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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