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Bills O'Line decimated with loss of Ostroski
Big injuries hurt already suspect line.
by Rick Anderson, webmaster of Bills Thunder
August 19, 2001

The Buffalo Bills porous offensive line has become has become even more permeable. Bills starting right guard Jerry Ostroski went down with a broken right leg on only the second play of the preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and now protecting quarterback Rob Johnson is becoming Mission Impossible for Buffalo's rookie head coach Gregg Williams.

The Ostroski injury overshadowed the offensive implosion exhibited by both teams in Buffalo's 6-3 preseason victory over the Eagles. It probably was a blessing that Johnson was held out of the contest as he is nursing a sore index finger on his throwing hand. Speaking about being "thrown to the wolves," that is exactly what Johnson will feel like if the Bills don't shore up their pervious offensive line in a hurry. That's not to say that Johnson's physical (and maybe mental) health wasn't in danger as it was even with a healthy Ostroski attempting to protect him. Now things are much bleaker for Johnson physical well being this season.

Johnson's replacement, Alex Van Pelt, did an adequate job under center on Saturday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Van Pelt tossed the ball 25 times in the first half, completing 17 for 173 yards. As usual, the Bills had trouble getting into the endzone, but Van Pelt looked quite comfortable in the West Coast offensive scheme.

"The biggest thing I'm disappointed about was in the red zone," admitted Van Pelt. "We have to do a better job than that. We had some penalties and made some mental errors that hurt us."

Then Van Pelt smiled and added, "If we win every game 6-3, we'll have the best defense in the league. Of course, as an offense, we don't want to put that kind of pressure on them."

Van Pelt, who grew up in the West Coast offense in college, may be the man the Bills will have to rely on more than they want this upcoming season if the Bills O'Line won't be able to protect Johnson.

"I think offensively we did some things a little better as a unit and showed some progress from last week," analyzed Van Pelt. "In the passing game, we threw the ball downfield a little bit more."

The Bills got all the scoring they needed in the first half on the foot of kicker Steve Christie, who booted 37 and 29-yard field goals after missing one from 51 yards.

Pelt got the Bills rolling to 230 yards on offense in the first half alone. Rookie Travis Henry once again showed signs of radiance when he gained 31 yards on 7 carries. Shawn Bryson had a 5.1 yards per carry average as he galloped 51 yards on 10 carries. Sammy Morris also did better than last week when he ran 6 times for 35 yards and Curtis Alexander had 8 rushes for 38 yards. In all, 8 different players ran with the ball and the Bills offense seemed much more balanced than it did during the first game last week, gaining 174 yards on the ground.

Henry continues to impress the Bills coaches and fans alike. He did slightly injure his groin against the Eagles, but isn't too concerned about that and his aim is to gain the starting position at running back by the season opener. He injured his groin when he made a nifty 12-yard sweep around left end in the second quarter. That was it for the night for the rookie sensation.

All the bright signs that came out of that game were doused by the news that Bills offensive guard Ostroski could be gone for the season. Official word from the Bills is that Ostroski cracked the tibia in his right leg when Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent aimed for Ostroski's knee and rammed his helmet into the right leg. Ostroski was upset over Vincent's apparent aim to injure him and said so after the game.

"I've been playing this game since seventh grade," said a disappointed and frustrated Ostroski, "I never had (an injury this bad). I was hoping to get through without anything like this happening. I've been blessed, man. I went a long time without missing anything. They got me today."

Now with Ostroski gone for what could be the entire season, Rob Johnson might as wear a huge target on his jersey, for unless if the Bills can get some immediate help via free agency in the next few weeks, it will be open season on Johnson. There was growing concern about Johnson making the entire 16-game regular season schedule as it was. He reinjured his right index finger for the third time since training camp opened earlier this week when he caught his hand on a player's helmet during practice. In last week's exhibition against the Rams, Johnson reinjured while sliding to avoid being hit. Now with the already weak O'Line getting that much weaker, where does that leave Johnson?

"It's sad to see, he was a leader on our offensive line,"related Johnson, who now may be considering taking out an extra insurance policy from Lloyds of London. "Obviously, losing him doesn't help. Somebody is going to have to step up or we've got to pick up someone. We'll leave that up to Tom ( Bills GM Tom Donahoe)."

"The guy worked his butt off in the offseason," Johnson went on to praise his fallen body guard. "He was playing his natural position. He was looking awesome and then this happens."

Over the past five years, the Bills offensive line has deteriorated to the point it is today. During the Super Bowl years, the Bills boasted having one of the top O'Lines in the NFL. Now, they would stretching it if they compare it to one of the top collegiate lines.

Remember the glory years when the Bills had Buffalo Brick Wall of Will Wolford, Howard Ballard, Kent Hull, Jim Ritcher and John Davis? Well, cherish those days, as they are long gone! Now Bills fans will have to put up with the likes of.

Free agency took Pro Bowl bookend tackles off the club's Super Bowl squads. Father time took care of, talented and classy team leaders who come around once every couple decades.

To make matters worse, in the second quarter, the youngster Bill Conaty, who is attempting to gain a berth on the squad at center, injured his shoulder. Then Pro Bowl left guard Ruben Brown dinged his left knee. It started to look like a high school offensive line by the time the second half started. Right before the Bills went into the locker room for the halftime, the only experienced offensive lineman was John Fina. With the way the offensive linemen are becoming causalities of the preseason battles, Bills fans may have to get used to the likes of Jonas Jennings, Mike Heimberger, Corey Hulsey and Michael Early.

Now the Bills decision to let go of Jamie Nails and Marcus Spriggs in the offseason and releasing Robert Hicks last week will come back to haunt them. Rob Johnson will have to wear a coat of armor to protect himself.

Bills coach Williams has issued the challenge to the youngsters to step up and fill the shoes of Ostroski and the rest of the departed.

"I'll tell you this, his leadership is what you miss," said Williams. "You never want to get guys injured. I hate that. But they happen in this game. We have a lot of young guys who have to step up."

The man replacing Ostroski is rookie Hulsey. Even though Ostroski is far from the best at his position, Hulsey has some mighty big shoes to fill.

"I'm sure they're going to want to come after us until Jonas and myself show them we can play in this league," reflected Hulsey. "Until we do that, it's not going to stop. I still have a long way to go. The guys have helped me a lot and playing in NFL Europe has helped me a lot. But these guys have been playing a long time. I'm just getting thrown right into it. It's going to be a big challenge for me."

With the already paper-thin offensive line getting soggy with the loss of Ostroski, Johnson may try to use his injured index finger as an excuse to miss next week's game as well. Johnson doesn't think he'll look too good in a body bag.

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