We're still not sure exactly where Eric Wood will be lining up for the Buffalo Bills during the 2011 season. Will he re-assume his role as the team's right guard with Geoff Hangartner returned to full health? Or, as is the popular opinion, will Wood make a permanent move to his natural center position, where he ended the 2010 season?
For the former first-round pick, "where" might be a secondary concern to "how often." The Louisville product has missed games in each of his first two professional seasons, including six as a rookie (thanks to a gruesome leg break) and two more last season.
You don't need me to tell you that the Bills need to make strides along the offensive line this coming season. As I've mentioned recently, I believe that process starts with improved health, and Wood is a major part of that conversation. Beyond that, however, I believe a break-through year for Wood is the easiest way for the Bills to improve up front - regardless of the position he's playing.
The best interior linemen in the NFL are players that impose their personalities as leaders for the rest of the unit. The New York Jets have one of the league's best and toughest lines because they all play the way Nick Mangold plays - and that's just one of many examples. Wood can be that kind of player; he was a valuable commodity on draft day 2009 for that very reason. He is a natural leader, and can become that playing style focal point from whatever position he plays. He just needs to be on the field.
There are other considerations, as well. Wood needs to improve his overall blocking consistency, get a little bit stronger at the point of attack, and become less susceptible to giving up quick pressures against certain moves, most prominently the spin move. These are correctable issues, and Wood will likely get them worked out. If he does that in a timely fashion, and if he stays on the field, don't be shocked if Buffalo's offensive line quickly takes to Wood's personality across the board. That is the pinnacle of the impact Wood can have on a football team, and it's significant.
Your clue to the No. 4 player on this list, publishing tomorrow: he has yet to play a single down with the Bills.