One of the best offseason developments for the Bills, far away from the noise of the Terrell Owens signing, was the foot healing involving Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel.
Buffalo sorely missed its sore-footed pass rusher in 2008 when it finished with the NFL's fifth fewest sacks at 24. Schobel, who suffered a Lisfranc injury in which the small joints of the mid-foot are affected, played just five games, was inactive for eight and went on injured reserve for the final three. He finished with one sack, the lowest total of his eight-year career.
The good news for Schobel and the Bills is that he didn't need surgery and was able to participate in all offseason workouts. He moved well and sounded optimistic about returning to full strength, although until the tackling begins, he won't know for sure what his future holds.
He said he feels some discomfort in the foot, "but after 10 minutes of warming up, it goes away and I don't think about it," said Schobel, whose 68 career sacks rank No. 2 in team history behind Bruce Smith.
Coach Dick Jauron is looking forward to having him back, anchoring his defense in a lineup that will now feature No. 1 draft pick Aaron Maybin at defensive end/outside linebacker giving Schobel some help.
"He's a tremendous player," Jauron said. "He wins a lot of matchups and we miss him when he's not on the field, so it's good to see him back."
OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Running back Fred Jackson not only landed the security of a long-term contract he was seeking, he slipped seamlessly into the starting tailback role. Jackson, a former Division III free agent, had a breakout season with 571 yards rushing and 37 receptions last year backing up Marshawn Lynch and will start the season as Lynch serves a three-game suspension for violating the league's conduct code.
LINEUP WATCH: Rookie safety Jairus Byrd missed OTA and minicamp work due to his college exam schedule, leaving Donte Whitner to take most of the first-unit reps at free safety. But the coaching staff is eager to see Byrd, a ball-hawking cornerback at Oregon drafted in the second round, in training camp at free. If he beats Whitner out, then Whitner, who is being supplanted at strong safety where he has started three seasons by veteran Bryan Scott, will be relegated to a utility role.
ROOKIE IMPRESSIONS: Defensive end Aaron Maybin, the team's No. 1 pick, is a physical specimen with a lot of easily recognizable athletic gifts. But what happens when the mayhem of an NFL Sunday unfolds and the 249-pounder is giving away 60 pounds to offensive tackles and guards is a question yet to be answered. The coaches hope he can develop a good repertoire of pass-rush moves so he can utilize his speed in getting to the quarterback. It's already apparent backup plans are in the works to use him in a linebacker role if he does get overmatched by bigger bodies up front. It's up to Maybin what happens.
Meanwhile, rookie guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre made a good first impression with their work habits and eagerness. But veterans Seth McKinney and Kirk Chambers have already been in the NFL trenches and seen all the looks, so it won't be easy beating them out as first-year players. Fourth-round tight end Shawn Nelson was impressive catching the ball and if he can block just a little, will be in the starting lineup on Day 1.
INJURY WATCH: Wide receiver James Hardy, Buffalo's promising second-round draft pick a year ago, continues to rehab from ACL surgery. It's likely he'll start training camp on the physically unable to perform list to free up a roster spot in hopes he'll be able to contribute at some point this year.
CONTRACT TO WATCH: Quarterback Trent Edwards enters year three of a four-year deal he signed as a rookie in 2007 when he was a third-round unknown commodity, not an entrenched starter. His contract situation will move front and center with team bean counters if he proves he's really the real deal in 2009. He's due to make a base salary of $460,000 this season, which is far less than backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. That inequity can't last.