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All right, class. Time for your weekly football quiz. What's the second-biggest cliche among offensive linemen - besides, of course, that they prefer run blocking to pass protection? You, the big curly-haired guy with his hand up in the back of the room. Mr. Wood, can you enlighten us?

"The least amount that people are talking about us, the better," said Bills center Eric Wood. "When you're talking a lot about an offensive line, it's generally negative."

Offensive linemen are actually a pretty diverse lot. Some prefer to operate in silence.

I spent 15 futile minutes trying to get an actual opinion out of Erik Pears last year. John Fina treated reporters like vermin scattering through the locker room. Joe Devlin wanted to kill me once.

But other O-linemen have been among the most quotable Bills. Kent Hull, bless his Mississippi soul, was the best of them all. Ruben Brown never met a notepad or microphone he didn't like. I swear he made some of those Pro Bowls because other players loved hearing him talk. Wood is among the most insightful men on the current team.

Whether they talk or not, offensive linemen are usually smart. They have opinions, even if they choose to keep them to themselves. And yes, when no one is talking about them, it usually means they're doing a good job. But you can't tell me the Bills' linemen don't wish they could get more respect around the NFL.

Last year, the Bills allowed the fewest sacks in the league (23). They plowed the way for a running attack that led the AFC in yards per carry at 4.9. But did you hear anyone in football calling them one of the best units in the game?

I checked a bunch of offensive line rankings. Daily newspapers, Football Weekly, websites, ESPN - not one of them had the Bills O-line ranked among the top 10 last season. Most had the Patriots, Packers and Saints at the top, the teams who have the top quarterbacks and win. Is it a coincidence, or does having a great QB automatically make a line better?

Winning helps, of course. You seldom hear about a team going 4-12 despite a dominant O-line. So until the Bills become a contender, the line isn't likely to get much attention. But through two games, it has been the most statistically impressive in the league.

The Bills are the only team in the NFL that hasn't allowed a sack. As of Monday, they led the league in rushing (198 yards a game) and yards per attempt (6.4). They were fourth in scoring at 31.5 points a game.

"Yeah, the O-line is kind of picking up where we left off last year," Wood said. "We've got a good group. It's a pretty deep group. But we come to work every week. We're going to try to play consistent ball all year. We'll have some ups and downs, but after two weeks we've been able to put together a couple of pretty good performances."

It doesn't hurt to have C.J. Spiller channeling Gale Sayers. But remember, Fred Jackson had great success last year before his injury. There are holes to run through. Tashard Choice averaged 4.6 against the Chiefs on Sunday. Some of the clowns on the stadium's "list of unforgiven" could average 4 yards a pop behind this bunch.

"It's great," Wood said. "It's great that we've had the same group around for the last couple of years and some familiar faces. We had a lot of turnover the first couple of years I was here. Having the organization committed to a group means a lot to us"

After his team took a whipping against the Jets, coach Chan Gailey wanted to make a physical statement in the home opener. That meant running the ball and letting the Chiefs know who was boss. Wood said the Chiefs were so discouraged, they began taking cheap shots after the whistle.

" did the same thing to us last year," Wood said. "When you get a team down, you see their true colors. We're not going to sit back and take it. We're a physical group, and if they want to take shots at us, we're going to take them back."

It's no cliche. O-linemen love to create a physical identity for their teams. That's what Gailey needs. The spread offense is nice, but you need to punch an opposing defense in the mouth now and then.

The Bills were doing it a year ago until the injuries hit. Wood was coming into his own in his first year at center until he went out with a knee injury against Dallas.

Wood and left guard Andy Levitre are in their fourth season, entering their prime. Right tackle Erik Pears and right guard Craig Urbik are in their second year together. Cordy Glenn has been a surprise as a rookie starter at left tackle. Chris Hairston provides depth as the third tackle.

Gailey says his O-line can be very good if it stays healthy. Wood, who missed half of his rookie year with a broken leg, is the key. He's the pivot of the offense, the guy who directs the blocking and delivers the ball to Fitz, whose mobility and quick release help limit sacks.

"And it's not all that he gets the ball out," Wood said. "He's good at putting us in the right position and reading blitzes during the week, so when the game comes he can slide the protection to them. I'll say one thing we're doing now, as opposed to when I first got here. We're winning a lot more one-on-one battles, and that's allowed us to have the success we're having now.

"You obviously want credit. But that's not what we play for. We play to get victories. We hit our heads 70 times a game against somebody, win or lose. We want to stay consistent, because at the end of the year, if you give up a sack in the fourth quarter against Kansas City when the game gets out of hand, it counts the same on the stat sheet. So that's one thing we're taking pride in now."

So they do care. But keep it quiet. The O-linemen know that as soon as something goes wrong, people will come running to ask them why.





email: jsullivan@buffnews.com