Backup Chad Rinehart is as ready as he ever will be to step into the starting lineup Sunday and face the formidable San Francisco 49ers defense.
Rinehart, who takes over for injured right guard Kraig Urbik, will be starting his 20th career game. Urbik has made 19 career starts.
“I’ve started as many games as Kraig, so I don’t view myself as a backup, but unfortunately that’s the spot I’m in,” Rinehart said Thursday. “Going into this game starting, I feel comfortable with all the other guys.”
Rinehart is a 6-foot-5, 321-pounder who was a third-round draft pick in 2008. Urbik, 6-5 and 324, was a third-round draft pick in 2009. Urbik beat out Rinehart for a starting spot each of the past two summers. However, Rinehart graded out pretty well in 12 starts last season. Due to injuries across the line, Rinehart played in 80 percent of the offensive snaps last year.
“I feel like I’m a starter,” Rinehart said. “It’s just unfortunate I’m on a team where there’s five other guys who are very capable. I’m the odd man out right now.
“I feel when I’ve had a chance to play, I’ve been very productive,” Rinehart said. “Kraig’s been the same. I feel like we’re two guys that are about the same mold. They’ve been giving him the starting nod. I guess the biggest thing I can do is not have any dropoff.”
Urbik is out at least two weeks with a sprained ankle, so this is a big chance for Rinehart to show the Bills and other teams his value. The contracts of all three Bills guards - Andy Levitre, Urbik and Rinehart - are up after this season.
Rinehart had a rough start in last week’s game vs. New England. He entered on a third-and-4 play in the first quarter when Urbik limped off. Rinehart was beaten for a sack up the middle by the Pats’ Jermaine Cunningham.
“Unfortunately my first play was probably my worst play of the game,” Rinehart said. “I came in on third down and looked up and saw Cunningham in there and should have been more ready to go, knowing he’s a speed guy. He got the corner on me and got pressure on Fitz. I started three games against New England so I’ve definitely had a lot of experience with them. I felt as the game went on I got more comfortable.”
Bills safety Jairus Byrd participated in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday due to a hip pointer suffered in Sunday’s game vs. the Patriots.
“He was limited, but he moved around pretty well,” said coach Chan Gailey. “All indications are he’ll play. Unless there’s a setback between now and then he’ll be fine.”
Defensive tackle Spencer Johnson was ruled out with a sprained ankle. That means more snaps for Alex Carrington. Johnson and Carrington both have averaged 22 snaps a game through the first four weeks.
Receiver Ruvell Martin worked out and still has a chance to return from a high ankle sprain this week.
“He practiced two days, looked better today than yesterday,” said Gailey. “I’m still real hopeful for him for Sunday.”
Levitre starred at San Lorenzo Valley High School in Felton, Calif., about an hour south of San Francisco. He was a 49ers fan growing up and attended Niners and Giants baseball games at Candlestick Park. Levitre has about 60 friends and family coming to the game.
Donte Whitner has started 19 of 20 games at strong safety for the 49ers since leaving the Bills after the 2010 season and signing as a free agent in San Francisco.
Whitner talked to the San Francisco Chronicle Thursday about the mindset of the Bills’ players in the wake of the blowout loss to the Patriots.
“Their backs are against the wall, knowing those guys,” Whitner said. He went on to make the inarguable point that bad decisions in the football department hurt the team during his tenure.
“They’re always going to want to go out there and work hard and want to do the right things, but sometimes it doesn’t go that way,” Whitner said. “Sometimes it’s bigger than just the players on the football field. I say that because a lot of guys go out there and pour their heart into it and you never win.”
“You never go out there and feel like you’re in control of the football games, and I think that comes from coaching. I think that comes from upstairs, and I think that comes from just getting the right players in place. A lot of times when I was there, we struggled a lot. We wanted to win football games. We went out there and did everything they asked us to do and it didn’t happen.”
Gailey on Whitner: “He’s done a great job out there. Donte’s made a lot of plays for them. He’s playing that deep secondary safety spot for ‘em and getting involved in the run. He’s playing well for ‘em. There’s no need to talk about what happened here.”
Niners receiver Randy Moss, 35, was out of football in 2011 but is back as a part-time player. He is averaging 20 snaps a game and has eight receptions for 88 yards and one touchdown.
“Randy Moss can still stretch the field vertically, still plays the ball extremely well when it’s in the air,” Bills safety George Wilson said. “He catches just about everything they throw his way. He still remains productive in the manner they use him.”
In 10 career games against the Bills, Moss has 59 catches for 826 yards and 10 touchdowns.