It's two steps forward and potentially one step back when it comes to the health of the Buffalo Bills starting offensive line coming out of the bye.
The good news is that starting left tackle Cordy Glenn and starting right guard Kraig Urbik are expected to return on Sunday, when Buffalo (3-4) travels to play the AFC-leading Houston Texans (6-1). Both missed three games with sprained right ankles.
On the downside, Erik Pears' status is uncertain after the starting right tackle missed practice Thursday.
Coach Chan Gailey said Pears was visiting a specialist to have a nagging hip-groin injury examined. Gailey said the injury is related to the one Pears had surgically repaired this offseason. And he didn't rule out the possibility of Pears requiring surgery again.
Gailey said he'll know more regarding Pears on Friday.
Pears has been inconsistent in starting all seven games this season. If he can't play, reserve tackle Chris Hairston is expected to take over after starting the past three games on the left side for Glenn.
Urbik's return is well-timed, too, because he'll reclaim his job at right guard after backup Chad Rinehart sustained what's feared to be a season-ending injury to his left ankle in a 35-34 loss to Tennessee two weeks ago.
Despite the constant shuffling, the Bills offensive line has been steady. Buffalo is tied for second in the NFL in having allowed just eight sacks this season. And the Bills have the league's fourth-best running attack.
"The last few weeks, we've done a good job, and it's kind of been patchwork just putting guys in there and trying to move guys around," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "But getting some depth there and getting our starters back will be big for us."
The Bills could use whatever edge they can get in facing Houston's sack-happy defense. J.J. Watt leads the NFL with 9 1/2 sacks, to go with 56 tackles (16 of them for a loss), 16 quarterback hits and 10 passes defensed. And he's part of a defense that's allowed the third-fewest yards.
"Yeah, it's going to definitely be a challenge, but there's a challenge every week," Urbik said. "You can't be hesitant at all. You have to trust your technique, especially going up against a guy like J.J. You need to be on your game every single play or he's going to expose you."
Urbik has 19 starts in two-plus seasons in Buffalo. Glenn is Buffalo's rookie second-round draft pick out of Georgia.
Rinehart's injury could open the door for cornerback Ron Brooks to be activated this week. The rookie fourth-round pick has been out since breaking his right foot in the final week of the preseason.
He began practicing two weeks ago, and is eligible to return after opening the season on the IR/Designated for Return list.
"I'm ready right now," Brooks said. "I'm just happy to have at least half of my season back."
NOTES: LG Andy Levitre is once again growing his Fu Manchu moustache to support the Berkley Fire Department annual fundraiser to assist young burn victims. Levitre can be sponsored on the charities website (http://www.growyourstache.com). ... DE Mark Anderson (left knee) will miss his third straight game after being ruled out by Gailey. ... The Bills have a 16-8 record in games following their bye week, and are 5-2 over the past seven seasons.
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