Wide receiver Eric Moulds and tackles John Fina and Jonas Jennings were held out of practice again Thursday, but Buffalo Bills coach Gregg Williams has not ruled the starters out for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Williams said Thursday the three players have improved, and he is hopeful they will practice today.
Moulds, listed as questionable with a sprained shoulder, didn't talk to the media Thursday but said earlier this week he has no plans to sit out this game. Moulds has missed just two of 80 career games because of injury since coming into the NFL in 1996.
Losing Moulds would be a great blow to an offense that has struggled at times even with him in the lineup. His teammates feel the offense might suffer even more if he's unable to play.
"We all want him out there," said tight end Jay Riemersma. "Obviously, he brings a lot to our offense. It's going to be tough for other guys to get open because of that. But as far as the system goes, we're going to run the system and that's it.
"It's not what this offense needed. We thought we made some improvements, felt like we started clicking there at times and just kind of touched the surface of what we can do with this system," Riemersma said. "I think anytime you lose a player like Eric Moulds and his caliber, obviously we can't replace him. There's no more Eric Mouldses on this team, and there's only a handful in the NFL."
Jeremy McDaniel, who would take Moulds' place in the lineup if Moulds is out, said everyone will have to play better to make up for Moulds' absence.
"I think there have been times when we relied a little too much on Eric," McDaniel said. "Hopefully, he'll be out there on Sunday, but if he's not, we have to rally around each other and raise our games to a higher level to overcome not having him, if it comes to that."
Fina and Jennings are listed as questionable and doubtful, respectively. The positive for Fina is he was walking with less of a limp. He also did some light work on the sideline.
Although Jennings remains optimistic, his chances of playing appear slimmer.
Kris Farris and Marques Sullivan took the first-team snaps at tackle the past two days. Sullivan, on the inactive list the first two games, said he's ready if called upon.
"This is what you work hard for, to get an opportunity to play in the NFL," he said. "A lot can happen over the next couple of days, but I always try to prepare like a starter so I can step in and make sure there's no drop-off."
For a guy who would be most affected by the prospect of being protected by two new starting tackles, quarterback Rob Johnson doesn't appear concerned.
"I don't worry about that," he said. "It's out of my control. Those guys battle. It's a lot different than last year. Ruben (Brown) is playing better than I've ever seen. He's picking up slack for the younger guys. The right side, they're young but they fight. They make their mistakes, but they're out there trying and they're in here studying."
It seems the Steelers can't stop giving the Bills bulletin board material.
Strong safety Lee Flowers took some shots at Johnson, suggesting he can't run the West Coast offense.
Wide receiver Plaxico Burress scoffed at the suggestion that Bills cornerback Ken Irvin played him well when the teams met in the preseason.
"He knocked the one out of my hand going deep," Burress said. "But I don't think he really did a good job covering me. I'm not going to say he covered me because that didn't happen. I think I had the ball thrown to them, so I don't really think he covered me."
Irvin's response: "Sometimes, you reap what you sow. We're just going to go out and do what we can do. We're just going to do our talking between the lines."
Irvin added that it would be a challenge defending Burress, who is 6-foot-6 and 228 pounds.
"He's a big guy, so you have to get good leverage on him and work your techniques," said Irvin, who is 5-10. "Sure, we're going to lose some battles, but if we stay focused on what we can do and get better at our game, we'll win most of those battles."
Farris, a third-round pick by the Steelers in 1999, is apparently ready to rumble against his former team. He and practice squad defensive end Kendrick Office got into a fight for several minutes during one drill Thursday.
Farris wrestled Office to the ground and threw punches to the midsection before they separated.
General Manager Tom Donahoe isn't the only Bill with ties to the Steelers. Tom Modrak, the Bills' director of football operations, spent several years in Pittsburgh's scouting departments. Tom Guy, the Bills' pro personnel director, was the Steelers' special teams coordinator from 1992-94. Cornerback Lance Brown and Farris are Steelers draft picks.
Bills special teams coordinator Danny Smith didn't coach for the Steelers, but he's a Pittsburgh native. While coaching at Central Catholic High School, his alma mater, Smith helped tutor a young quarterback named Dan Marino.