Aaron Schobel had a quiet spring and summer. That's fine with the Buffalo Bills as long as he makes a lot of noise in the fall.
The veteran defensive end is looking forward to this season perhaps more than any other considering how the last one ended.
Schobel played only five games in 2008 because of a Lisfranc foot injury. But he feels as good physically as he has in a couple of years and is looking forward to officially announcing his comeback in the season opener at New England on Monday night.
"I'm in decent shape. I'm ready for what I've got to do," Schobel said Monday. "After all these practices and all the time leading up to that first game, you forget that you were even hurt. But I'm glad to be healthy again."
The Bills need Schobel to stay that way. His absence last year was felt as the defense registered only 24 sacks, tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL.
The Bills used their top draft pick on defensive end Aaron Maybin, a pass-rushing specialist from Penn State. He should help, but Schobel still is counted on the lead the charge to the quarterback.
"[Schobel's] got a track record of doing it," head coach Dick Jauron said. "When he stays healthy he produces, so we really look to him. Now we've got to get production from everybody to get where we want to be in our league and in our division, but Aaron is the guy that's done it in the past so we're really leaning on him."
Schobel actually hurt his foot in a Week Four win at St. Louis. He tried to play the following week at Arizona, but the Bills shut him down in the second half of a 41-14 loss to the Cardinals.
The Lisfranc, a fracture and dislocation of the joints in the middle of the foot, is a common injury among athletes. But injuries have been an uncommon occurrence during Schobel's career.
Prior to last season, the incredibly durable veteran had not missed a game in his seven previous seasons. So it's understandable that he was frustrated not being on the field doing what he's done better than any Bills defensive end except Hall of Famer Bruce Smith.
"At first it was a shock," Schobel said of the injury, which didn't require surgery. "I didn't know how to act. I didn't know what to do around here. It was different not playing and practicing, but as the year went on I got used to it."
After months of rehabilitation and rest, the foot was healed by March and Schobel was able to participate in all of the Bills' offseason workouts. He had one physical setback in the preseason -- an injured elbow that sidelined him for a week.
Schobel said it takes a few minutes to loosen his foot up, but it is 100 percent.
"It's like starting over," he said. "It takes you a while before you're back into it, and then everything gets back to the way it always was."
Although he is still shaking off the rust, the Bills are seeing flashes of the old Schobel every day.
"There aren't a lot of pass rushers in the league, and he's a good pass rusher and more than that," Jauron said. "Obviously he plays the run well. He's an unusual athlete. He's smart. He's got a feel for the game. He's a tough guy and he works at it. He understands the leverage and he prepares for opponents. It's really good to have Aaron back and hopefully we'll keep him healthy the whole year."
Schobel also hopes the health problems are behind him so he can get back to performing at a high level. But can he regain the form that helped him make the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2008?
He hasn't had a double-digit sack season since recording 14 1/2 in 2006. He has just 7 1/2 sacks the last two seasons after registering 45 1/2 from 2003-06.
Schobel often chafes when asked about his diminished sack totals. He says people overlook the fact that he's more than a pass rusher (he made 191 tackles in the two years before the foot injury). He added that putting pressure on the quarterback is just as important.
But at age 32, he recognizes he is getting older and there might be some concern about the last two years being be a sign of a decline. He is eager to prove he can still be a defensive force that opposing offenses must worry about.
"When I'm in a competitive situation, I don't like to lose. That's what drives me," he said. "I can't always control what the team does, but I can control what I do. I know I can still play this game. As long as I'm giving it what I've got, that's all I can ask of myself."