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Bell won't get ahead of himself Bills' new left tackle focuses on present

Buffalo Bills second-year tackle Demetrius Bell was doing his best to live in the moment Wednesday.

He was not reflecting on the fact that his first NFL start will be against the team of the decade, the arch enemy of the Bills, on the road and on Monday Night Football.

"No, I just told someone, I'm not going to get myself overexcited and over-exhaust myself," Bell said as the Bills prepared for the season opener at New England. "It's a normal week for me, and I think we'll be all right."

He also was not considering the great leap forward his career has taken, given the fact he is entering only his fifth year of organized football at any level.

"I came a long way," Bell agreed, "but I haven't had time to look at it. . . . I still have a long way to go. I'm not going to put pressure on myself that I didn't have before I got here."

So the 25-year-old Bell has blinders on this week, which is probably a good approach. If he thought too much about the task, it might be overwhelming.

Bell's insertion into the starting lineup means the Bills will start three players Monday who never have taken a snap in a real NFL game. Rookies Eric Wood and Andy Levitre start at guard.

The Bills' starting offensive line has a combined 56 career starts. That's the lowest number for a team to start a season in seven years, since the New York Giants opened the 2002 season with a unit that had a combined 54 starts.

Compare that to the other teams in the AFC East. The New York Jets' line has 480 combined starts. New England's has 372. Miami's has 180.

The Bills voiced confidence in their new left tackle a day after releasing veteran Langston Walker. Bell practiced fully for the first time Wednesday since straining his back two weeks ago.

"He's very athletic," said Bills offensive line coach Sean Kugler. "He has the ability to recover when he is out of position. He's a competitive kid, and he works at it. He loves the game of football, and those are the guys we're moving forward with."

"He had a good OTAs with us," said coach Dick Jauron of spring practice. "He had a good training camp until the injury. He was doing really well. He's athletic. He has a great desire to get it done. He's got the ability. He clearly doesn't have the experience. He'll quickly get some."

Of course, the release of Walker was not Plan A for the Bills.

Jauron was asked if he had overrated Walker's ability in deciding in April that Walker could handle the switch from right tackle to left tackle.

"Probably. Probably," Jauron said. "We clearly thought we could move him and he'd do the job. He just wasn't playing up to our expectations. So we felt like it was time to make that move."

And Jauron acknowledged the obvious fact that starting such a young offensive line is a worry.

"Yeah, you worry about it, but I've said often, I really like the guys," Jauron said. "I think we've come a long way. We'll find out on Monday night how far we've come. It's not going to be easy. There's no doubt about that. So there's a lot of worry."

The move was the latest surprise for Bills players to absorb.

"Change has been the running theme around here," smiled quarterback Trent Edwards. "On paper I think you're asking them a lot. I think from an outsiders' perspective . . . I think that it's asking a lot. But from my perspective, I don't think it's asking a lot at all. Those guys were drafted and Demetrius Bell was drafted last year. I think they're bright-eyed rookies that are willing to work and willing to fight. They're going to make their mistakes like everyone else is, but they are guys that will respond to those mistakes and get up the next play, dust themselves off and fight another down. That's what I like about those guys."

"It was definitely surprising," said Lee Evans. "I think now, especially with a left tackle being moved, you have to do some things to protect a young line now. We'll just have to take steps appropriately. There'll be some things that we can't do, but that's the coaches' job."

"Obviously it's not the optimal situation," said Chris Kelsay. "But [center] Geoff [Hangartner] is a very smart player and gets us into the right protections and calls, and I think the rookies right now are to the point where they feel pretty comfortable with their role. They threw them in there right away, as soon as they got to camp. So I think going against guys like Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams helped them get ready."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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Bills starting offensive line

Left tackle

Demetrius Bell

Left guard

Andy Levitre

Center

Geoff Hangartner

Right Guard

Eric Wood

Right tackle

Brad Butler

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