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Wilfork will be tough test for Bills' interior offensive linemen

It hasn't been smooth sailing for Eric Wood during his first two NFL starts at center.

After facing mammoth nose tackles Shaun Rogers of Cleveland and Paul Soliai of Miami, Wood now gets to go face-to-face with New England's Vince Wilfork.

The Patriots' perennial Pro Bowler has 73 tackles, fourth on the team. He has been used at defensive end on occasion, but his money is made clogging up the middle.

"He's a heck of a player," Wood said. "Vince is extremely stout and in pass-rush situations he can be really effective. A man of that size and strength, you really have to hone in on your techniques so you don't get out of position."

The Bills had a tough time running the ball against the Dolphins last week, finishing with 71 yards on 27 carries. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both averaged less than two yards per carry.

Coach Chan Gailey said the offensive line's inefficient play had a lot to do with that. Wood did not disagree.

"We had too many mental errors last week," Wood said. "That's obviously something that's got to change. It kills the running game. So many negative-yardage run plays last week, probably as many as we've had all year combined. We really got to communicate well this week and just bone up on little mistakes. If one happens during the game, it's understandable. But when five happens, it's a catastrophe."

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Wood's time at center might come to an end soon.

Geoff Hangartner made a surprise appearance on the practice field Thursday, the first time he has done any football-related activity the past two weeks after suffering a sprained knee in the first half at Minnesota.

"It was hoped for, but not expected," Gailey said of Hangartner's limited participation. "He did a little something the first part of practice, just to kind of get back into the swing of things."

Gailey sounded pessimistic about Hangartner playing earlier this week. It's unlikely Hangartner will play on Sunday, but Gailey isn't officially ruling it out.

"We'll see toward the end of the week," Gailey said. "Maybe, maybe not. I know we're going to try to be smart. We're not going to be dumb about it."

Meanwhile left tackle Demetrius Bell (knee) and outside linebacker Chris Kelsay (knee) returned to practice after their normal rest day.

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who reportedly sat out Wednesday's practice with, among other things, flu-like symptoms, was back to work Thursday. But flu was removed from the injury report, which listed shoulder and foot next to Brady's man.

Brady has been on the injury report with those ailments for most of the season, but hasn't missed a start.

Of greater concern for the Patriots is the number of key players who missed a second day of practice Thursday. Among the missing were wide receiver Deion Branch (knee), right guard Dan Connolly (concussion), tight end Aaron Hernandez (hip), outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain (groin) and defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion).

Branch and Connolly are starters. Hernandez is one of the Patriots' leading receivers, while Wright and Banta-Cain lead the team in sacks with 5 1/2 and five, respectively.

Starting outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham (calf) didn't practice Thursday after being limited the day before.

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Spiller was the only Bills player in the top five at his position in the Pro Bowl fan voting, which concluded Monday. Spiller finished fifth among AFC kick returners.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was in the top five as of last Friday, but was overtaken by Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.

Fans count for one-third of the Pro Bowl vote. Players and coaches completed their ballots this week. The Pro Bowl teams will be announced on Tuesday.

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Sunday's game is a sellout and will be televised locally.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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