Bills Back to Work Minus Couple of Starters

After enjoying the bye following a disappointing loss to the New York Giants in Week 6, the Bills returned to practice on Monday to begin preparations for their annual “home” game in Toronto against the Washington Redskins Sunday. But hopes that the time off would help linebacker Shawne Merriman’s right Achilles and left tackle Demetrius Bell’s shoulder ailment faded when the two were unable to participate in the workout.

Merriman tweaked his Achilles in practice the Thursday before the Giants game, and couldn’t play. At the time, Merriman said he didn’t think the injury was bad enough to keep him from missing a significant amount of time, but coach Chan Gailey said the Achilles isn’t making as much progress as everyone had thought.

“We’re going to try and continue to work with him and see where this goes,” Gailey said. “If we get to Wednesday or Thursday and things haven’t gotten a lot better, then we may have to rule him out for the weekend.”

The Bills were also hopeful that starting left tackle Demetrius Bell would be able to play against the Redskins after he missed the past two games because of a shoulder injury sustained against Cincinnati in Week 4. But Bell’s still not 100 percent, and likely won’t be ready.

“If we get him, that’s great,” Gailey said. “But we’re planning on him.”

Making matters worse is Bell’s replacement, rookie Chris Hairston, who has a right ankle injury that will keep him out for at least a couple more weeks. If Bell can’t play, starting left guard Andy Levitre will slide over to tackle, and backup Chad Rinehart will take over at left guard.

Levitre took some reps in training camp at left tackle, which should assist with the transition.

“They pay great dividends now,” Gailey said about the preseason snaps Levitre had at left tackle. “He got to work on a little technique, but the communication aspect of it helped greatly.”

Buffalo did get some good news regarding linebacker Chris Kelsay. The veteran has missed the past two games because of a calf injury, but was able to practice on Monday and could be ready to play against the Redskins.

Kelsay’s return should help bolster a Bills defense that has dropped to 31st in the league. They’ve allowed an average of 379 total yards, including 141 on the ground.

It doesn’t help that Buffalo’s best defensive lineman, Kyle Williams, continues to be sidelined because of a left foot injury. He missed the 27-24 loss to the Giants after aggravating the foot during a 31-24 win over Philadelphia in Week 5.

Williams acknowledged on Monday that he currently doesn’t have a timetable for his return, and added there’s a possibility that the injury may require offseason surgery.

“Obviously this isn’t what I want to be doing right now,” he said. “It’s one of those things. I’m disappointed that I can’t do anything about it.”

After coming up short against the Giants, the Bills (4-2) will look to rebound against a banged-up Washington (3-3) team that will be without starting running back Tim Hightower (torn ACL) and receiver Santana Moss (broken hand). The Redskins lost their second straight — and third in the last four — on Sunday with a 33-20 defeat at Carolina.

It will be the fourth regular season Bills game played in Toronto, with Buffalo yet to win north of the border.

The Bills, who remain a game behind first-place New England (5-1) in the AFC East, also made a roster move Monday, signing defensive tackle Jay Ross to the practice squad and releasing receiver Tim Toone.

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Cutler on Run, Bears Beat Bills 10-3

Cutler was on the run and out of the game in hurry, playing just one series as the Chicago Bears opened the preseason with a 10-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills that did nothing to ease lingering concerns about the offensive line.

“They were good. They were fine,” Cutler said. “It took a little bit to get settled down. Some of those young guys are still jelling a little bit.”

The Bills got two sacks from Shawne Merriman and nine in all, but the Bears prevailed on a soggy night in which both teams pulled their starters early.

Cutler and Chicago’s skill position starters were gone after one series, with the linemen staying in for the first half. On defense, the first stringers lasted two series, while the Bills lifted their starters on both sides after two.

The way Cutler was running around, it sure felt like last season. Sacked a league-leading 52 times a year ago, there wasn’t much he could do Saturday with the defense bearing down on him. At least this one didn’t end with a knee injury or with the outside attacks on his toughness, as his previous appearance at Soldier Field — an NFC championship loss to Green Bay in January.

All Cutler managed behind a revamped line that no longer includes departed center Olin Kreutz was this — a shovel pass to Matt Forte on the Bears’ second play from scrimmage for no gain and then a 10-yard scramble. He got sacked by rookie Marcell Dareus on a third down at the 35 before Chicago punted.

Newcomer Roy Williams didn’t have a ball thrown his way.

Forte stayed on for one more play after that shovel pass and didn’t attempt a run but was at least in uniform. He had considered holding out at the start of training camp because he wants a new contract, and considered sitting out this one, too.

Newcomer Marion Barber made a good impression, running for 45 yards and leading the Bears to a second-quarter touchdown. He carried six times for 37 yards on that drive, setting up a 4-yard run by backup quarterback Caleb Hanie that put Chicago ahead 7-3.

Hanie got a rude welcome on the previous possession when he was sacked on consecutive plays by Merriman. That forced Chicago to punt after Johnny Knox returned the kickoff 70 yards following a 44-yard field goal by Rian Lindell late in the first quarter.

For the line, it was simply a rough night.

Kreutz, the six-time Pro Bowl center, is gone after contract negotiations collapsed, and the Bears are going with veteran Roberto Garza rather than newcomer Chris Spencer for now.

Garza got beat on Merriman’s second sack, and it wasn’t a great night for the rest of the blockers, either.

“Too much pressure on the quarterback,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We have to tighten that up a little bit. But besides that offensively I thought we accomplished what we wanted to the first game. We have so far to go.”

The Bills had to like what they saw from Merriman and Dareus, the third pick in the draft.

Buffalo is counting on both players to help a defense that ranked last against the run a year ago and got hit hard by injuries while trying to adapt to the 3-4. That’s one reason Buffalo went 4-12 last season, and coach Chan Gailey was quick to praise Merriman.

“The understatement of the evening I thought Merriman was impressive on his return,” he said.

They never got the spark they were seeking from Merriman in November because the three-time Pro Bowler injured his Achilles’ tendon about 15 minutes into his first practice with Buffalo after being waived by San Diego. He missed the rest of the season.

“I’m still getting a feel for the game again, so going out there and making certain moves, getting back in football shape is going to be a long process, but you are never going to take the athleticism and the ability to go out and want make plays for somebody,” Merriman said. “I’ve been away for a year and half still just getting into the groove of things.”

It wasn’t a bad night for Ryan Fitzpatrick, either. He completed 7 of 9 passes for 44 yards for the Bills.

Stevie Johnson, the man the Bills are counting on to take over the No. 1 spot with Lee Evans gone, caught three passes for 15 yards. Fred Jackson ran for 18 yards on three carries.

“Everybody knows what an outstanding player Lee was here,” Fitzpatrick said. “The off-the-field stuff, the leadership that he provided in that room was something that maybe you don’t see every day. That’s going to be something that the guys are going to have to pick up.”

Notes: The Bears kicked off twice from the 30 rather than the 35 because they wanted to test their coverage unit. The Bills were OK with that. … Chicago RB Chester Taylor ran for 3 yards on three carries. … CB Zackary Bowman (head), DE Corey Wootton (knee) and DT Marcus Harrison (shoulder) were injured during the game. … The Bears held out DT Anthony Adams (left calf). … Buffalo was without WR/PR Roscoe Parrish (left leg).

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Bills RB Spiller, DE Johnson Expected to Miss Week

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. As much as running back C.J. Spiller wants to practice this week, coach Chan Gailey doesn’t think that’s likely because of a hamstring injury.

On Monday, Gailey all but officially ruled out the rookie first-round draft pick from playing in Buffalo’s game at Cincinnati on Sunday. He also said defensive end Spencer Johnson is expected to miss at least one game because of a hamstring injury.

Both players were hurt in helping the Bills (1-8) secure their first win of the season on Sunday, a 14-12 victory over Detroit.

“If you talk to C.J., C.J. thinks he’s going to be hoping to practice probably this week,” Gailey said. “Probably a realistic thing is he’ll miss one (game), and then we’ll see from there.”

Spiller was hurt when planting his foot to brace himself as he was pushed out of bounds after a 29-yard punt return in the second quarter.

He said he didn’t initially feel the injury until after he got up and began making his way across the field to the Bills sideline.

On Monday, Spiller walked with a slight limp favoring his right leg, and said he wants to practice once the team returns on Wednesday.

“That’s the goal,” he said.

Without Spiller, newly signed running back Quinton Ganther will take over the backup duties to starter Fred Jackson. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin will handle both kickoff and punt returns in place of Spiller and receiver Roscoe Parrish, who was placed on injured reserve last week after he broke his wrist.

Johnson, hurt in the second half against Detroit, was spotted in the Bills locker room with a wrap around his upper right leg.

Gailey called it an “outside chance” that Johnson will practice this week, and said the player could miss as many as two games.

Gailey also updated the status of Shawne Merriman, saying he doesn’t expect the linebacker to begin practicing until next week. Merriman aggravated a right Achilles’ tendon injury early into his first practice with the Bills on Wednesday, a week after being claimed off waivers from San Diego.

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