September 14, 2013 - 5:11 PM
By Jay Skurski
Bills head coach Doug Marrone has gone out of his way on a few occassions since the start of training camp to talk about the improvement he's seen in right tackle Erik Pears.
That's good news, because the Bills will need Pears at his best on Sunday. The 6-foot-8, 316-pounder will line up against Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson when the Bills host Carolina at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Johnson, 27, has started 48 games the past four seasons for the Panthers. Over that time, he's got 34 sacks, including one of Seattle's Russell Wilson in Week One. Johnson had 12.5 sacks in 2012, a total that tied for sixth best in the NFL.He's currently third in Carolina team history with 44 career sacks in seven seasons.
Pears, 31, is entering his eighth NFL season. He's signed through 2014 and has a cap hit this season of $2.8 million. He originally joined the Bills as a free agent late in the 2010 season and started one game that year. He started all 16 games in 2011, making him a good value signing by former General Manager Buddy Nix.
Pears, though, dealt with a sports hernia injury last season and was limited to just seven games. It was expected that Chris Hairston was going to push him in training camp for the starting right tackle job, but that never came to be because of an illness suffered by Hairston.
Pears thus locked down the job, and has impressed Marrone.
"The funny thing is people look and they'll say 'gosh, this guy has been here six years or eight years and he is what he is.' A lot of times, those players, they can continue to get better," Marrone said last month. "I see him as a guy, even though he's a veteran, he's really got a lot better."
Pears played all 64 offensive snaps in Week One against New England and had a strong game. The website Pro Football Focus, which charts every snap of every NFL game, charged him with just one quarterback hurry allowed.