Lockout has Bills tackle Bell on hold

ELMA, N.Y. -- Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn't the only Buffalo Bills player who was anxious while watching last month's draft.

BellBellLeft tackle Demetrius Bell was in a similar mental place.

Had the Bills drafted a tackle within the first three rounds, fans wouldn't have complained. They hadn't taken one higher than the fifth round since 2002, choosing instead to rely on a series of projects and castoffs.

Bell, a 2008 seventh-round draft choice with a lengthy injury history, started all 16 games at left tackle last year.

The Bills gave Bell a vote of confidence when they didn't draft a tackle until Clemson's Chris Hairston in the fourth round. Hairston's probably headed to right tackle.

"This is my position to lose at this point," Bell told me this week at Sahlen's Sports Park in suburban Buffalo, where he hooked up with 30 or so teammates for informal workouts. "They didn't draft a tackle in the high rounds. I look at last year as something to build off of and this is my year to breakout."

But with that comment, Bell winced. He knows that at this stage of his career, he badly needs structured workouts and instruction from coaches. As the lockout drags on, more sessions will get scrubbed. Minicamps are in danger. Training camp sessions and preseason games would be next.

The longer the lockout lasts, the more it will curtail Bell's development.

"The lockout is hurting me," Bell said. "I'm still in my learning stages. I'm still picking up the game, still getting stronger. I'm not where I want to be, and this lockout is hitting me hard. I have to find ways on my own to keep my stride, to keep learning, to keep improving."

On a positive note, Bell said he's 100 percent healthy and doesn't know of a single lingering injury anywhere on the offensive line.