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If Bills are to rebound under Gailey, running game will be key

Associated Press
The Bills could have one of the top backfields with (left to right) Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.


Bills coach Chan Gailey is not a historian, but the formula he is using to try to revive a dormant franchise is all too familiar to Buffalo fans.

That's because it has the imprints of Chuck Knox and Marv Levy all over it.

Following the tradition established by both former Bills coaches who once led the franchise to glory, Gailey is turning to a dynamic runner to guide the Bills. Which one? We will soon find out.

Much like Knox and Levy depended on Joe Cribbs and Thurman Thomas, respectively, Gailey is banking on a trio of backs -- rookie C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch -- to rejuvenate the Bills' offense.

Spiller, who was the ninth overall pick in April's draft, is the linchpin. He has the potential to be an electrifying playmaker. As a former collegiate track star who earned All-ACC honors in the 100 meters and recorded a personal best of 10.22 seconds at that distance, Spiller has the speed and quickness to score from anywhere on the field, a statement bolstered by the fact that 21 of his 51 career touchdowns at Clemson covered at least 50 yards.

Given Spiller's penchant for delivering big plays, Gailey's plan to use him in a variety of roles is sensible for a team that has finished in the bottom 10 in scoring offense in six of the last seven seasons. As a rare three-phase player, Spiller is capable of producing as a runner, receiver and returner. His unique skill set will undoubtedly create mismatches in space. Gailey will take advantage of his versatility by using the rookie as a quasi-receiver in some of the Bills' spread formations.

While Gailey will give Spiller plenty of opportunities, Jackson and Lynch are also capable options. That might give him the flexibility to keep Spiller confined to a complementary role.

Jackson, who rushed for 1,062 yards (4.5 yards per carry) last season, has shown that he can handle being a feature back. While his size allows him to bang effectively between the tackles, he also possesses the quickness to get to the corner. Jackson put those skills on full display after replacing Lynch as the starter a year ago, averaging 158 rushing yards in the three games that he finished with at least 20 carries.

Throw in the fact that he is a solid receiver, and Jackson deservedly belongs on the field in some capacity.

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With Spiller and Jackson expected to play major roles, Lynch appears to be the odd man out. But let's be real, the former Pro Bowler is too good to be a third option. Lynch tallied back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to open his career and showed flashes of being an elite runner. However, a series of off-field incidents led to a three-game suspension to start last season. Although Lynch reclaimed his starting spot when he returned, he never found his rhythm and subsequently lost the job to Jackson by midseason.

While there has been serious speculation that Lynch, who skipped several offseason OTAs, will eventually be traded, he could still fill a vital role as a rotational player. He has the size and speed to be effective between the tackles, while his downhill running style makes him an ideal option in short-yardage situations. If the Bills can get Lynch to cooperate, it would give them a formidable trio.

It won't be easy spending the preseason deciding how to divide the responsibilities on what should be one of the league's most explosive running games. But one thing remains obvious: If Gailey is to get the Bills to the postseason for the first time in over a decade, the charge will be led by their dynamic crop of runners.

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