Lynch ready to take next step in testing injured ankle

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Marshawn Lynch is scheduled to practice in pads Thursday, the next step in determining when the Buffalo Bills running back can return since spraining his left ankle more than three weeks ago.

Coach Dick Jauron said Wednesday that Lynch has shown significant progress and he hoped the rookie starter and team's top offensive threat could play Sunday when Buffalo hosts the Miami Dolphins.

"I think it's a much better chance," said Jauron. "I don't know if he'll play yet because we've got to see how he tolerates the practices. But he's much better than he was."

Jauron said he'll know better Thursday after watching Lynch in his first full-contact session since being hurt. Jauron also wants to see how Lynch's ankle responds.

Lynch said after practice his ankle was "a little sore, but nothing I couldn't bear." Lynch also revealed for the first time that team doctors initially told him he could miss up to eight weeks with what's been diagnosed as a high ankle sprain.

As for whether he could play this Sunday, Lynch said: "That's my goal. But if it doesn't happen this week, then next week for sure."

Lynch has been out since helping secure Buffalo's 13-10 win at Miami on Nov. 11. Despite missing three games, the first-round draft pick still leads the Bills with 751 yards rushing and six touchdowns. He's also had a touchdown passing, meaning he's had a hand in seven of 13 touchdowns produced by Buffalo's offense this season.

The Bills (6-6) have lost two of three since Lynch was injured, but still sit just a win behind Cleveland and Tennessee in the race for the AFC's second and final wild-card berth.

Buffalo is already missing its top reserve running back, veteran Anthony Thomas, who is out indefinitely after he tore a calf muscle in a 36-14 loss at Jacksonville two weeks ago. The Bills got a spark from third-stringer Fred Jackson in a 17-16 comeback win at Washington last weekend. In his first career start, Jackson had 16 carries for 82 yards and added four catches for 69 yards -- his 151 yards from scrimmage accounting for much of the 357 yards the offense gained.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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