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SWITCH AT QB NOT THE ANSWER FOR THE LONG TERM

The Bills' surprising quarterback switch, it turns out, is not a case of "the Crown Prince is dead; long live the new Crown Prince."

Marv Levy admitted Wednesday that if "something unforeseen happened," i.e., an Alex Van Pelt meltdown, Van Pelt would get the hook just as Todd Collins did last Sunday against Denver.

Levy made the remark in answering a question about the degree of his confidence in Collins as a relief quarterback in view of his shaky background coming off the bench and entering a game cold. Levy made it clear he would have no qualms about calling him out of the figurative bullpen.

Considering the way Van Pelt propelled the Bills back into contention after they fell behind, 20-0, not Levy, the players nor Van Pelt himself expect anything close to a meltdown.

Personally, I still think it was a bad idea -- a panic move -- to change quarterbacks for the Miami game Sunday.

The long-term plan is to develop Todd Collins as the quarterback of the future. He won the job in training camp and the exhibition season. He had a lousy game against Denver. Developing quarterbacks always have some lousy games. The idea is to replace him in mid-lousy, as the Bills did Sunday, turn the page on the bad game and go on to the next one. Such things happen all the time.

It says here it would have been a better idea if the Bills' brass decided to become less reluctant to use Van Pelt in relief. The entire season can't be dedicated to developing the quarterback of the future. The Bills still want to do everything to win while they remain in contention. It shouldn't be that much of a problem to make an on-site assessment of Collins and then a gut decision whether he is likely to regain his stride or not.

Besides, Van Pelt's mental makeup lends itself to his role as a backup. He's seen the NFL from a lot of different perspectives, he's more mature and you don't have to worry about hurting his confidence, considering his bounce-around background.

The Bills have to worry that a dent is being made in Collins' psyche. He's your basic Generation X kid, which means it's hard to tell what bothers him and what doesn't. But the confidence of any developing quarterback should be handled with rubber gloves. Fragile stuff.

Think back to those hazy days of summer at the Fredonia training camp. Among the priority aims were to create a stable offensive line; to lead tight end Lonnie Johnson toward a breakthrough year in his career; and to come into the regular season with an established quarterback at the helm.

The offensive line still has a mystery guest or two every week. Johnson looks like a lost cause and none of the other tight ends resembles anything more than a fringe player.

Now Collins, who made reasonably steady progress since July and had three consecutive games without a turnover before his Denver debacle, becomes an indictment of the remaining priority as a result of his benching.

The way I see it, the Buffalo offensive coaches are 0-3 regarding the goals they set for themselves.

Other than a small cult of fans, no one really peers into the distance and sees Van Pelt as Buffalo's long-term quarterback. It's hard to envision Miami's Jimmy Johnson losing a lot of sleep over a quarterback who has been cut by three teams and was signed originally as a college free agent.

On the other hand, JJ was just beaten by Erik Kramer of the previously winless Bears. Kramer was cut by three NFL teams, signed originally as a free agent, banged around the Canadian League for a couple of seasons and even played on Atlanta's scab team during the 1987 strike.

Kramer threw 50 passes against the Dolphins Monday night and was sacked only once.

On second thought, maybe it would be a good idea for Johnson to lie awake for a while thinking about Van Pelt.

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