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Jackson paying price for Nix error

Fred Jackson says he wants to know what's going on. He doesn't like being kept in the dark. Allow me to shine a light on matters, Fred. The Bills want to give your job to C.J. Spiller.

The guy is no dummy. Jackson's job as the featured back has been in jeopardy since April 22, 2010, when Buddy Nix turned in his first selection as the Bills' new general manager and reached for a hybrid running back with the ninth overall pick of the NFL draft.

Jackson did the right things, texting his good wishes to Spiller and promising to help him with his adjustment to the NFL. But it was only a matter of time before the Bills forced Spiller ahead of Jackson as the team's No. 1 back.

Chan Gailey tried it for one game last season, then abandoned it when Spiller wasn't ready for the big boys. He was woefully unprepared to deal with the speed and skill of NFL defenders, or to make the swift judgments required to navigate the running lanes in the pros.

Now they're at it again. Saturday in Denver, Gailey used Spiller as his starter. Jackson, an undrafted free agent who worked his way from the minor leagues to the NFL, finally snapped. A man can take only so much. He expressed his dismay in public and suggested he might ask to be traded.

It doesn't matter that Jackson continues to answer his critics, that he has averaged 4.4 yards a carry in his career behind inferior offensive lines and for mediocre offenses. There's no way he's going to get the workload he wants as a featured NFL running back.

The Bills didn't give Spiller $20.8 million in guarantees to sit on the bench. They expected him to be a game-changer. Spiller was the first pick of the new regime, a test of Nix's reputation as an astute personnel man. It was a dubious choice for a team with greater needs. But a new regime favors its own players and distances itself from the old guard. They'll do what they can to justify the investment.

Jackson is 30. He's a young 30, with fewer career carries than many top NFL backs who are three or four years younger. But the Bills are slowly weeding out remnants of the past. Lee Evans is gone. Jackson's days here are numbered, too. So you can't blame him if he wants to go to a team that might give him a No. 1 job.

The Bills created the problem by drafting Spiller, who was supposed to be a player who could break a long gain at any time. He had 98 touches from scrimmage as a rookie. Only one went for more than 20 yards. Of his 74 rushes, 15 went for negative yardage.

People compared him with Reggie Bush, a similar physical talent. Be careful what you wish for. Bush never justified his selection as the No. 2 overall pick. The Saints tried to make him a featured back, but Bush never settled into the role. The Saints won the Super Bowl after bringing in two conventional backs and limiting Bush's touches. His carries have decreased the last three seasons. He hasn't had a reception of 30 yards since the opening week of 2008.

Bush's career proves how hard it is for even the fastest backs to break big plays in the NFL. Spiller found out as a rookie. He seemed like the same uncertain player in Denver, looking for big gains instead of settling for the tough yards between the tackles.

That's Jackson's forte. He's no star. There's nothing elegant about his game. He's not blessed with great speed. All he does is make the proper decisions and get the most out of every run. He sees holes, hits them and gets yards after contact. Jackson is a solid blocker and receiver, a good teammate, the sort of player every winning team covets.

Those qualities don't seem to matter these days. What's going on, Fred? Spiller isn't the best guy for the job. But he's their guy, as you've known all along.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com