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When people talk about who will be the starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, Alex Van Pelt's name rarely enters the conversation.

The consensus is the job belongs to Todd Collins, with Billy Joe Hobert running a close second.

Van Pelt knows he is the forgotten man in the Bills' quarterback competition, but he is not counting himself out.

"I'm looking at this like I have a shot at it," Van Pelt said following a recent practice at the Bills' Fredonia State College training camp. "To think anything else would be a disservice to myself."

Jim Kelly has retired and taken the K-Gun, no-huddle offense with him. Dan Henning was hired as offensive coordinator to install a new attack.

So far, each quarterback has gotten equal time running the Bills' new offense. They have been working closely with Henning since minicamp in April.

While the pecking order has been Collins followed by Hobert, Van Pelt and free-agent Jim Ballard during most drills, Van Pelt hopes the competition hasn't been decided already.

"I'd hate for anybody to come out and play better than the other guys and not get the job," he said. "In all fairness, the best guy should get the job, whether it's me, Todd, Billy Joe or Jim Ballard. You've got to give everybody an opportunity.

"It's a new offense, there's no Jim Kelly here anymore so I think everybody will get a chance. If you don't go out and do it, you don't deserve it. But if you go out and get the job done, you deserve it. If they (Bills' coaches) go on that, I have a legitimate chance."

Henning has kept a close eye on his quarterbacks and must decide which player is the right man for the job. The way he sees it, that situation will work itself out.

"I'd like to think we'll have more than one capable quarterback when the preseason is over," Henning said. "All of these guys are good, capable young quarterbacks. I think the one who comes out on top will do a great job for us."

Van Pelt got off to a fast start the first few days of training camp, although Collins has been the most impressive during the most recent workouts. Hobert has looked good at times as he continues to get familiar with his receivers.

"It's a long time between the first preseason game and the season-opener," Henning said. "Once we get into the heat of battle, we will have a better idea of what these guys can do."

Van Pelt has supporters on the team.

"I'm a little partial to Alex because we played together at Pittsburgh," said Pro Bowl right guard Ruben Brown. "The guy knows how to play the game. But it's not my job to choose. I'm confident whoever the coaches pick will get the job done for us."

At 6-foot-1, 219 pounds, Van Pelt doesn't have the prototypical NFL size and strength that Collins (6-4, 224 pounds) and Hobert (6-3, 230) possess.

The Bills also have a lot more invested in Collins, the team's second-round draft pick out of Michigan in 1995, and Hobert, who was acquired for a third-round draft pick in a trade with the Oakland Raiders.

As for experience, Hobert was winless in five starts with Oakland but has a reputation as a vocal leader on the field. Collins has won two of his four games as the Bills' starter and has shown the ability to make plays.

While Van Pelt is at a disadvantage in a lot of areas, he thinks none of it will matter if his performance outshines the others.

"The games are what matters, and I feel I'm a better game player," he said. "Not that I don't try to practice hard, but my qualities are getting in there for a long drive, leading the team and keeping the huddle together.

"I don't have the physical attributes the other guys have, but I've been playing with this body for the last several years and I'm still around. You might not be able to throw over a guy like Mike Rockwood (6-10, 345 pounds), but you can throw around him because you're used to throwing around him. As long as the ball gets there on time and to the right guy, who cares how you throw it?"

Van Pelt, who broke many of Dan Marino's passing records at the University of Pittsburgh, has been a backup since coming into the league in 1993.

He was waived by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs (twice) before signing with Buffalo on Dec. 14, 1994.

The following year, he beat out Collins as the No. 2 quarterback for the playoffs after completing 10 of 18 passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season finale against Houston.

During the playoff game against the Steelers, Van Pelt stepped in for a shaken up Kelly and guided the Bills to a touchdown in the third quarter. He had the team on the move again in the fourth quarter when Kelly returned to complete the scoring drive.

Van Pelt and Collins alternated as Kelly's backup at the start of last season, but the only action Van Pelt saw came in the fourth quarter against Dallas.

This season has a whole new set of challenges for Van Pelt, but he is prepared to meet them.

"The guys who have been on this team the past three years know what I can do," he said. "I'm not the biggest or the strongest guy out there, but I know how to lead a football team. All I want is a chance to prove it."

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