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Jeff Burris has persevered through a serious knee injury to again become a mainstay on the Buffalo Bills defense, while maintaining a personality second to none.

It's hard to find anyone who does not think highly of the fourth-year cornerback, both on and off the field.

"Jeff has shown a definite step-up ability to play," said head coach Marv Levy. "He is experienced and no one else brings more concentration, or better work ethic than Jeff. He's a fine athlete and a bright young guy. He's got it together as well as anyone I know."

Burris is polite and good-natured, but don't take his kindness for a weakness on the field. Whether it's tangling with wide receivers or charging the line of scrimmage on run support, he doesn't mind sticking his nose into the action.

Football is a violent sport, and aggressiveness is a part of his package.

"You have to know when to turn it on and off," Burris said of his split personality. "Off the field, I like to relax and enjoy my time away from the game. By when I step on the field, I know what time it is. It's time to play football.

"Like (defensive backs) coach (Dick) Roach says, 'Once you step between those white lines, it's all business babe.' That's how all the defensive backs approach it."

Burris was all business last season. With many teams steering away from cornerback Thomas Smith on the left side, Burris got plenty of chances to make plays.

He had only one interception during the regular season, but added another for a touchdown against Jacksonville in the playoffs. As a punt returner, Burris ranked sixth in the AFC with a 10.6-yard average.

Burris excels at man coverage and his speed allows him to be aggressive against quick receivers. During training camp, he has held his own against teammates Andre Reed, Quinn Early and Eric Moulds.

"We're very happy with Jeff's progress as a football player," Roach said. "He's very receptive to teaching and coaching and wants to get better. He'll listen to what you have to say and try to apply it. He works very hard at the game and it shows."

However, Burris had to overcome serious injury to become the top defender he is today.

Nine games into 1995, his first as a starter, Burris tore up his knee and missed the remainder of the season.

Other than a bad quadriceps muscle that sidelined him for one game, Burris was relatively injury-free last year.

"It was a positive experience," Burris said. "With the strength of God I made it through, so I'm happy about that. This year, I've been very optimistic, getting prepared and looking forward to a great season."

Some people believe stardom is just around the corner for Burris.

"Being that he's had a long time since the surgery and he's been able to go through a normal offseason, he has become a much more experienced ballplayer," Roach said.

"As he reduces the mental errors and continues to dwell on just playing well, we can look for great things from him."

Being a star is nice, but Burris is taking a down-to-earth approach to the situation.

"Right now, I'm just focusing on who's number one in my life and that's God," he said. "He's given me the ability to come back from a major knee injury, so I don't worry about all the other things."

There are no problems in Burris' personal life.

He got married this summer and the couple is expecting a baby in October.

"Once you start to build a family, life's perspectives start to change," Burris said. "You see the beauty of life and it makes you appreciate what you have. I feel fortunate to be able to play this game. I love what I do and as long as I'm having fun on the football field, that's all that matters."

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