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BALLARD TAKES NOTHING FOR GRANTED IN FIGHT FOR ROSTER SPOT

Jim Ballard isn't taking anything for granted.

He doesn't want to hear that, just because Alex Van Pelt could be sidelined for eight weeks with a separated shoulder, he automatically assumes the Buffalo Bills' No. 3 quarterback job.

"I'm still playing with a sense of urgency," Ballard said after Wednesday's practice at the Bills' Fredonia State College training camp. "It's the NFL, after all, and you never know what can happen."

Still, Van Pelt's injury in last Saturday night's preseason-opener against Denver clearly enhanced Ballard's chances of making the Bills' roster. Before, he was merely a fourth arm in camp, helping to reduce the work load on the candidates for the starting job -- Todd Collins and Billy Joe Hobert -- and Van Pelt, the incumbent No. 3.

Now Ballard, who led the Scottish Claymores to the 1996 World League of American Football championship, has a legitimate chance of solidifying the third-string job.

But he insists he always believed he had a chance to make the Buffalo squad. Otherwise, he would have returned to the WLAF instead of signing with the Bills as a free agent.

"I'm a competitor," he said. "The Bills told me that they were going to give me an opportunity to play in the preseason and to make the team."

Ballard actually was the busiest quarterback on the field Saturday night. He had game-high numbers for attempts (20), completions (10), and yards (143). He also had a fumble on a sack that helped set up a Denver touchdown, and had a pass deflect off running back Rene Ingoglia that Broncos defensive back Vance Joseph returned for another TD.

"I think I played with a lot of confidence out there," Ballard said. "I moved us down the field two or three times. I didn't get us in the end zone, and I hold myself personally responsible for that. But it's just the first preseason game and I'm not looking for that to make the team.

"I just want to get better. I'm trying to be a like a sponge. I'm trying to absorb everything I can, learn everything I can, study as much film as I can, do all of the little extra things, and basically make it impossible for them to let me go."

Wide receiver Eric Moulds, who has had a tremendous camp, left Wednesday's practice early with a sore groin muscle.

Defensive end Phil Hansen was still out of action Wednesday with the bruised knee he suffered in Tuesday morning's session. The injury is not considered serious.

Cornerback Jeff Burris returned to work after twisting his knee Tuesday.

Coach Marv Levy said Steve Tasker is "making very good progress" from a hamstring injury and ought to be ready to work without limitations soon.

The defense enjoyed a big day of interceptions in Wednesday's workout. And several came from deflections, including ones by Matt Stevens, Dan Brandenburg and Manny Martin.

There were also some nice pass completions. One of the best was a long throw from Todd Collins to Andre Reed, who beat Thomas Smith in single coverage along the sidelines to draw a loud ovation from fans.

Other pretty plays were a Ballard pass that Jimmy Cunningham caught between two defenders and a Billy Joe Hobert throw that a double-covered Justin Armour grabbed along the sidelines.

In a goal-line drill, Collins found Armour in the end zone with Eric Smedley providing tight coverage, while Hobert connected with Lonnie Johnson for a touchdown with Damien Covington shadowing him. After the catch, Johnson had a little fun with his defensive teammates by spiking the ball right in front of them.

Linebackers coach Ted Cottrell then cracked, "Hey, Lonnie, you haven't been there (the end zone) before, so it's understandable that you would spike the ball."

A 2:30 p.m. practice is scheduled for today and Friday.

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