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UNTIL INDY GAME, EARLY PLAYED ROLE OF FORGOTTEN MAN

Quinn Early was beginning to feel a little left out, a little bit like a forgotten man.

Through the first three games of the season, the Buffalo Bills' veteran receiver had only four receptions. Granted, one was for a 37-yard touchdown catch against the New York Jets. But that was also his only catch in the game. And Early knows that the Bills aren't paying him an average of $2.23 million per season to catch one pass in a game or zero passes, as was the case in the season-opening loss to Minnesota.

Early knows he is being paid for the kind of performance he had in last Sunday's 37-35 victory over Indianapolis -- four receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. He knows he is being paid for the nice 43-yard grab he made to set up Antowain Smith's 1-yard, go-ahead TD run.

"It's been a little frustrating for me out there," Early said. "I just want to make plays and, until Sunday, things hadn't been really going the way I would like them to.

"Sunday was fun. It kind of makes you realize why you play this game. I made some plays for the team, helped us get down close a couple of times and punch the ball in."

Early's eight receptions for the season are the fifth-highest total on the Bills. They're a far cry from Andre Reed's team-leading 23. They also put him on pace to finish the season with 32 catches, 18 fewer than last year and his lowest output since he had 30 in 1992 with New Orleans.

However, Early does have an impressive 22.5-yards-per-catch average, and his two touchdown catches give him a share of the club lead with Reed and tight end Jay Riemersma.

When he joined the Bills last year as a free agent from the Saints, Early was expected to become a major big-play contributor. Instead, that role continues to belong to Reed, who wasn't even expected to return to the Bills after a disappointing 1995 season.

Now, it is Early in whom many fans express disappointment.

"From a wide receiver standpoint, the bottom line is how many catches you have, how many yards you have, how many touchdowns you have," he said. "I think what happens is, because of the contract that I got, people get mad if I'm not catching 70-80 balls. But I'm going to take my role and accept it gladly and try to make plays when the opportunities are there. Hey, I'd love to catch 80 balls in this offense. But if that's not my role, then I'm going to take my role and do what I can with it.

"When I was in New Orleans, I was the main guy, the go-to guy. They threw the ball at me. In this league, if you throw the ball to a guy 11 times a game and he catches five of them, he's going to have 80 catches at the end of the season. In this offense, we've got a lot of weapons. We've got a lot of good players on this team."

In the opinion of Bills' offensive coordinator Dan Henning, Early is one of them. Henning coached Early when he was head coach of the San Diego Chargers, for whom Early played from 1988 to 1990. He has been trying to find ways for the receiver to have a more prominent role in the offense than he had last season.

"I've got a feeling for Quinn Early, not only as a player but as a person," Henning said. "You're talking about a superb individual and a guy that is accountable every single snap of every practice and every game.

"If I'm the quarterback in the game, he's one guy you can always count on to do what he's coached to do and what he's practiced to do, and do it with tremendous effort. There's nothing like that for a quarterback -- the feeling that you get. I have that feeling for him as a coach, and I think he's starting to grow on Todd (Collins) the same way."

Early has faith that Henning will put him in favorable situations to make more big plays like the ones he had Sunday.

"He knows the things I can do well and I think he's been trying to set those things up," Early said. "For whatever reason, in a couple of ballgames, things didn't work out. But they worked out for us Sunday, and I'm just going to try to continue that trend and make good plays for us.

"There's a lot of football left to be played. I'm just going to keep working hard, keep doing the things that I know how to do and hopefully I'll make a lot more plays for us down the road.

"As long as we win ballgames and as long as I have the opportunity to make some plays, I'm going to do so."
Former player Adam Lingner has been appointed the Bills' season ticket-holder ombudsman, general manager John Butler announced Friday.

Lingner, who spent eight seasons as the Bills' long-snapper before retiring in 1996 to join the club's marketing department, will concentrate on educating the season ticket-holders on the improvements coming to Rich Stadium. He will also be available to address any special situations or concerns of individual season ticket-holders.

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