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COLLINS WONDERS WHY RELEASE TOOK SO LONG

Todd Collins had only one question about being released by the Buffalo Bills Sunday.

What took them so long to do it?

"It was pretty obvious in the offseason I wasn't going to play here," Collins said as the Bills began the process of trimming their roster from 81 to 60, where all NFL teams must be by Tuesday.

"Why they waited three weeks (into the preseason), I don't know," he said. "I was just wasting my time learning this offense . . . coming into camp here, when it was obvious I wasn't going to get a chance to play. From Day One this year, I had no future here."

After Collins flopped as their starting quarterback last season, the Bills traded for a new starter, Rob Johnson, one month after signing their new No. 2 QB, free agent Doug Flutie.

Collins, 26, became a forgotten man, seeing little action in practice and making brief -- and uninspiring -- appearances late in preseason games against Pittsburgh (1 of 4 for 9 yards, a sack and a fumble) and Carolina (0 for 2, with a sack). His fate was sealed when he did not play in Friday night's 17-9 victory in Chicago.

Alex Van Pelt, who saw his first action of the summer against the Bears, remains with the team as a third-stringer.

As of Sunday, the Bills had not officially announced any of their cuts. Coach Wade Phillips planned to do so after today's practice.

However, The News has learned that besides Collins, the Bills have also released wide receivers Mitchell Galloway, Jerry Reese and Paul Turner; running backs Carl McCullough and Mark Nohra; tight end Pat Fitzgerald; defensive backs Sean Woodson, Adrion Smith, Duane Stewart and Hassan Shamsid-Deen; defensive linemen Shane Doyle, Herb Howard and Hardy Mitchell of the University at Buffalo; linebacker Willie Rodgers; and kickers Gerald Carlson (UB) and John Phair.

They were expected to further trim their roster by placing two players on their season-long injured-reserve list -- offensive tackle Mike Rockwood (back) and quarterback Jim Ballard (shoulder).

All teams have to be at the NFL's final roster limit of 53 by Aug. 30.

"In hindsight, I wish things could have worked out better," said Collins who, after joining the Bills in 1995 as a second-round draft pick from Michigan, was deemed their quarterback of the future.

"I got an opportunity to play in a couple of backup roles (in 1996) and did fairly well," Collins said. "So last year I got my
chance to start. For a while, it was going well and then things just started to fall apart."

The turning point for Collins was the Oct. 26 overtime loss to Denver, during which he was replaced by Van Pelt. Collins was benched for the next two games and never seemed to recover.

In 14 games last season, he completed 215 of 391 passes for 2,367 yards and 12 touchdowns, while throwing 13 interceptions. He was sacked 39 times.

Collins also was hampered by the strategy of former offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dan Henning, and by poor pass protection.

"There were a lot of factors in what happened last year," Collins said. "I think everybody knows that. Obviously, I was part of the problem. If you're a quarterback and you have a losing season, you're going to get more than your share of the blame.

"I have no problem with me taking the blame. I'm not going to take it all, but I take my share."

Collins said his focus was on landing another opportunity to play in the NFL.

Asked if he thought he would get that chance, he said, "I don't see why not," he said. "When I get the opportunity again, I've just got to go in there and play well and play consistently."

Meanwhile, Van Pelt is relieved that he is still playing despite undergoing two offseason operations on his right (throwing) shoulder.

"It's been a tough offseason," he said. "There was a lot of doubt in my mind going in, with the two surgeries and whether or not I'd be ready. It was tough sitting back and watching those first couple of weeks of camp."

"He looked sharp," Phillips said of Van Pelt's 2-for-3, 31-yard outing against Chicago. "He's obviously a leader, and I think the team responded with him in there."

Two of the Bills' injured offensive linemen -- guard Joe Panos (knee) and center Dusty Zeigler (ankle) -- told Phillips they expected to be able to play in Friday night's preseason finale against Washington.

But the coach is less optimistic.

"They both think they're going to play, but I don't know if they will or not," Phillips said. "That's them talking, not the doctors or trainers."

Phillips acknowledged that Panos is recovering well from the sprained knee he suffered in practice on July 28.

Zeigler suffered a Grade One ankle sprain Friday night. He spent part of Sunday soaking the ankle in an ice bucket.
Phillips said he did not know for certain whether defensive end Bruce Smith would begin practicing fully with the team this week or play against the Redskins. However, he did say he expected Smith to be ready for the Sept. 6 regular-season opener in San Diego.

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