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OFFENSE STEPS UP THIRD-DOWN PRODUCTION

The Buffalo Bills have already found one encouraging sign going into Friday's final preseason game against the Washington Redskins -- third-down efficiency.

The Bills, who converted a league-worst 25 percent of their third downs last season, have cashed in on 40 percent through the first three preseason games this year.

"It's another thing we didn't do well last year that we tried to work hard on," Bills coach Wade Phillips said Tuesday. "We're stronger on short yardage, and our execution and timing gets better and better in our third-down passing game."

The Bills converted nine of 14 opportunities last week against the Chicago Bears, including six of eight by the starting offense.

They also have two more takeaways than turnovers after finishing at minus-20 last season. Quarterback Rob Johnson has not thrown an interception in 37 pass attempts.
Phillips was not sure how long the starters would play against the Washington Redskins on Friday in the preseason finale, but don't expect to see them after halftime.

Johnson will probably be on the sidelines in the second quarter. Running backs Antowain Smith and Thurman Thomas and wide receiver Andre Reed are likely to play only a few series.

"We probably won't see them as long," Phillips said. "We want to get their timing down in this game. We have some guys in backup roles that need to come through, and we still have some evaluating."
The Bills practiced inside the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Fieldhouse after a morning rain made for a slippery grass field.

Center Dusty Zeigler (ankle) returned to practice and came through OK. Phillips said Zeigler, initially expected to miss the game Friday against Washington, now might be able to play.

Guard Joe Panos (knee) participated in light drills but most likely will sit out the game Friday. Linebacker Sam Rogers was excused from the workout to attend to an unspecified personal matter.
There are six undrafted free agents still looking for a job with the Bills -- fullback Clarence "Pooh Bear" Williams, center Dan Williams, wide receiver Undre Williams, offensive tackle David Mudge, defensive tackle James Grier and defensive back Ray Hill.

Last season, nose tackle Pat Williams was the only rookie free agent to make the final roster.

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