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BILLS HOPE TO GET BETTER MILEAGE OUT OF FORD

Steve Christie said it's similar to a hitting a driver off the fairway. Put the ball on a tee, and it's going much higher and farther. Off the ground, you better have a Big Bertha.

The Buffalo Bills picked up kicker Cole Ford off waivers Wednesday in hopes he can do a better job than Christie in getting his kickoffs into the end zone.

The Bills resumed their search for a kickoff specialist Sunday after cutting rookies John Phair and former UB star Gerald Carlson. One supporter of the idea was Christie himself.

"I have no problem with that," Christie said. "If they can find a guy that can come in here and kick every ball through the end zone, it's fine, because I can't do that."

To make room for Ford, the Bills waived wide receiver Undre Williams. Ford is expected to have a one-game audition Friday when the Bills play the Washington Redskins in the preseason finale.

Last season with the Oakland Raiders, Ford had touchbacks on 19 of his 68 kickoffs, including six in a game against Kansas City. Christie had five touchbacks on 63 kickoffs.

"You get a guy who can put the ball into the end zone, and you start at the 20-yard line, you don't have to worry about the great kickoff returners running one back on you," Bills special teams coach Bruce DeHaven said. "If you have somebody that's capable of doing it, it's an extra weapon you might not have. It's a luxury, not a necessity."

Christie is the best place-kicker in Bills' history, and he will keep that job. Ford fell out of favor with the Raiders when he missed two extra points and two chip shots last season. He lost his job to free-agent veteran Greg Davis this year.

Christie's biggest -- perhaps only -- problem has been hammering the ball consistently into the end zone. The difficulties started in 1994, when the NFL shortened tees from 3 inches to an inch and moved them back from the 35-yard line to the 30.

"Go on a fairway," Christie said. "Tee (a golf ball) up two or three inches and hit it. Then hit it without a tee. It's sort of what it's like. You may not lose distance, but you can lose hang time. It's a lot harder to get through the ball."

The Bills were last in the league last season in opponent's drive start and they gave up three kickoff returns for touchdowns. Christie contributed to the problem.

"I would certainly like to be better in kick coverage," Bills coach Wade Phillips said. "Now is that the kicker only? No. We've been working on our kick coverage and that's been important, but our distance is certainly a factor."

It's easy to assume Christie lost some leg strength since joining the team in 1992 but, in fact, the opposite might be true.

In his first year with the Bills, his kickoffs traveled 61 yards on average to the 4 yard line and were in the air for 3.81 seconds. Last year, kicking off the shorter tee and 5 yards back, his kickoffs went 64 yards on average to the 6 and hung in the air for 3.80 seconds.

"It was really easy with the three-inch tee. You could really get under it and just nail it," Christie said. "From the 35, it's closer and much easier. It's different for guys like me who used to be able to just crank it. Now, we're looking at just placing it."

Among the problems Ford can expect are the winds that swirl around Bills' stadium and the cold that comes through in November and December. Ford generally kicked in better weather in Oakland and in the AFC West.

Cold weather makes the ball harder, making it more difficult to reach the end zone regardless of leg strength. Four of Christie's five touchbacks came at home, but none came after Oct. 5.

"If a guy is out there kicking on a 10-degree day and the ball is shorter, everybody wants to know what's wrong with him," DeHaven said. "It's the same thing that's wrong with the guy who's fingers and toes are tingling up in the stands. It's cold."
Phillips said defensive end Bruce Smith (knee) and guard Joe Panos (knee) are the only two on the roster who would not play against the Redskins. Center Dusty Zeigler (ankle) and cornerback Marlon Kerner (leg) are expected to play.

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