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He has been filling a key role for the Buffalo Bills for five years now, yet he's practically anonymous when he goes out in public.

That's just the way Marlo Perry likes it.

"I love that," the 27-year-old Bills linebacker said. "I'm not the type of person who wants or looks for a lot of the glamour and limelight. That's not my nature."

Perry does not get much attention, even when he's on the field. He's not a big-play guy. He almost never rushes the quarterback.

But his versatility and consistency have kept him in the role of third-down linebacker since 1995.

The "dime" linebacker is a crucial position, on the field about a third of the defensive snaps. In obvious passing situations, the Bills almost always play four down linemen, six defensive backs and Perry.

"It's a tough job because you have to cover backs out of the backfield and cover the run," defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said. "The backs usually are nifty, elusive guys. So you have to be a pretty good athlete to be able to do it.

"Marlo is a real good athlete, a very fine athlete," Cottrell said. "He's intelligent. He knows what he's supposed to do. He's able to make adjustments. He's a half-backer, half-safety."

Third-down defense is a point of emphasis for the Bills this year, because they weren't good enough on it last year, ranking 19th in the NFL.< The Bills are hoping a little bit better pass rush and a bit better coverage (Antoine Winfield was drafted No. 1 with that in mind) will help improve that ranking.

The Bills did a bad job on third downs in Indianapolis (the Colts converted 8 of 15) and a good job against the New York Jets (who converted just 2 of 11). This Sunday's opponent, Philadelphia, ranks 28th on third-down conversions.

Perry's ability to make precise drops in zone coverage and avoid assignment errors is the reason he has stayed in his job so long. Talented second-year man Sam Cowart is the backup coverage backer, but the Bills think Perry's experience gives him an edge in the job.

"Marlo has done a good job, and Sam is playing so much on first and second down, anyway," Cottrell said. "But if something did happen to Marlo, Sam's the next guy. Sam's getting a lot better at it."

Perry, who also is a key member of the Bills' special teams, ranked 10th on the team in tackles last season with 61.

Perry had a good outing in last week's win over the Jets. Cottrell said there were 16 plays with the dime defense, and Perry had five tackles, two assists, a half-sack and a pass breakup.

The half-sack was the first time in his six seasons Perry was credited with a quarterback takedown. Perry actually dropped back in coverage on the play. Jets quarterback Rick Mirer scrambled out of the pocket, and Perry came forward to help Marcellus Wiley chase Mirer down near the sideline.

Perry also made a superb play on that same fourth-quarter series. The Jets were in a three receiver set, and Perry was lined up opposite receiver Quinn Early. Perry dropped back into zone coverage, passed Early off to a cornerback and followed Keyshawn Johnson cutting over the middle. Perry was right in front of the receiver and forced an incompletion.

"He recognized the route they were running and had good coverage," Cottrell said.

Even then, however, Perry couldn't quite shake his anonymity.

On the national television broadcast, announcer Joe Theismann noted the play and called him "Mario Perry."

The Bills added nose tackle Ted Washington to the injury list Thursday as probable due to sore ribs.

"He hurt his ribs a little bit in the game (Sunday) and we rested him Wednesday," coach Wade Phillips said. "He was still sore today, which surprised us, but I still think he'll be all right."

The game with the Eagles sold out by the 1 p.m. deadline and will be shown locally on Ch. 29. Sunday is the sixth annual Canada Day at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Eagles haven't visited Buffalo in nine years, but their last game here was one of the more famous of the Bills' Super Bowl era. The Bills used the no-huddle offense extensively for the first time in that game and took a 24-0 first-quarter lead before holding on to win, 30-23.

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