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It didn't take long for the Buffalo Bills' patience with Antowain Smith to wear thin.

The Bills saw enough of Smith through only three games and 34 carries to demote him in favor of Jonathan Linton for the big meeting with the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 1.

"He's a good player and he hasn't gotten to play, and I think he'll help give us a spark," Bills coach Wade Phillips said about Linton after announcing the move Wednesday.

Linton was the Bills' leading rusher last year but has yet to carry the ball this season due largely to the fact he bruised his ribs in preseason. He was hindered the first couple of weeks but now is fully healthy.

Smith, the fourth-year former first-round draft choice, has rushed for 72 yards and averaged a paltry 2.1 yards a carry.

He was hoping that this would be his breakout year after suffering through an injury-plagued season in 1999. But his chances of proving he can be one of the top dozen backs in the league -- a 1,200-yards-a-season guy -- now look greatly diminished. As his numbers indicate, he has not run impressively. However, he also has been hindered by poor blocking at times.

Second-year back Shawn Bryson has shown a few more good flashes than Smith, although his numbers aren't much better (he has 87 yards and a 2.6 average). In particular, Bryson has shown more speed to run the ball outside.

Smith now finds himself buried on the running backs depth chart behind both Linton and Bryson.

Linton, like Smith and Bryson, is a big back, at 6-foot-1 and 234 pounds. Linton gained 695 yards and 3.4 a carry last year, while Smith rushed for 614 and 3.7 a carry.

If nothing else, the move figures to add some versatility to the offense.

Bills offensive coordinator Joe Pendry does not like using Smith as a receiver. Smith had just two catches all last season and has none this year. Linton caught 29 passes last season. Smith has played mostly in the two-back formation. With Linton in the game, the Bills have the threat of throwing to the halfback in the two-back set.

Asked what he brings to the offense, Linton said, "I think the size. I think I have good vision out there. I know the linemen. I know the scheme. I feel comfortable out there.

"I can do one- or two-back sets so I think I can bring that versatility to the offense. I can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, too. So we don't have to go strictly out of the one-back set to throw the ball. We can do a lot more play action."

Smith, who has been a consummate team player in his Bills career, was not available for comment. Linton said Smith gave him good wishes.

"He said go out and do what you can for the team," Linton said. "He's a team player, he really is. A lot of guys don't see that outside of our group. He's given me a lot of support and a lot of advice."

Linton and Bryson both worked in the two-back and the one-back positions in practice. Sammy Morris continues to take the fullback spot in the two-back offense.

Phillips maintained the move did not reflect poorly on Smith.

"Everybody wants to make it derogatory toward Antowain Smith, but that's not the case. It's Jonathan Linton getting an opportunity to play."

Obviously, however, if the Bills were thrilled with Smith, he'd be starting.

Asked if Smith would get some carries against the Colts, Phillips said, "It's possible. The problem is there's only one football. . . . We have some young players who are role players who are doing a pretty good job of that . . . and I want to keep them in that role. You can't give the ball to everybody."
The Bills worked on the game plan for Indianapolis Wednesday. They will practice again today, then be off until Monday. . . . Defensive tackle Shawn Price (sore knee) returned to practice. . . . Quarterback Rob Johnson took some snaps but did not throw in order to rest the elbow in his throwing arm, which has tendinitis. . . . Phillips said linebacker Corey Moore will be out four to six weeks with his high ankle sprain.

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