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BILLS TAP MCGAHEE FOR START

Let the Willis McGahee era begin.

That's the upshot of Wednesday's announcement by Buffalo coach Mike Mularkey that he has made the switch from Travis Henry to McGahee for Sunday's game against Arizona.

Mularkey was willing to declare McGahee the starter for only Sunday's game. However, his actions say the Bills' future at running back rests with McGahee, a No. 1 draft pick.

With the Bills at 1-5, the present also rests with the 235-pounder from the University of Miami.

"We're just trying to get a spark, and we're looking at the last couple weeks of production," Mularkey said. "If that's what it takes, it's not the only position it may happen to. But right now . . . hopefully it's the spark in the run game that gets us going."

McGahee's play the last two weeks prompted the switch. He gained 111 yards against Miami and had 50 on 13 carries in the second half at Baltimore.

"He's made some more yards after first contact," Mularkey said. "If there hasn't been something there, he's been able to get that extra push.

"In defense of Travis, he's coming off that foot (injury). I'm not sure I can say he's 100 percent, but he's one of those tough guys who will play hurt. I know we're getting production (from McGahee) when there's a hole there and when there's not a hole there. We're getting more with Willis."

McGahee is averaging 3.9 yards a carry; Henry 3.4.

"It's a good thing, but we've got to get us a win here, and that's the main goal," McGahee said. "I've just got one thing to go out there and do, and that's go out there and make plays."

The 22-year-old is excited about being on the same field with Cardinals legend Emmitt Smith. McGahee was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan growing up.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him play because I never saw him play in real life," McGahee said. "It's going to be a very good treat for me, one of the greatest running backs ever to come through the State of Florida and the NFL."

Has he tried to model his style after Smith?

"I don't take nothing from nobody's style," McGahee said. "I'm one of a kind, baby."

Henry took the move in stride. He said in the locker room in Baltimore that he saw it coming.

"I think he's really the starter," Henry said. "When my name is called I'm going to go in there and do what I do."

Asked if he was happy about it, Henry said, "I mean, would you be happy? I have a job to do. Ten games left. That's what I'm focusing on."

Henry refused to criticize Mularkey and stressed a team-first attitude, as he has his Bills career.

Henry's contract runs through 2005, and it's expected the Bills will trade him after this season.

"I don't want to talk about that right now," he said. "We can talk about that when the season is over."

"Some guys in that situation would speak out and almost divide the team," said guard Chris Villarrial. "He's handled it like a true professional."
e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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