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It's open season at QB Nall will get chance to start for Bills

The Buffalo Bills' quarterback position is wide, wide open.

It's so wide open that a guy with no NFL starts in four years has a shot to win it.

The Bills introduced new free-agent quarterback Craig Nall on Tuesday and made it clear he will get a chance to compete for the starting position.

"He's very much ready to emerge in my opinion," said Bills General Manager Marv Levy. "I like his ability to throw the ball. What I've studied, he's been extremely compelling when he has played."

Nall, who turns 27 on April 21, hasn't played much. He started only one season in his college career, then sat on the bench for the past four years behind Brett Favre in Green Bay. Nall did get to play in NFL Europe in 2003 and was the top-rated passer in the developmental league that season.

Nevertheless, Levy claimed Nall is as much a contender for the job as incumbents J.P. Losman and Kelly Holcomb.

"Dick [Jauron] and I have both talked about this, that it is a wide-open thing," Levy said, referring to his head coach. "And Craig is in the picture just as much as the others."

The fact the Bills would make the QB derby a three-way race is another sign the team's new regime is not banking its future on Losman. Levy and Jauron have refrained from making any bold statements about the potential of the Bills' 2004 first-round pick.

Asked what the signing says about Losman, Levy said, "It doesn't say anything detrimental at all about him. We're going to have three quarterbacks here. We said it before we even had Craig on our radar screen, that it's going to be a competitive situation at quarterback. I think this is a better competitive situation for J.P. . . . not to have the new savior, the new first-round savior draft choice [label] to come in. I think it tends to lead us to a more level-headed quarterback competition. It's open for all three of them."

All eyes clearly will be on the quarterbacks in spring practices.

Nall signed a three-year deal, with a signing bonus believed to be worth $1.3 million.

He has thrown just 33 passes in six regular-season appearances the past four years. He completed 23 of them for 314 yards and four TDs. His passer rating is 139.4.

While Nall is hardly a high-profile challenger to Losman and Holcomb, Levy rattled off a long list of reasons why Nall is more than No. 3 QB material.

Said Levy: "He has been in the league now for three or four years. This isn't a rookie. He's been in a program that has developed previously unknown quarterbacks -- or relatively unknowns. Kurt Warner. Matt Hasselbeck. [Mark] Brunell was known, but none of them really blossomed [until leaving Green Bay]. He was there in a great quarterback program behind a Hall-of-Fame-destined quarterback in Brett Favre. He's been in the NFL. He's young. He's been to training camp. He's comfortable with it. He's not the nervous rookie quarterback who's trying to adapt, who's trying to learn, who you're waiting for to develop.

"In the regular season he has a 139 quarterback rating with no interceptions and four touchdowns. I like his composure. I know Green Bay likes him, they wanted to retain him. Minnesota was hungering to bring him in with the departure of Daunte Culpepper. I think he's got a level head. He's an intelligent young man, good size, good arm, good composure."

Nall, who was stuck behind both Favre and 2005 first-round pick Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, said he's thrilled to get a chance.

"With everybody telling me it's an open job, I'm going in thinking I'm fighting for the starting job," Nall said.

Asked the most important thing he learned from Favre, Nall said: "I think just watching the guy come to work every day. I think it's pretty much public knowledge what tragedies he's had to deal with the last few years. He's the type of guy every time he steps on that field he gives you everything he's got. So I think one of the things I've learned from him is professionalism and how he approaches his job, which I think is important for everybody in this league. We should all model ourselves after [No.] 4."

Levy stressed, "We're not bringing anybody in to elbow somebody else out of the way."

Still, it would be difficult if not impossible to give three quarterbacks equal repetitions in training camp while all the players are trying to learn the new offensive system of coordinator Steve Fairchild.

Asked if he could see the QB battle becoming a two-man race, Levy said, "I can see a point where the thing begins to take shape."

Losman still has three years remaining on his contract and recently received another option bonus from the Bills. Should he falter in spring practices, it's hard to see the Bills having much of a trade option with him. Patrick Ramsey just was acquired by the Jets for a sixth-round pick.

Meanwhile, the Bills added to their offensive line by signing Melvin Fowler, a free agent from Minnesota. Fowler, a former third-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, got a three-year deal worth a total of about $7.2 million.

That's a $2.4 million average, which is starter money. The signing probably pencils Fowler in at the top of the depth chart at center, ahead of second-year man Duke Preston, who also can play guard.

Fowler, a 6-3, 295-pounder, started 10 games for Cleveland in 2003 but lost his starting spot to top pick Jeff Faine in 2004. The Vikings acquired him last year after their starting center, Matt Birk, got hurt. Fowler started nine games for Minnesota and received fairly good reviews.

Also, the Arizona Cardinals matched the offer sheet that guard Reggie Wells signed with the Bills, a five-year, $17.6 million deal that includes $5 million in signing bonuses.

On the Eric Moulds front, the representative for the Bills receiver acknowledged that he has been allowed to seek a trade and reiterated he has no desire to take a pay cut.

"We are talking to teams about some trade possibilities, and there is interest, obviously. Who wouldn't be?" Moulds' representative, Greg Johnson, told The News.

However, Levy said the Bills still would like to keep Moulds at a reduced salary.

"It may take time," Levy said. "I'd like to retain him. . . . But he will have to make some type of contract concession. I think they might examine the field and find that maybe that is the thing to do."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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