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Opportunity knocks for Jackson

So it's all a matter of simplicity. Turk Schonert got fired because his offense was too complicated. Too many plays, too many formations, too much clutter that made it tough to communicate and get plays in on time.

We'll find out. But I'll say this much: The Bills did a great job of simplifying the situation at running back for the first three games. By cutting veteran Dominic Rhodes, coach Dick Jauron made it clear that his offense will rise or fall in September on the legs of Fred Jackson.

Cutting Rhodes was a curious move. Rhodes is a proven NFL back. He gained 113 yards in the Super Bowl for the Colts. A month ago, when the NFL upheld Marshawn Lynch's three-game suspension, Jauron said Jackson and Rhodes would both play a lot early in the year.

Rhodes had his struggles in preseason, like the entire Buffalo offense. But he's reliable as a receiver and on blitz pickups. Maybe the Bills see great things in Xavier Omon, who has six career NFL carries. A cynic might suggest it was a simple $2 million salary dump.

"I don't think there was a person on this team who wasn't surprised," Jackson said Monday. "But we have to make the best of the situation. Xavier is going to get his opportunities."

It's hard to envision Omon getting many touches in New England next Monday. Jackson is Jauron's man for the first three weeks. The Rhodes cut makes the Bills perilously thin at running back -- assuming they don't find a serviceable backup on the street before the opener.

They're rolling the dice that Jackson will produce as he did in the final two games last season. Jackson had 113 yards from scrimmage in the win at Denver and carried 27 times for 136 yards against the Patriots in brutal conditions here last December in the season finale.

Jackson had never carried more than 15 times in an NFL game. But he seemed to get stronger as that game wore on, despite the fact that the Pats knew the Bills were going to run the ball. That performance left the lingering impression that Jackson might be more than a reserve, a change of pace for Lynch.

Cutting Rhodes only accentuated the Bills' belief that Jackson can carry the load. He got the message.

"Oh, definitely," Jackson said. "Any time you have a guy of [Rhodes'] caliber let go, and the coach is telling you this is your show, it's got to give you a vote of confidence, so I'm excited about it."

They'd better hope Jackson doesn't get hurt. Omon carried six times for 5 yards last year. Maybe he's the next Jackson, a small-college guy with NFL skills, but I tend to doubt it. They don't have a third-string tailback.

It's almost as if the Bills wanted to magnify the folly of Lynch's off-field antics. Risky or not, they're gambling that Jackson can produce like a starter, that he can carry a big load and lift an offense that has been dreadful in the preseason.

Jackson has come a long way. After graduating from Coe College in 2003, he sent tapes to every NFL team. No one bit. He worked as a youth counselor for two years, then played a year with Sioux City of the United Indoor league, where he was MVP. A year later, he got a break from fellow Coe graduate Marv Levy.

Now here he is, preparing to carry the load on Monday night, against Bill Belichick, on national TV. He has three games to prove what a lot of people now believe -- that he's as good as Lynch, good enough to start in the league.

"Oh, without a doubt," Jackson said. "This is what we play for, this opportunity. So I've got to go out and take advantage and make plays. [Lynch] wouldn't want me to do anything less."

Say Jackson averages 5 yards a pop (his career average) in the first three games and rushes for 300 yards or so. Things could get complicated when Lynch returns. He'll expect his old job back, but it might not be that simple.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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