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Simple game plan is best for young Bills

The Buffalo Bills' exhibition opener against the Chicago Bears tonight is not likely to get high marks for style points.

The Bills and Bears will be trying to work 90 players into action after just two weeks of training camp practice.

For that reason, Bills coach Chan Gailey said the coaches' focus will be on keeping the game plan pretty simple.

"We've tried to stay a little simpler, because we want the young guys to be able to have some success," Gailey said. "We could probably move a little faster with our veteran players, but we are trying to keep it simple so the young guys can figure out if they can play or not. If it's all mental mistakes, you don't know if they can play or not. So that's the theory going into the game. It's just simplify what we're trying to get accomplished."

The Bills' starters, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, will play about a quarter.

"They will go somewhere around the first quarter and maybe a little bit less, maybe a little bit more," Gailey said. "It depends on how many plays we get."

"We'll take this game maybe more individually than we ever have taken a game," Gailey said. "We may say the first group plays so long, but there may be two guys that don't [play]. Or maybe one guy plays more, just because he needs it. We'll be involved individually [in substitutions] a lot more than we ever have been."

Because there were no offseason practices due to the NFL lockout, Gailey is being cautious about the conditioning level of his players. The fact the Bills have 90 players in camp, 10 more than normal, will allow for more substitution.

"One thing I know is if you go out and get guys hurt because you left them out too long and they're not ready to play Sept. 11, that's not a good thing," Gailey said. "So you have to find ways to keep pushing them to be ready for Sept. 11 without going over that line. I don't know where that line is. I've never known where that line is. It is totally a feel thing."

Fitzpatrick acknowledged he's keeping a rein on expectations.

"I'm excited to go play against somebody else," he said. "I don't think this is going to be the be-all, end-all. Are we going to be a good offense in this first game? You know, we're going to try to be. But there's probably some stuff we're going to have to work on. But we're looking to get out there for a few series and at least put some sort of points on the board and limit the mental mistakes. That'll be the big thing. We'll call that a success if we can do that."

The first exhibition primarily is a chance for young players to show some talent.

"It's big for the young guys," Fitzpatrick said. "There's not a lot of hitting; there's not a lot of live football in training camp. We could have a guy who nobody can tackle and we don't even know it. This is a time for the linemen to be real physical to show what they can do when they're going live. Also when guys get the balls in their hand, just to see what they can do with it."

Backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen will relieve Fitzpatrick.

"Offensively you just want to go out there and execute," Thigpen said. "At the end of the day, obviously, we want to have more points than them. But we want to be on the same page offensively. We want to go out and execute and do all of the little things right. That way we can build on it and go into the next week."

New utility man Brad Smith will get some snaps at quarterback, but not for an extended period. "More in and out," Gailey said.

Second-year man Levi Brown is expected to relieve Thigpen.

* * *

The playing surface at Soldier Field has been a sore subject for decades. It's still an issue tonight.

Chicago Park District officials failed to put enough water on sod that was 3 1/2 weeks old, causing the seams to buckle and forcing the Bears to cancel their "Family Fest" practice at the stadium last Friday.

Grounds crews have been working to keep the grass watered and it apparently is improved. Bears President Ted Phillips called Bills officials this week to assure them that the field was safe.

Nevertheless, Bears star Brian Urlacher would like to see the team install artificial turf.

"I don't understand why we don't have FieldTurf yet," Urlacher said. "We're a fast team, we play fast on FieldTurf. The injury issues aren't as bad as they used to be, they've gone down a lot in the last few years with the way they've made the turf and stuff. I don't understand it. Use our speed. We can run, let us go out there and run."

Bears chairman George McCaskey said that's not in the plans.

"The studies aren't conclusive, but the studies that we have looked at have shown higher incidence of lower-leg injuries among players on artificial turf," McCaskey told a Chicago radio station. "We want to prolong careers. We want our players to be safe. We want our investment in the players to be protected and the state of artificial turf or an infield surface is such now that we think the safest surface for our players in natural grass."

The Bears' practices have been disrupted, too. They had to stop practice after 80 minutes Monday afternoon because of lightning and rain.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com