Fred Jackson came away from a meeting Tuesday with running backs coach Curtis Modkins feeling better about his place on the Buffalo Bills' depth chart, but he wasn't ready to say everything was peachy. He expected to find out this weekend whether the meeting was genuine or gibberish.
"There's still some stuff that needs to be ironed out," Jackson said. "He told me I was the starter, and we can go from there. We'll see how things pan out."
The Bills play their third preseason game Saturday when the Jacksonville Jaguars visit Ralph Wilson Stadium. The starters will likely see more action than they had in the first two games. Jackson has been told he is the starter, but he wants to see how much he plays with the first offense before moving forward.
"It's easy to say something, but we'll see what happens on Saturday, what my role is and what we do in the game," Jackson said. "This will be the one true game for us. Normally, for starters, and what you're role is, it will definitely be determined this weekend."
Jackson had grown increasingly annoyed in recent weeks not knowing where he stood while getting fewer snaps in practice with the starters. He feared the Bills were preparing to hand the job to former first-round pick C.J. Spiller for reasons he didn't understand, and he voiced his frustration Monday.
His beef was largely about playing time, but he acknowledged Tuesday that it also was about money. Jackson, who has two years remaining on a four-year contract worth $8 million, believes he's underpaid after averaging nearly 1,000 yards rushing the last two seasons. He's the 23rd-highest paid player on the Bills, and he's 40th among NFL backs.
"[The contract was] definitely a huge part of it," Jackson said. "But as far as what my workload was like the past couple of weeks, that was something, too. I feel like I could do more for the team. When you're sitting on the sideline, you're not helping your team with where things want to be."
Jackson and Spiller made it clear after practice that they remain good friends. Spiller suggested the situation was overblown.
"C.J. and I have a great relationship," Jackson said. "I don't have any kind of personal animosity toward him. He knows that. He's like a little brother to me."
"Everybody is making a big deal out of it," Spiller said. "The thing about me and Fred is that we're pushing each other to get better. We're both playmakers, and we both want to be on the field to try to help our team."
On Monday, Jackson was on the field for 13 snaps with the starters while Spiller played 10 in the full-scrimmage portion of practice. Both were on the field at the same time for eight plays. Bills coach Chan Gailey said afterward that he didn't have an issue with Jackson publicly complaining about the situation.
"Everybody says things from time to time that they wished they had back or wished they had phrased differently," Gailey said. "I understand that. Fred's a great player. He's going to be a great player. We look forward to what he's going to do for us this year."
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Linebacker Shawne Merriman continued to have problems with his knee and missed the workout after participating on a limited basis Monday. Gailey said Merriman was making progress but might not play Saturday against Jacksonville.
"I think he's going to be fine eventually," Gailey said.
The list of players who missed practice was long again Tuesday. It included Roscoe Parrish, Naaman Roosevelt, Donald Jones, Terrence McGee, Johnny White, Arthur Moats, Reggie Torbor, Kellen Heard, Craig Davis, David Nelson, Chris Kelsay and Chris White. Fullback Corey McIntyre was excused for a second straight day for personal reasons.
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The Bills worked out for the second day on a practice field that had been enlarged and renovated over the summer. The surface is all natural grass, replacing one that had turf on one side and grass on the other and two different bases underneath the field.
In recent years, the Bills were forced into the adjacent field house because the previous surface didn't drain well. The new field has a sand base, which they believe will drain better and hold up in bad weather.
The dimensions of the practice surface are the same at 150 by 73 yards, but they added 10 yards behind the goal posts. Plans call for them to add permanent video towers at some point this season. The project was funded by owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr.