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Owens signing mirrors Lofton addition

While the excitement still remains at a high level in Western New York over the Bills' addition of Terrell Owens, there are some that wonder just how much of a difference he can make on Sundays. Buffalo's Hall of Fame quarterback feels the only example you need is a Hall of Fame wideout that played for Buffalo as well.

"When they signed T.O., I thought of James Lofton," said Jim Kelly. "When he came in I already had Andre Reed, but I needed that other guy so we could run that three wide receiver offense. Lofton came in and we went to Super Bowls and looking at T.O. hopefully he's the guy that will get them to that next level."

Kelly's definition of 'next level' for the current Bills is the playoffs. Buffalo hasn't tasted the postseason since 1999, but still the similarities between Owens and Lofton are striking.

Owens (14,122) just passed Lofton (14,004) last season on NFL's all-time receiving yardage list, and he did it in three fewer seasons. But they both came to the Bills toward the latter part of their respective careers.

Lofton was 33-years old when he signed with Buffalo in 1989. Owens is 35. Both players were looking for work.

Some thought Lofton's career might be over after he was released by the Raiders in 1988. It didn't take long for Owens to find work with the Bills after his release from the Cowboys.

Lofton only appeared in 12 games in his first season with Buffalo, but in his first full 16-game campaign the Hall of Fame receiver averaged over 20 yards per catch and helped Buffalo to their first AFC title and Super Bowl appearance.

"It opened it up more," said Kelly of Lofton's presence on the field. "It enabled me to go downfield more. (Don) Beebe was a good outside receiver, but I had to have Andre (Reed) on the inside. Andre was probably the best receiver ever on the inside because of James Lofton and Don Beebe on the outside. Lofton made that dynamic better."

The Bills are hoping Owens can make life easier for Trent Edwards in much the same way.

"I think it's going to help him in the fact that Lee (Evans) isn't going to be taken away all the time," said offensive coordinator Turk Schonert. "He's going to have to decipher the coverage at the snap of the ball. Teams will try and hide that a little bit as to who they're going to double and roll up on, but there's no doubt that having Terrell is going to help Trent."

Both Lofton and Owens' proven track record of making big plays and scoring touchdowns forces opposing safeties to make defending that threat a priority.

"Any time you have a deep threat the safeties always have to be leery of that," said Kelly. "Any time you have a guy on the outside and if they need help you have to bring a safety over. And any time you start running cover two coverages that running game becomes a bigger factor.

"Now all of a sudden you can't just have four defensive backs in all the time. You're going to have to go to your nickel package more because of the wide receivers. You can throw Parrish and Reed into the mix. You put them in there and start running crossing patterns and then you throw Marshawn and that running game into the mix and you could have an unbelievable offensive attack."

Schonert agrees, though he wants to take a wait and see approach.

"We've got to see how teams play us," said Schonert. "If they're going to double Lee then that's going to leave Terrell open. If they're going to double him then Lee (is open). If they're going to double both of them then we can run the ball, we've got Josh working inside, we've got Roscoe working inside so we've got some weapons."

Some wonder if Owens can still make those big plays that are his trademark at age 35, but Lofton made the Pro Bowl at that age in 1991 with over 1,000 yards receiving and eight touchdowns in Buffalo's second straight Super Bowl campaign.

Owens has been a more prolific receiver than Lofton almost his entire career.

"There's no doubt that he can be a difference," said Kelly. "Terrell Owens definitely adds a major punch to this offense. The key is staying healthy with (Evans and Owens) on both sides. I just played golf with Randy Moss recently and I asked him what he thought and he said, 'Wow. Evans is good enough, but you put T.O. on the other side, if those guys stay healthy they're going to be a potent offense.'"

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