Originally created 09/12/98

Thomas and Smith expected to return for Miami



ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Barring the unforeseen, two probable Hall of Famers will return to the field for Buffalo this Sunday.

Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas will try keep the Bills from starting the season 0-2 by suiting up to play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The Bills franchise has not lost its first two games for as long as Thomas has been with the Bills.

The last time Buffalo started the year winless in its first two games was 1986, Smith's second season.

"And we don't plan on going 0-2 this year, either," Thomas said.

This week's opponent has a track record of fast starts. The Dolphins have gone 2-0 each of the past five seasons and have the third-best September mark in the 1990s. They were the lone AFC East team to win last week.

When Smith and Thomas were both unable to play last week against San Diego, it marked the first time in 170 games that neither of them took the field.

Smith, 35, was still recovering from offseason knee surgery to leave the defensive line short, and Thomas, the 32-year-old running back, sat out with a strained a calf muscle.

They both appeared to be ready Friday.

"It looks like both will play," Bills coach Wade Phillips said. "Both Thurman and Bruce are more probable, if that's the word, with higher than 75 percent certainty. Unless something happens, I'd say they'll both play."

Buffalo will need both veterans in order to gain a victory in Miami. The Dolphins, under coach Jimmy Johnson, have begun to finally establish a running game.

"They definitely have the tools to be a quality team and they're going to run the ball right at us," Bills defensive lineman Phil Hansen said. "Jimmy Johnson won't have it any other way. Hopefully, having Bruce and Thurman back in the lineup should help. It only makes our team better."

Smith is in his 14th season and has led the AFC in sacks for the past two seasons. Unable to display certain pass-rush moves last week, he says he has made progress in practice.

"Bruce makes a difference against any football team we play because of his great athletic ability," defensive line coach John Levra said. "He's much better this week than he was last week and looks about ready to go."

Smith, second on the NFL's career sack list, called a news conference on Wednesday announcing that he sat out last week's loss at San Diego because of his knee injury.

Thomas and Andre Reed were both on hand to watch the 275-pound defensive lineman deny that anything else played into his decision not to suit up.

Speculation began after the Chargers' loss that Smith was unhappy over his current contract situation since Ted Washington and Rob Johnson are both earning more money than him this season.

"No comment" were the only words uttered by Smith to the media throughout training camp. He only admitted there was a communication problem between him and the media.

But it extended beyond the media. Even owner Ralph Wilson was unaware of Smith's injury until game time.

"Why didn't someone tell him?" Smith asked. "I know they should have told him. If I'm supposed to be the star player on defense, someone should have informed him."

Quarterback Rob Johnson will start despite the mild concussion last week and being replaced by Doug Flutie. Johnson has made two NFL starts and has been injured in both.