The Team The Bills Will Field – Part One


Estimated reading time: 8 minute(s)

I am just a fan. I only know the Bills from a distance, but I love Bills football, and enjoy following every little detail. Even when they really aren’t that great, I root for them, and follow them. And I’m pretty certain I always will.

I am also an optimist. I tend to look for the best side of everything in life, and can usually find it. Thus, many of my predictions (and on our show, my “reviews”) regarding Buffalo Bills football tend to be a bit, shall we say, “rosy”.

I say all of that to preface what I am about to say regarding the 2008 version of the Buffalo Bills. (At least, what I am guessing will be the 2008 version.) Some may simply dismiss the following predictions as the ramblings of a rabid, overly optimistic, homer Bills fan. And that’s fine.

But I gotta say, folks… this team really has a lot of the pieces to the puzzle!

Let’s go position by position, starting with the offense. Everyone loves offense, and I think we might actually have some this year!

QB
The Bills enter the season with a solid answer for who their starting QB will be. Edwards earned himself the role last season with not only a winning record (5-4) in games he started, along with his general poise on the field, and command of the offense. (What little there was last season!) This is nothing new, however, as entering 2007, JP Losman was firmly entrenched as the starter. The difference this season is the Bills seem confident with Edwards as their signal caller (he is the QB selected by Jauron and his staff) and even better for Edwards, there is a new offensive coordinator, without an overhaul of the offensive system.

With most of a year of playing in the NFL under his belt, as well as a new coordinator – a former NFL QB who has a reputation for wide open offenses – Edwards stands to have a solid-to-great sophomore season, mainly due to some additions to the Bills arsenal. (See below…)

I must also mention the fact that J.P. Losman managed to stick around for at least the last year of his contract. The Bills have said all along that they really like Losman (as a QB) and feel they have two great young quarterbacks on their team. I believe Losman – erratic as he may be – is a great backup option, should Edwards be injured during the season. He knows the offense, is comfortable with the players, and certainly has the physical tools to be a solid NFL QB. It’s the mental tools that are in question with Losman.

RB
The centerpiece of the Bills offense has to be Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch. He gained 1,000 yards in a season where he missed three games due to an ankle injury, and would have been much more productive in an offensive scheme that involved him more in the passing game. Assuming that is part of the plan in 2008, Lynch should be poised to be a terror to opposing teams in his second season in the NFL. He’s fast, powerful, and never gives up on a play. If he’s able to play a full season, he should easily rack up 1,200 yards rushing, or more.

The Bills surprised many by drafting a running back in the later rounds of the 2008 NFL Draft. Xavier Omon, from a small Division II school. At first glance, the pick is perplexing. The Bills did not seem to have a need at RB. But upon further review, this kid was just off-the-charts amazing at his collegiate level! Over 7000 yards rushing, and 98 TDs total (rushing/receiving) in four years of college. He had 37 TDs in his senior season alone! He’s small, fast, powerful, and obviously has great running back instincts. It’s possible the Bills may have found a Maurice Jones-Drew to their Fred Taylor.

WR
The other “name” player on the Bills offense would be Lee Evans. Evans had a statistically disappointing season in 2007, but most would blame that on the unimaginitive offensive play calling, as well as no real number two receiving threat on the roster. This year, with the key addition of James Hardy, Evans could be much more free to put up the kind of numbers the Bills were expecting to see from him.

Hardy was drafted in the second round, and is the ideal fit for the Bills offense. One major missing piece last year was any sort of red zone threat. They needed – and Jauron said as much this off-season – a big, tall wide receiver. Hardy is anywhere from 6’5″ to 6’7″ (reports vary) and 220 pounds. He’s “a head taller than almost every other player,” according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. He should be a force to reckon with. I predicted when we drafted him that he would get six red zone TDs this season. I think I probably underestimated that number.

Now, with Hardy taking pressure off of Evans – as well as adding much-needed touchdown scoring – there are still some formidable weapons for opponents to cover in the Bills receiving corps. First there is the dependable Josh Reed. We nicknamed him “Mr. First Down” last season, as he caught so many balls that went for first downs – especially on third down plays. He’s got good hands, runs good routes, and the Bills love his blocking skills. Josh Reed is an underneath, over-the-middle kind of guy who was forced to be the #2 man the past year or two. Now moved to #3, he should see a bit more success, as well as help move guys off of Evans and Hardy.

Add Roscoe Parrish to this already decent group, and you have some great big-play potential. Parrish has not been used that effectively by the Bills yet, in my opinion. His speed and moves on punt returns could be put to use in a more wide open scheme that gets him the ball on a slant route (or even a screen) where he’s already got the jets burning! Parrish should be able to stretch the field for the Bills offense, if the scheme employs his blazing speed as well.

TE
The Bills were expected to address the tight end position in the draft, and did – to an extent. Most fans and experts alike figured on the Bills drafting a big-play receiving tight end. What they got instead was a solid, all-around TE from Kansas, Derek Fine. Fine not only is an “all-around” tight end, he also played on all four special teams units. The Bills lost a lot this off season on special teams, so this was also a big hole to fill. Fine seems to be a “fine” addition at two spots the Bills needed to address this off season.

There are incumbents still hanging around, of course. The erratic Robert Royal is probably the starting TE by default. Remains to be seen if Fine can supplant him. Also, the Bills brought in Atlanta’s Courtney Anderson via free agency. Anderson was a backup to Pro Bowl TE Alge Crumpler for the Falcons. 2007 draft pick, Derek Schouman, tops a no-name cast filling out the rest of the TE roster. This is one of the weaker positions for the Bills offense (on paper) going into 2008, barring stellar production from Fine, or perhaps Anderson or Royal.

OL
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the Bills offensive line showed marked improvement in 2007, and has remained intact, with a possible addition via the draft. (Although, Demetrius Bell, one of the Bills seventh round choices, is certainly a “project”.)

Starting on the left side, Jason Peters had a Pro Bowl season his first full season at left tackle! Can’t get much better than that. Peters is respected around the NFL as one of the better LTs in the game. Next to him is Derrick Dockery, who was maligned for being a bit overpaid, but that left side of the line for the Bills not only allowed way fewer sacks in 2007, most of the running plays also went their direction.

On the right side, the Bills still like 2006 draft choice, Brad Butler, and the behemoth at right tackle, Langston Walker. The Bills also re-signed veteran Jason Whittle who spent nearly all of last season on injured reserve. The Bills have some decent depth at the position with Whittle, Duke Preston and Kirk Chambers. Lots more guys on the roster as well, all of whom are enormous!

The one question a lot of Bills fans have with the O-line is center Melvin Fowler. He is definitely smaller than the rest of the line, and seemed to be overpowered fairly easily last season. Some thought that the team would address that position in the draft, but they did not.

OFFENSIVE OVERVIEW
Probably the most anticipated change on the offensive side of the ball is the change at the top. Turk Schonert, who as I mentioned already, is known to like a more wide-open offensive approach, has taken the reins and promised to have an offense that is similar, yet will look totally different. A Bills fan can only hope.

Assuming a more inventive offense, maybe even a four-wide formation on occasion – utilizing Evans, Hardy, Reed & Parrish simultaenously, as well as Lynch out of the backfield – this offense could really be scary to the opposing defensive coordinator. You can no longer double-cover Evans. It might be pretty hard to stop Hardy, if he can compete at the NFL level. Lynch should have more room with a passing game to which defenses are forced to pay more respect…

In the end, this 30th-ranked offense from 2007 should see dramatic improvement in 2008, which is very welcome news to Bills fans. At the very least, there should be many more renditions of the Shout! Song belted out by ecstatic Bills fans whose team should be able to put up six points in the Red Zone much more often than last season.

Fasten your seat belts, Bills fans. It should be an exciting ’08!

TO BE CONTINUED…
A look at the defensive side of the Bills roster coming soon…