Schonert confident in his new offense; should we be too? (Photo Source)
The Buffalo Bills have not only faced the music, they've embraced the fact that the music sucks. The Bills knew that the offense the team put on the field in 2007 was, frankly, terrible, and something needed to change. Said changes implemented were subtle, but they are expected to have a big impact for the club in the 2008 season.
Yet were the changes enough? The team replaced offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild (who defected to Colorado State and almost assuredly won't be missed by many) with former quarterbacks coach Turk Schonert. Replacing Schonert at quarterbacks coach is former Bills quarterback (and offensive quality control coach) Alex Van Pelt; Nathaniel Hackett, the son of long time NFL and college coach Paul Hackett, was hired as the team's offensive quality control coach. No three coaches on Buffalo's staff face more pressure this season than Schonert, Van Pelt and Hackett.
The Obviously Subtle Changes
We all know about the changes that we can see for ourselves. Trent Edwards is now the full-time starting quarterback. The team is re-implementing the traditional blocking fullback role, signing veteran Darian Barnes for the role. Rookie wideout James Hardy becomes the first Bills receiver in quite some time to be a red zone threat just because he's tall. These developments have been discussed ad nauseam this off-season.
We've heard all of the promises, too. The tight ends and running backs (specifically starter Marshawn Lynch) will be more involved in the passing game. The system is designed to play to the strengths of its most important players, namely Lynch, Edwards and Lee Evans. Speedy gadget receiver Roscoe Parrish will be used more often as well, and in more unique ways.
What's only being talked about as of recently are the systematic changes (beyond the fullback role) that Schonert is making.
Tempo Emphasis with a West Coast Flavor
Not only has Schonert promised to use his personnel differently, he's taking a different approach to the scheme itself, particularly in the passing game. Edwards will be operating on quicker drops, more rapidly timed routes, and incorporating more of a West Coast feel with his backs and tight ends. The passing game changes are large enough in the eyes of SI.com's Don Banks that he believes Marshawn Lynch, working in this West Coast-like system, is primed for a monster season:
I'm thinking Lynch could hang up some monster numbers this season. Maybe 1,300 yards on the ground, and another 700 through the air.
Schonert also plans on keeping opposing defenses off-balance by mixing up tempos, ranging from the slow, grind-it-out style preferred by Dick Jauron to no-huddle packages. Schonert believes that Bills players are excited to use more up-tempo, no-huddle packages this season:
"We're going to do some of the things we did in Cincinnati, but it's more just about keeping the defense off balance,'' Schonert told (Banks). "We didn't do a lot of up tempo last year. I think they're excited about doing a little no-huddle, and those type of things. Formation-wise, I like putting people in different spots and making the defense adjust. Not just lining up the same all the time. We're going to move people around and be disruptive.''
The trick to mixing and matching tempos throughout the game is keeping it unpredictable. That's where the pressure on coach Hackett comes in. His job as offensive quality control coach is to make sure that the Bills, in four-game sets, don't display any tendencies as to when they prefer to go up-tempo. Keeping their unpredictability unpredictable (wrap your head around that one) will be key in having this wrinkle be successful.
Of course, any time a new offensive system is put in - even if the terminology is similar - it's going to take time. That issue is compounded by the fact that the team has a lot of youth at key positions (particularly Edwards) and questions along the offensive line (thank you, Jason Peters). Patience will be required in order to see if any of these philosophical changes bring about more points in Buffalo. But on the surface, this unit has a lot more promise than it did last season.