Edwards the clear-cut 2008 starter... right? (Photo Source)
It's the well-known, yet rarely discussed (here, anyways) secret key to success for the 2008 Buffalo Bills - even with all of the positive additions this team has made heading into the '08 season, it's highly unlikely that the team challenges for a playoff berth unless the team gets better, more consistent quarterback play.
That pressure falls squarely on the shoulders, of course, of second-year starting quarterback Trent Edwards. Despite leading a statistically mediocre (okay, downright awful) offense last season, Edwards did show flashes of being able to efficiently lead an NFL offense, and doing it consistently in the near future. But he's not there yet. He'll need help in five key areas in order to pull it off; without hitting on a majority of these areas, the Bills' chances at a 2008 playoff berth remain bleak.
Key One: Improved Play Calling
We've discussed this key ad nauseum several times throughout the off-season: Buffalo has some tools to work with offensively; they just need to utilize them in the correct fashion. Last season, Edwards' offenses were held back because of his inexperience; as a result, Buffalo's offenses were incredibly vanilla, very basic in nature, not creative, and ultimately very easy to defend. Edwards-led offenses didn't score enough points in 2007, and that's the basic truth that needs to change this season. New offensive coordinator Turk Schonert can help Edwards achieve that by creatively using the talents of his multi-dimensional offensive players (namely, RB Marshawn Lynch) and keeping defenses off balance with the play-action, rollouts, or whatever works.
Key Two: Risk Taking
Along the same thought process, Buffalo's offensive mindset needs to be much more aggressive in 2008 than it was in 2007. Clearly, that mindset needs to be inherited by the coaching staff in their game-day scheming (see above), but it also applies directly to Edwards as well. Not since high school has Edwards been given free reign to take chances; in his years at Stanford and as a Bills rookie, he's been conditioned to minimize mistakes on terrible offensive football teams. Minimizing mistakes is fine, but it needs to happen without the training wheels. Edwards has the accuracy and quick release to make the tight throws; he can't make them, however, if he doesn't attempt them. Trent needs to take more risks; if he does and they pay off, it'll help the team win games as well as build toward Key Three.
Key Three: Becoming a Leader
Bills coaches and teammates have been singing Edwards' praises all off-season - which isn't a bad thing - but this is the NFL. The off-season is as much about good PR as it is about improving your team's roster. Saying that you're confident in Edwards is much different than believing in him. Edwards has already proven to be a good locker room guy with an outstanding work ethic; he studies hard and has scheduled throwing sessions outside of normal practice settings with two of his top targets in Lee Evans and Robert Royal. That's leadership. But respect is also a big part of leadership, and right now, not many opponents respect Edwards' game. Proving it on the field will be the biggest step Edwards can take in assuming a full leadership role for a franchise that hasn't had a leader at this position since the starter wore #12.
Key Four: Getting Experience
There's also the idea that each of the three above keys can be achieved simply by playing, and playing a lot. "Getting experience" is an easy heading to throw the rest of these keys under, but I'm not talking in generalities here - we'll keep the off-field experiences out of this equation. I'm talking specifically about becoming intricately familiar with the team's playbook, the strengths and weaknesses of his offensive teammates, and building chemistry with the team's offensive coaching staff. If Edwards feels that the coaches aren't playing to his strengths, he needs to tell them that. Edwards can't be spoon-fed, because let's face it - parenting ain't easy, and neither is coaching. The general feeling is that Edwards already plays an active role in his own practice and study rituals, which is great; he'll need to continue working with, not for, his bosses if he's to gain that familiarity he desperately needs.
Key Five: The Media
Ultimately, we need to realize that we're talking about a kid that's athletically gifted and very intelligent, but needs to take his lumps. You don't grow as an NFL quarterback unless you make mistakes, and Edwards will make his fair share in 2008. Complicating that issue, however, is a certain former first-round pick currently backing up Edwards. If Trent falters - which is likely going to happen; it just depends on how his peaks relate to his valleys in terms of length - you can bet the "what if J.P. Losman started instead?" thought process will resurface via the Buffalo media. It's an ugly thought to be sure, but this city's big media corporations seem to thrive on covering quarterback controversies, even if they have to create them themselves. Enter the 2008 season as a fan of this team ready to repeat this mantra during the tough times:
Trent will learn from this. He needs this experience. Just because some big media pundit says Losman should start doesn't mean he's right. In fact, he's dead wrong - he's just trying to sell papers. No, I WON'T listen to the man - Edwards has the ability to overcome this. Trust the kid. Don't trust controversy.
(We'll repeat this throughout the season in case you forget some of the words.)
There you have it - five key areas where Trent Edwards needs to make significant strides during or, ideally, before the 2008 season. Feel free to discuss/embellish the ideas, as well as vote in/break down the below poll, in the comments section.