Buffalo Bills head coach Dick Jauron has arguably the single most tenuous hold on a head coaching job in the NFL as the league stands today. Though he was retained last winter after three consecutive 7-9 seasons in Buffalo, Jauron was close to getting fired last December. There's no question that 2009 is a make-or-break season for Jauron; the same can be said for many of the players that Jauron has put his faith in - and tied his future in Buffalo to.
The most prominent player of that group, clearly, is third-year quarterback Trent Edwards. In two years, Edwards has flashed the tools and potential to become an above-average, consistent starting quarterback at the NFL level. Jauron has stuck with Edwards as his starter for two straight off-seasons, despite not-unreasonable arguments to look elsewhere for a quarterback.
Is Jauron feeling the strain? It's very possible. After Edwards turned the ball over twice and looked disturbingly unsettled in the first half of the Bills' pre-season loss to Green Bay, Jauron did not convey worry - but he didn't come close to publicly acquitting his quarterback, either.
"He's just got to be more careful with the ball," Jauron told assembled media at the conclusion of the 31-21 loss. "But he can't be, you know, you can't be timid. You've got to pull the trigger." Later asked to clarify his remarks, Jauron stated the following: "I'm just saying on the field, you can't be timid, you can't go in fearful and play any position in this game, particularly at quarterback."
Jauron doesn't do this, folks.
Entering his ninth full season as a non-interim NFL head coach, Jauron is pretty famous for being a players' coach. If he has to handle a situation with a player on his team, he does so behind the scenes. Nothing bad about a player is ever conveyed publicly. You don't hear anything substantial through the media. Public information is at a minimum, which is part of the reason why he comes across as dry and repetitive in press conferences. Angelo Crowell is a good example - Jauron never said anything bad publicly about Crowell when he was placed on IR or again when the team apparently was interested in re-signing him this past March (before Crowell bolted to Tampa Bay). Those aware of the truth in the situation realized that once Crowell hit IR in September of 2008, he wasn't going to suit up for this team again.
It's possible that Jauron's comments on Saturday night were intended to be a generality. They certainly didn't sound like generalities. Jauron seemed to be calling Edwards out, even if not in the fiery, passionate fashion Bills fans crave. That (both the fired-up-temperament and the public mention of a possible weakness) is not something Jauron does. That, folks, is about as bold as you'll see Jauron get in public. Anyone want to bet that Jauron's words weren't far more pointed to Mr. Edwards behind the scenes?
Jauron has reason for concern. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Bills' 2009 fortunes - and, a bit less importantly, the futures of both Jauron and his quarterback - rest on the shoulders of No. 5. If he's good, the Bills will be good. If he's bad, the Bills will be bad. Edwards is good when he's decisive. He just needs to be consistently decisive - and he's not anywhere near that level yet.
Concerns over Edwards' timidness
Edwards was first proclaimed "timid" by the fan base in a 2008 Week 11 loss on Monday Night Football to the Cleveland Browns. After throwing three first-quarter interceptions, Edwards seemed overly reluctant to throw the ball down field, relying on short check-downs and the running game to move the ball. Still, Edwards had the team in position to win the game late, but concerns remained.
And they still remain. Though he looked more decisive after completing 13 of 14 passes in the Bills' first two pre-season games this year, Edwards returned to his hesitant ways on Saturday night. On his second throw of the game, Edwards had WR Lee Evans open roughly 15 yards downfield, but after a slight hitch in his throwing motion - clearly put there by a hesitancy to make the throw, as the Packers had solid coverage on the play - the ball arrived late, allowing S Nick Collins to make a play on the ball. The pass was tipped, and LB Brady Poppinga intercepted it.
On his third drop-back of the game, Edwards was sacked (though in this particular case, he didn't have a real chance to get rid of the ball). On his fourth drop-back, Edwards - who later admitted he was undecided on this particular play - tried to move outside the pocket, didn't tuck the ball, and was sacked and fumbled. Green Bay recovered and scored on the next play.
From that point forward, not one of Edwards' throws traveled more than ten yards downfield. That's not going to do anything to quell the notion that you're timid, Trent.
The maturation process of a quarterback
Jauron is right to have a good deal of faith in Edwards. He has the tools and football smarts to be something more than a game manager at this level - he's not an elite, blue-chip quarterback, to be sure, but a consistent, decisive Edwards can win teams a lot of football games. After all, the Bills are 12-11 when an inconsistent, indecisive Edwards starts under center. He's not going to reach his potential, however, until he grips it and rips it. You can be cautious all you want, but mistakes will still happen - it's the NFL. He has to trust what he sees; usually, he sees the right thing. Now he's got to make it happen.
Perhaps Jauron chose his words carefully in this instance, as well. Maybe the idea was to get the message across to Edwards both behind the scenes - which, again, I've no doubt has been accomplished - as well as in the public arena. Then again, maybe he slipped up under the strain of the realization that if that Trent Edwards is present for most of the Bills' games in 2009, he'll be out of a job pretty quickly.
Either way, he's right. Edwards has what it takes. He can't take the next step in his development until he starts to play like a confident NFL quarterback. His future, the team's success this season, and his head coach's future depends almost solely on his development. Make it happen, Trent. We can get behind a quarterback that proves he wants to win matchups, and win games, by his actions. Time will tell if Jauron's subtle earmarking of this tendency will lead to a behavioral change in Buffalo's most important player.