Bills taking right approach to QB competition

With the 2010 NFL season just around the corner - we're 42 days away from the start of Buffalo Bills training camp, folks - some of the big questions that were put on the back burner in May and early June are briefly resurfacing as the Bills approach the end of spring OTA sessions. Perhaps the biggest of those big questions lies at quarterback, where the Bills move toward July with a three-man competition for the starting gig on the horizon.

It's been four years since the Bills held an open competition for the starting quarterback position; 2006 was Dick Jauron's first as head coach, and J.P. Losman beat out Kelly Holcomb for the job in August. This year's competition pits Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm against one another, and for all we know thus far, any one of them could be the proverbial "leader in the clubhouse." All three have taken first-team reps during spring OTAs.

On Wednesday, Bills head coach Chan Gailey provided the first tangible clues into how he'll approach the organization of his quarterback competition. Gailey's quote in full is as follows (courtesy the Bills Media Relations Department, via WGR 550):

"By the time we get to training camp we’ll have somebody that is going to work with the first group, somebody that’s going to work with the second group going in just because if it happens that way then you’ve got a leg up. If you try to get everybody equal shots from the first day of camp then you’ll probably get nobody ready rather than getting three ready. So we’ll probably make some determination from this, decide for a lack of a better term a pecking order for camp and then go from there. But it still will be open when we go to camp."

Essentially, Gailey is revealing that instead of splitting first-team reps between any serious contenders for the starting gig, he'll be giving one of his quarterbacks an early advantage in giving them all of the first-team reps. This may seem strange, given the fact that the inherent advantage exists, but it makes sense to do it that way on several different levels. Gailey is clearly aware of these negatives, given his statement about equal shots likely leading to having no quarterbacks ready for the season.

There's an entire team to prepare here. Splitting quarterback reps is unsettling for the other 10 players on the first-unit offense. Even if the QB they get by default in practice isn't the eventual starter, getting a consistent look with one player in camp will help those players iron out the kinks in their own game, as they won't be adjusting to different players as frequently.

The competition becomes results-oriented. By designating each quarterback to a specific unit, the evaluation emphasis in the practice setting shifts from "how did each player do in this very small amount of reps with the ones" to "how did each player improve with his particular unit." It puts the players in command of a specific group of teammates, which could lead to a better evaluation of communication, organization and leadership potential. Clearly, with each QB on a specific unit, there won't be any leap-frogging unless a player produces in a pre-season game situation; that's ideal, as well.

It allows for the quickest start possible. Getting back to Jauron for a second, he ran his quarterback competition similarly - it was very much results-oriented - but he split first-team reps between Holcomb and Losman evenly at the outset of training camp. Holcomb was given the early advantage, getting the first first-team reps as well as the first pre-season start, but Losman had the better pre-season, and thus won the job. He then responded with a whopping 247 yards in the first two regular season games of the year. If Gailey gets lucky, and his initial first-teamer wins the job, hopefully that slow start will be avoided.

There are obvious downsides to Gailey's chosen method of conducting this competition. For starters, a hypothetical: if Edwards opens camp as the first-teamer, but Fitzpatrick has the strongest pre-season and wins the job, any cohesion the first-team offense might have gained from a full camp's worth of work with a particular QB will be lost. That scenario might bring the slow start conundrum back into play, as well. Not splitting reps might not engender as much from each individual competitor in the practice setting as you'd like.

Still, if I'm choosing sides in the "to equal rep or not to equal rep" debate, I'm on Gailey's side. I wrote just yesterday about the Bills' newly-rediscovered franchise efficiency, and this decision speaks to that organization. Assigning each quarterback to a unit is the most efficient way to prepare an entire football team for a regular season, and takes a lot of emphasis off the pecking order in the practice setting. More emphasis is placed on the pre-season games, which is never a bad thing - a competitive situation against unfamiliar opponents is always when you want to make your most important pre-season evaluations. If the competition ends up leading to even an incrementally quicker start for the winner of the competition, great; if not, you're exactly where you'd be if an upstart won the competition, or if you'd split reps in the first place.

Very little is positive to your team's long-term outlook when a situation is muddled at quarterback. This competition is precisely why experts everywhere are projecting Buffalo into the NFL's cellar. In the midst of this bad situation, however, I've got to give Gailey credit for taking the most common-sense approach to figuring this thing out. May the best player win.

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