We are still two months away from the start of training camp, and already experts and amateurs alike (including yours truly) are breaking down the Bills' new roster additions and attempting to answer the big questions of this team as they enter a new season. It is important to remember, however, that this season's results may have very little to do with our new players. The one thing that really matters is how well they're coached. Specifically, a lot depends on how Dick Jauron and the rest of the coaching develop in their second year as a group.
Throw Conservative Out the Window
Last season, with five different rookies starting at one point or another, the coaching staff had to scale back a lot of their scheme in order to keep their team in games. This was effective - the Bills only got "blown out" twice (at Chicago and vs. New England); it did not allow our best players to be the playmakers they can be, however, with exception of later on in the season. With a full year under their belt, it is time for the coaching staff to lose more of its conservative nature.
I think we're beginning to see it already. Towards the end of the season, the Bills incorporated J.P. Losman into the offense in a big way; 12 of his 19 touchdowns came in the second half of the season, including a three-game stretch in which he threw seven. With a brand new backfield, it's likely that Losman will have even more on his plate this pre-season. He has already been granted the power to audible this season, something that he could not do last year. That's one piece of the puzzle.
We also saw the shedding of the convservative nature in the Bills' hard-line stance on certain players, most notably Willis McGahee. The coaches were willing to take the risk of losing players familiar with the scheme if it meant that team chemistry will be easier to build. Thus is the case with McGahee, whose whining and overall irritation with the city got him traded.
Grow With the Team
It's fairly obvious that the Bills have one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Losing veteran leadership such as London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Nate Clements, Chris Villarrial and Daimon Shelton does potentially hinder the progress of what will be a much younger 2007 Bills team. With as much progress as the Bills made in '06, it will be a huge challenge to approach even similar success again. As much of a homer as I like to be, that's the harsh truth - this team is very talented, but there will be growing pains.
With a lot of young players, it will be hard for the coaches to continue to break their conservative mold. Young players such as Losman, Lee Evans and Angelo Crowell will have huge roles next season. Even younger players such as John McCargo, Keith Ellison, Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson will be relied on to develop into sure-fire starters and contribute at a high level. It is certainly feasible, but it is also difficult for a young coaching staff to rely on young players. The success or failure of this team in '07 will, in my mind, be contingent upon one factor.
Fitting the Scheme to the Players
This may sound confusing - don't teams usually bring in players to fit the scheme? Not the opposite? That's true, but if this team is going to succeed we need to put our players in the right position to succeed. That means letting Marshawn Lynch catch screen passes and run on the edges, rather than pounding him up the middle every play. That means getting Lee Evans involved in the mid-range passing game so that safeties aren't playing deep the whole game. It means unleashing our deep defensive lines to better utilize the talents of our cornerbacks and safeties. Without adjustments such as these, our team's performance will suffer. Rather than forcing the "ideal" scheme down our throats, the coaches need to adapt to the players on the roster. They did that very well last season, and I expect the adaptation to be an even quicker, smoother process this season.