Schonert will have better weapons in Year 2 (photo source)
We discussed just yesterday the importance of quality quarterback play to winning in the NFL, and more importantly, how Buffalo Bills starter Trent Edwards can become that type of player. Outside of that most critical of factors, however, Buffalo had three other major issues to address offensively - the offensive line, the skill positions, and the play-calling. (So, yeah... that basically covers the entire offense.)
The line has been re-shuffled (for better or worse), and the talent and depth at running back, receiver and tight end has - on paper - improved significantly as well. If the changes in those areas help Edwards become more productive, that's obviously beneficial to the team. But you can't field a high-level offense without every puzzle piece; the jury remains out on both Edwards and offensive coordinator Turk Schonert until further notice.
Speaking of Schonert, KC Joyner has a cool little article up today that I'd like to dissect as an afternoon topic of discussion.
Schonert the Disseminator
First thing's first - I'd like to make a motion right at the top to officially refer to Schonert as "The Disseminator" from this point forward.
The crux of Joyner's article on Schonert this morning dealt with his preference for spreading the ball around in the passing game, particularly in reference to where Schonert chose to line up some of his players. In his effort to utilize as many functional parts as possible in the passing game, Schonert lined Lee Evans up in the slot with solid success. He also put TE Robert Royal - whose Bills career is over - in the same position, much to the chagrin of Bills nation.
The one glaring exception to this philosophy was when the Bills threw passes to tight end Robert Royal when he was lined up as a wideout. Buffalo was for 7 for 15 for 108 yards on those aerials, but one of those receptions was a 19-yard gain against a very soft prevent defense. Take that pass out and Royal’s flex YPA was a meager 6.4 yards, but his performance was actually a lot worse than the YPA shows. Three of the throws to Royal were picked off, and two others were nearly intercepted. If that weren’t enough, Royal also dropped two of the throws and the 19-yard gain mentioned previously ended with a lost fumble.
This has always been my biggest problem with Schonert. It's not the predictability of his play-calling, or even the specific plays called - he flashed signs of being more than competent in stringing together hot stretches for his offense last year (though those were few and far between). My issue with Schonert was that he was trying to run his offense, rather than running an offense that his players could execute.
The good news - or perhaps the bad news - is that names like Terrell Owens, Shawn Nelson and even Dominic Rhodes have added depth and (proven, in the case of Owens) raw ability to a talent pool that needed it. Schonert shouldn't have been diving into the deep end of that talent pool last year, but there's a chance that the pool is loaded enough for Schonert to safely swim at either end in 2009. Still, as Joyner cautions, the Bills still don't have a "do-everything" cast of players, which could be Schonert's ultimate downfall:
The key for Schonert’s future success as an offensive coordinator will be if he can discern which of his troops can and cannot do this and adjusts his approach according to their talent and limitations.
The important tendency to note is that even if Schonert doesn't change one bit from last season, the offense should improve simply because there is more for he and Edwards to work with (provided, of course, that the offensive line isn't leaky enough to drain the talent pool of its value). There is reason for optimism. But don't fall into the trap of believing that signing Terrell Owens immediately opens up an anemic offense. One player, even if that player is as dynamic as T.O., does not instantly make a bad offense great - as I'm sure I don't have to tell any of you. Nor does adding solid depth at other positions. There are a lot of dynamics at play here, and Schonert's growth is one of the biggest keys to the offense taking the steps forward that the team desperately needs.
Let's just hope that Turk realizes that he's got some adapting to do himself - and let's also hope that the reports of the team utilizing a no-huddle offense next season are an early indication of Schonert being open to new wrinkles. We can harp about the young O-Line, the green quarterback and the enviable skill depth all we want, but Schonert is the fourth piece of the puzzle - and he's got a lot to prove as well.