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Thoughts on the revitalization of the no-huddle in Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills held the first of three mandatory mini-camp practices on Tuesday, and the big story - no matter what the ESPN's of the world want to tell you about Terrell Owens - is that the Bills' offense spent the entire practice running the no-huddle.

No, the return of the no-huddle in Buffalo isn't exactly news.  Tim Graham reported that the no-huddle was returning just days after the 2009 NFL Draft concluded.  Forgive me, however, if I was a bit skeptical regarding whether or not the team would see this thing through - we've been promised big changes offensively before, after all.  At the time of Graham's report, the move made a ton of sense, considering the team's wealth of talent at the skill positions, the need to mask possible deficiencies on a re-tooled offensive line, and the need to get QB Trent Edwards into a more hands-on position with his offense.

Still, skepticism reigned.  Yet the team ran it in streaks during voluntary OTAs, and the system was used in full force on Tuesday.

Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert barked plays into a hand-held device that delivers his commands directly into Edwards' helmet.  Edwards then relayed the calls via hand signals to his backs and receivers - made more difficult by the extraneous noise being pumped into the practice facility to simulate road conditions as closely as possible.  The team is quite literally pulling out all the stops for its new offensive philosophy - and that, in itself, is an indication of just how prevalent the scheme should be in Buffalo this season.

Graham: No-Huddle efficient on day one
ESPN sent Graham to Bills practice yesterday, and while I wouldn't say his review of the no-huddle was glowing, it was certainly encouraging:

The Bills' offense didn't huddle once. They spent the entire practice working in a hurry-up format. Quarterback Trent Edwards looked sharp with the first unit, moving methodically up the field and getting the plays off with plenty to spare.

"Looking sharp" at this point in the game is far more encouraging than making big plays or avoiding mistakes.  Those are going to happen at any point in the year.  What the "sharpness" does indicate, however, is a certain comfort level - even this early in the process - and a level of confidence that the offense hasn't had in June in quite some time.

Owens also met with the media yesterday, and while he spent most of his time fielding questions about his comfort level with the system and his new teammates, he also talked briefly about the no-huddle and the advantages he believes it creates for the Bills:

"I think it's going to keep teams on their heels a little bit, especially teams that like to bring pressure," Owens said. "They're not going to be able to do that, especially if we hit them a couple times quick and get some home runs on them."

I'll offer up one more positive angle for you: the no-huddle makes the normally reserved Edwards more assertive.  We've discussed this angle before, but I'm going to beat it to death because I believe it's important: the best NFL quarterbacks are the 'alpha males', the guys who lead not just by example, but through will, through words, and through attitude.  Edwards doesn't need to turn his personality from Type B to Type A; in fact, that would likely be disastrous.  But he could use a little more Type A in the way he plays quarterback - and an offense where he's literally forced to run the show should help him get there.  I like the idea of Edwards orchestrating the offense on-field in a more hands-on manner, even if he's not calling plays.  That, in my humble opinion, is the most appealing feature that the no-huddle brings to Buffalo.

Edwards, for the record, thinks things are going well - even in dealing with the aforementioned pumped-in crowd noise:

"Dick (Jauron) wants us to have a feel for how it’s going to be on the road this year," said Edwards. "Going no huddle you have to be able to communicate when it is loud. I thought it went pretty well. Sometimes the calls weren’t coming clear into my helmet, but other than that everything went smoothly. We saw our sights and our hots and that’s always difficult when you’re going at a fast pace and you may not know the protection and I felt like we got the ball out and didn’t have any bad plays."

Some words of caution
Great!  Everything sounds peachy.  There is reason to be excited when contemplating a no-huddle attack featuring Edwards, Owens, Lee Evans, Josh Reed, and the three-headed running back monster of Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes.  There are a wealth of plays to be made among that group.  But there are reasons to be cautious in your excitement as well.

A large part of me can't shake the feeling that the most relevant motivator behind the decision to install the no-huddle isn't what the offense brings to the table, but what it masks - shoddy offensive line play.  (Seriously, if the scheme offers so much in the way of positives for the team, why not install it before re-tooling the O-Line?) Right now, I think it's fair to say that the single biggest question mark surrounding the Bills is whether or not they can field a successful team with a completely re-shuffled offensive front in front of their injury-prone quarterback.  The no-huddle is designed to move at a quicker pace and keep defenses on its heels; it's also quick-strike in the sense that the ball leaves the quarterback's hands quickly.

None of that is bad.  Edwards is at his best when he's decisive - that's true of any quarterback.  Quick throws, a fast pace and off-balance defenses are a great idea.  Making a valiant attempt to cover up some line issues is a great idea as well - it's pretty foolish to think that the line (featuring starters Langston Walker, Andy Levitre, Geoff Hangartner, Eric Wood and Brad Butler) will be gelled to the point where they'll be largely error-free for the season opener.  The line has potential, but they'll need time to get familiar with each other on the field of battle.  If there's one offensive system that can mask O-Line deficiencies, it's the no-huddle.  A pat on the back to Buffalo's coaching staff for the idea if, in fact, that was a part of the thought process.  But it's still a scary proposition to think that a move of this magnitude could be made in part because of any shortage of confidence in the offensive line.