Things are not well in Buffalo Bills nation. The team's first-string offense has been shut out in two consecutive pre-season games. Trent Edwards, 46.9 quarterback rating in tow, is captaining a bandwagon whose passengers are dropping like flies. The offensive line is making some progress, but as expected, they're still working on playing together. Without Terrell Owens, Buffalo's receivers have struggled to get going. While the defense and special teams - though inconsistent - have shown far more signs of life, the offense, or lack thereof, has Bills fans (and even coaches) worried.
It's so bad that, over the weekend, two separate reports surfaced that indicate that the franchise is already contemplating changes in two key areas.
ESPN.com's Tim Graham reported last Friday that part of the coaching staff - offensive coordinator Turk Schonert chief among them - are pushing to start second-year prospect Demetrius Bell at left tackle in lieu of veteran Langston Walker. Now, Schonert himself has been named as a coordinator on the hot seat by the National Football Post; according to the blurb, the "patience level" for Schonert to turn the offense around is not high.
We're talking about a team that, historically, has not made big changes such as these in the past, particularly before or during the start of a regular season. Then again, we've seen how desperate they've become by the mere free agent signing of Owens alone. Where's the line? How much will the current regime contemplate changing to save their jobs?
If these changes happen, will they help?
Swapping out Walker for Bell is, at the very least, intriguing. Bell has the look of a diamond-in-the-rough type player, with excellent athleticism. This coaching staff raves about what he could be - but they've also been hesitant to rave about what he currently is. Starting him over Walker would be a gamble, regardless of how poorly Walker has apparently played. (It's time to put to rest the notion that the move would re-shuffle the line, as well; Brad Butler would stay at right tackle, folks, as would the interior of the offensive line. If the swap is made, Walker assumes Bell's spot on the bench.)
Removing Schonert is a move I feel certain most Bills fans would not regret, but who replaces him? I firmly believe that the plan all along has been to allow Edwards to call his own plays in the no-huddle offense, but considering his performance of late, it's not a stretch to believe that might have changed. If patience is thin based on Schonert's play-calling this pre-season and throughout the 2008 season, that's certainly understandable - but who replaces him? Eric Studesville is currently the running backs coach and running game coordinator, but he has no play-calling experience at this level. Nor does quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt or receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. (Of course, neither did Schonert when he was hired.)
It's important to remember that these changes have not been made. The fact that the reports even exist, however, is indicative of the desperation surrounding this team. There's nothing wrong with being desperate to win - but these are scary changes to be contemplating this close to the start of the season.
Breaking down assumptions
There are other items that are routinely dropped in discussions as a paraphrase of "things Dick Jauron always does." A few are below.
Edwards. Buffalo didn't go out into the free agent market and bring in Ryan Fitzpatrick to open a quarterback competition. Jauron has settled on Edwards as his starter, and after the wishy-washy decision-making at quarterback of previous Bills coaches like Wade Phillips (Doug Flutie/Rob Johnson) and Mike Mularkey (J.P. Losman/Kelly Holcomb), that's commendable. But if Edwards keep playing as he's been playing this pre-season, the team isn't going anywhere. No matter how confident Jauron and his staff is that Edwards can develop into a good player, is it really safe to say that they wouldn't make a switch to try to ignite the offense? (Not now, obviously; Edwards is still firmly entrenched as the starter.)
Cutting veterans. The Bills have some roster decisions to make over the next week or so as NFL rules mandate cutting down rosters to 53 players by this coming Saturday. Some select veterans - such as Walker, as well as defensive ends Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney - are considered locks to make the team. But in the case of all of those players, there are younger, less-developed players that could help the team win games, even if they're prone to more mistakes. Who's to say the coaches won't cut some vets (and some salary) and roll the dice with younger, more talented players?
Giving away playing time. Josh Reed. Roscoe Parrish. Derek Schouman. Derek Fine. Kelsay and Denney. Donte Whitner. All are nice players, and all have roles to play. Most will see significant playing time. But would it truly shock us if, after a few weeks of terrible offense, Steve Johnson takes reps in the slot? Or Shawn Nelson gets top reps at tight end? How about Aaron Maybin becoming a full-time starter? Is it possible that they'd use Whitner as a jack-of-all-trades to get Jairus Byrd onto the field full-time? They've got to get playmakers onto the field if they want to win games, and none of the aforementioned, with the possible exception of Parrish, have routinely turned in game-changing plays.
Is it time to throw assumptions out the window? This is more a speculative post than anything - I realize y'all would rather just bash the coaching staff and the quarterback, but we can get a little more creative with this. How much change do you believe is possible, starting now and getting into the season, from this desperate franchise?