The Buffalo Bills are renovating their entire offensive system under new head coach Chan Gailey, and after looking solid early in camp, Buffalo's offense has struggled mightily of late, and that trend continued on Thursday afternoon.
All four quarterbacks looked poor. Balls routinely hit the ground in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Passes were forced into coverage. Check-down receivers were utilized frequently. Receivers struggled to get open. Penalty flags were thrown, balls were fumbled, and passes rarely traveled further than ten yards down the field.
I spent the sweaty afternoon at St. John Fisher College focusing solely on the offense, so after the jump, you won't find any analysis of the defense. I'll be at camp Friday night and Saturday as well, so I'll spend some time there; today, I wanted to focus just on the offensive side of the ball. That's probably why I ended up catching the bus back to my vehicle a bit earlier than anticipated.
Passing Game Woes Aren't Just On The Quarterbacks
Buffalo's four quarterbacks have been getting a lot of heat for the team's recent offensive woes, but believe me when I say that they're just the tip of the iceberg.
Trent Edwards is still the most consistent and accurate quarterback on the roster, and it's not close. He's also the most conservative, as both Brian Brohm (who ran with the twos today) and Ryan Fitzpatrick were at least willing to take a shot or two down the field each. Edwards threw a lot of short routes Thursday, many of which were forced into very tight coverage. Even while struggling, I still thought he was the best quarterback on the field - although Brohm looked better than he did last Friday, when he was the third man in the rotation.
Both Brohm and Fitzpatrick struggled with their accuracy Thursday. Both overthrew outs and slants, and Fitzpatrick still struggles to naturally generate a lot of velocity on his throws. Brohm made some nice touch throws underneath and looked decisive, but still wasn't effective making completions.
The quarterbacks aren't great, folks. That's not going to change, and that's probably the last time we'll cover them in a camp setting. But the problem permeates deeper than this position, folks.
Receivers Struggling To Get Open
You don't need to worry about Lee Evans. He's still Lee Evans, and one of three - yes, three - offensive players that consistently looks like he knows what he's doing. He's the only receiver that looks crisp and practiced in all of his movements, no matter what type of drill or session is being run. He'll be just fine. You knew that already.
You also knew that the rest of the team's receiving corps was young and unpolished. That was on display in spades Thursday. There's not a polished route-runner on the team outside Evans; there's a lot of wasted upper body movement and choppy footwork when these guys are trying to get in and out of cuts. As a result, quarterbacks are hitching their deliveries waiting for breaks even during drills without coverage, and a receiver gaining separation in full team work is a rarity. Hence the check-downs, and hence passes being forced.
Still, there's a lot to like about this group. For one, most of these guys are quite adept at making catches in traffic. For another, on occasion, one of these players will run a route so brilliant that they find themselves wide open. Steve Johnson, Chad Jackson and Felton Huggins show up the most, while Roscoe Parrish gets the most targets. James Hardy ran a great route today and made the catch over the middle, but the ball was promptly stripped from behind by, I believe, Ashton Youboty. The lack of consistency from the group at large is alarming, and is nearly as big a reason for the poor offensive performance as the shoddy quarterback play.
At tight end, keep your eye on Jonathan Stupar. He's hardly remarkable athletically, but he does everything pretty well, and looks natural catching the football. Michael Matthews is a pretty good blocker, but boy, does he look rough running routes and catching the ball. Shawn Nelson, meanwhile, falls victim to many of the shortcomings as the receivers - poor route-running. He's got excellent hands, and once he hones his concentration and cleans up his technique, he'll be a fine underneath option for this team.
Running Game Still The Lone Bright Spot
I mentioned earlier that three offensive players look like they know what they're doing on the practice field, and emanate a palpable feeling of "hey, these guys might actually be good in 2010." Evans was one. Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch are the other two.
Jackson had another practice with some sizable runs - one for a touchdown - and Lynch was right there with him, stride for stride. Jackson looked good returning kicks, and Lynch showed off nice hands on a couple of short routes. The only problem I saw with either of these two runners today: Lynch was a hair late picking up Donte Whitner on a blitz, and Whitner had enough of a head of steam where he'd have been in play for a sack or a strip opportunity.
Joique Bell continues to impress, as well, as he had another long run on Thursday. Chad Simpson is a quick guy, but didn't stand out in any particular way. Jackson is still the team's best pass protector, simply because he has the best awareness of the group. Also, the Bills used a lot of formations today in which Corey McIntyre lined up at fullback, and as he's still the only by-trade fullback on the roster, don't be shocked if he makes the cut again. He had a false start today during walk-through work.
Why I Can't Wait For Pre-Season Games
It's really difficult for me to muster any sort of desire to watch pre-season football, but one justifiable reason for doing so is to watch the offensive line play live football. I don't have a lot to say about these guys today, because I spent the vast majority of my time watching the skill position players. The run blocking remains much more consistent than the pass blocking, though there weren't any noticeable gaffes (aside from the minor one I mentioned regarding Lynch) today.
I did watch one extended drill in which the linemen were lined up in a cage, in an effort to keep them from standing upright at the snap. Basically, it was a leverage drill. I watched that drill to see explosion out of the stance and hand punch, and the most impressive players there were Andy Levitre and, oddly, Andre Ramsey. I wasn't particularly fond of Jamon Meredith's hand use. Demetrius Bell looked super fluid firing out of his stance. Kyle Calloway was the last lineman to rotate through on every drill, and is by far the least athletic lineman on the team.
Keep your ears open for more on Ramsey, because he appears to have made a move up the depth chart. Granted, it helps that Kirk Chambers is getting most of his reps at tackle now, and it also helps that both Eric Wood and Cordaro Howard missed practice again. But it was Ramsey that was running with the first team at right guard today, alongside Meredith, who replaced Cornell Green (rest).
The Injury Front
Kyle Williams left practice early today with what looked like a hand issue. He was on the field for a while, but eventually left. Jason Watkins also walked off the field with trainers, though it was difficult to see anything wrong with him.
Cornell Green, Ed Wang, Eric Wood, Cordaro Howard, Marcus Easley, David Nelson, Derek Schouman, Spencer Johnson, Chris Kelsay, Danny Batten, Paul Posluszny, Keith Ellison and John Destin all missed practice today, and again, they were joined by Williams and Watkins. That means that the Bills ended practice with just 65 players on the field.