How about some bold predictions just prior to the first game? Time has allowed the off-season to digest and settle. We're all ready for some Buffalo Bills football.
A breakdown follows which outlines how I envision the progression, or regression, of each position and most players. I started this story prior to the first preseason game, and I'm basing my analysis off of the 2010 preseason, past knowledge of current Bills players, the Chan Gailey offense from previous teams, George Edwards' defensive experience from Miami, and comparisons to other players previously in similar situations as they relate to the current roster.
Trent Edwards is going to have a better year than most anticipate. Edwards wasn't a good fit for Turk Schonert's vertical timing offense (Coryall offense), and Alex Van Pelt's couldn't adjust the offense to Edwards' talents. Edwards is a pure horizontal timing quarterback (West Coast offense).
Edwards has the nickname of "Captain Checkdown." Those that call him this don't really understand the offense that he was playing in, who Edwards is, and why he was constantly checking down. The Coryall offense puts receivers into deeper vertical routes, mostly in combination, with a running back or tight end as the checkdown option. Edwards was trained as a horizontal timing quarterback, where most of the routes run short in combination, with the tight ends and running backs as primary targets.
Mixing the two wasn't smart. With a poor offensive line that couldn't hold long enough for the vertical routes to develop, Edwards made the quick throw to the checkdown option, something that's absolutely natural for a West Coast offense quarterback. How many times in 2009 did we see Edwards waiting in the pocket for something to develop, only to checkdown or get sacked as the protection broke down.
Gailey knows this. As we've seen in the preseason, we should anticipate passing plays that feature shorter routes used in combination to get 3-7 yards per play. I also foresee a lot of play-action, screens, and rollouts to protect Edwards from the shaky protection. Edwards will play better - but good enough to make Buddy Nix forget about Jake Locker or Christian Ponder? Only if he plays like a 2004 Drew Brees.
Of the other quarterbacks, I don't expect much. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a good backup who will play decent when Edwards get injured. He's never going to be better than that, though. Brian Brohm is listed as the third QB, and for most teams, he is a project who should see the field from the sidelines for now. For the Bills, don't be surprised to see Brohm leapfrog Fitzpatrick as the starter if Edwards falters or gets injured.
Gailey has a history of riding running backs. However, I don't expect this to be the case in Buffalo. C.J. Spiller isn't a workhorse back. Expect Spiller to run the ball 10-15 times per game, and catch a lot of footballs on short routes, screens, and from the slot.
Fred Jackson should begin to approach "bell cow back" status once he returns from injury. Jackson is better the more he touches the football, and though not as explosive as Spiller, he's got a similar skill set. He's also a better runner between the tackles. Jackson ideally should get 10-15 carries per game as well, and may get more as the season goes on.
I don't expect Marshawn Lynch to do much more than fill Jackson's role while Jackson is hurt. Lynch should see enough carries to rehabilitate his playing status though, as he's finally playing in a run-oriented offense.
Lee Evans should finally begin to break out under Chan Gailey. While Evans has great speed, all of his past offensive coordinators have lined him up wide and sent him out on vertical passes. Expect Gailey to use Evans in the slot, on short routes, and routes that allow Evans to run after the catch. Receivers can make plays without help; ask Steve Smith of Carolina.
I anticipate that the bigger receivers will make more plays. Steve Johnson will start and catch some footballs, but won't live up to the expectations that some have for him. David Nelson's bigger frame will make him a nice target on shorter and intermediate routes, as well as near the goal line. Roscoe Parrish has proven in preseason that he can be more than a gadget guy and returner, but it remains to be seen if he can hold up to a full season as a slot receiver. Too bad Marcus Easley is hurt, as he could be the best second option the team has.
The best formation to attack a 3-4 defense is the two receiver, two tight end set. New England, New York, and especially Miami run this set a great deal. Hence, we are seeing Jonathan Stupar starting, with Shawn Nelson as second string. I don't expect that this is a strict 1-2 relationship. Stupar and Nelson playing together will give the offense a better chance at beating 3-4 defenses, and running better as a whole.
Expect Stupar to block a lot and catch a little. Expect Nelson to give good effort at blocking but become a decent NFL receiving tight end in his second season. David Martin will fill the pass catching role while Nelson is suspended.
Watch Eric Wood and Andy Levitre become very, very good. With a run-first offense and a short passing game, the duo should excel. Wood is bigger and more talented, and Levitre is solid all-around. Both will help Buffalo run well and control the interior to opposing defenses.
Color me unimpressed with Geoff Hangartner, except that he can stay healthy. He will be adequate again, but will again leave fans wanting more, and wanting to transition Wood to center. Kraig Urbik or Cordaro Howard might give the Bills that option. Howard is a good athlete for his size, and Urbik is a big Big Ten-style run blocker. Either could eventually allow Buffalo to transition Wood to center. Probably not until next season, though.
Don't expect greatness from any of the offensive tackles, but don't look for a repeat of last year's disaster, good health provided. Demetrius Bell will play decent if healthy and should progress well enough to not be a liability. Jamon Meredith will remain long on talent and short on doing. Cornell Green will be average, doing nothing great but nothing too detrimental. Ed Wang may be the most physically talented of the linemen, but he has yet to play and is the most unproven.