This post is part of a continuing series in which we break down 13 2011 NFL Draft prospects - our Baker's Dozen - that should interest the Buffalo Bills. Keep up to date on our Baker's Dozen series here.
Buffalo runs a hybrid passing game incorporating all four NFL offensive philosophies. This offense calls for many skills from the quarterback. Chan Gailey himself said that accuracy and decision-making were the primary traits required by a quarterback.
Contrary to numerous reports, Gailey's offense is not best run by a mobile passer. While mobility adds to a quarterback's ability to execute the offense - specifically taking yardage on the ground when the defense affords it - this can be said about any quarterback in any system.
Basic Route Tree
The route tree is for reference. While the "number" system is directly related to the vertical timing offense, it's easiest to reference and we'll use it throughout.
Cam Newton running a West Coast or Horizontal Timing Offense.
Running plays designed from this offense will be a difficult transition for Newton. While he's familiar with dump off and bubble screens, which employ similar distance as the horizontal offense, there are few (if any) reads to be made from Newton's short passing game at Auburn. Most were predicated throws at short distance.
The horizontal timing passing game calls for numerous 1, 2, 3 and 0 routes. There are specific variations off of all of these. The longer routes are mixed in as well, but the bread-and-butter are the quick-hitting routes. The reads come into play in how the defense reacts. A typical West Coast play may have the tight end running a 3, and the same side receiver running a 2. This creates a small cross, or even pick play, that the quarterback must read to determine who is likely to come open.
In this simple play, the quarterback has to determine if the cornerback is sitting in a short zone or in man, then determine what coverage the linebackers are going to play. If the corner is sitting in zone, the linebackers may as well, opening up the receiver on the 2.
If it's man, the tight end will typically come open on the 3. While a simple read, Newton has little experience making these types of reads. He will need to work extremely hard on ball placement, as the lack of depth in the routes often forces the quarterback to make precision throws in between short zones. The quarterback must also throw to a spot where the receiver is supposed to be, which is new to Newton.
Newton in the Vertical Timing Offense.
This offense will also be difficult transition for Newton. The vertical timing offense calls for similar reads, but typically those reads are 10 yards or more down the field. This offense relies heavily on the 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 routes, with many of the shorter routes mixed in. A typical vertical timing offense will have two receiver to a side, with the inside receiver running a 9 and the outside receiver running an 8.
In this simple play, the quarterback has to read the play side safety, corners, and linebackers. The first read is to determine if the corners are playing man or zone. If they are playing zone, both routes may come open. The slot 9 may split the corner and the safety at the seam, and the outside 8 may split the safety and the dropping linebackers. The next read is to see if the safety is playing a deep zone or a shallow zone. If deep, which is more likely, the quarterback has a better shot with the 8 depending on the deep range of the safety. The final read is to determine the depth of the linebackers. If they are at a normal depth, then the 8 will open up. If they are deep, like the middle linebacker in a Tampa 2, the the 8 will be covered.
If the corners are playing man, the quarterback makes similar reads from the safety to the linebackers. If the safety is playing deep, and the linebackers shallow, the 8 could be open depending on how tight the coverage is from the corner. If the safeties are short or also in man, both routes could come open.
As with the horizontal timing offense, the quarterback throws to a spot. This spot is more difficult to throw to, though, because the quarterback is winging the ball 15-20 yards in the air to a spot. The quarterback needs a little gunslinger in him in this offense. Newton has the attitude, but did not throw vertical timing reads at Auburn, despite possessing the arm strength.
Newton in the Erhardt-Perkins Offense
This offense should be fairly simple for Newton to adjust to. This offense is similar to the old 1980s New York Giant offensive teams: short routes mixed with longer routes, see who comes open and throw him the ball. Lots of high percentage throws.
A good example of this type of offense is where the tight end runs a 3 and the same side receiver runs a 9. If the corner is in man, the tight end should be the covering linebacker on the 3.
If the corner is in a deep zone, the tight end should come open in the short zone.
If the corner is playing shallow zone, hit the 9 before the safety comes over the top to help.
These types of plays should be expected from Newton early on, as they are high percentage, low risk, and easy to read. They are also executed best with a power run game to take the load off the quarterback.
Newton in the Sight Adjustment Offense
This offense may or may not present challenges for Newton. While he has little experience in this offense, the reads are made mostly pre-snap.
If the corner is playing the receiver deep, the receiver makes the sight read at the line to run short. If the corner is short, the receiver runs deep. If the corner is playing inside leverage, the receiver goes outside. If the corner is aligned or to the outside, the receiver runs inside.
If a corner is playing tight and to the inside, the receiver would run a 5, 7, or 9. The position of the safety would determine the difference between 5, 7 and 9. If the safety came over the top, the receiver runs a 5. If the safety is playing deep center, the receiver runs a 7 or 9.
This may be simple enough for Newton to pick up quickly. This offense is the old run'n'shoot offense, and has been picked up quickly by numerous quarterbacks at all levels. Newton has the talent to run this offense effectively.
Cam Newton is a project quarterback. Surprise! He's going to need a ton of reps running Gailey's vertical and horizontal timing plays. Keep in mind that the plays described earlier are the among the simplest reads; the majority of the plays from the offenses are much more complex, and involve both sides of the field, and the running backs.
If forced to play early, Gailey will need to narrow his offense to Erhardt-Perkins and sight adjustment, which severely degrades the offense. This is easily seen by watching the Denver offense with Tim Tebow. It was simple, and looked like a college offense at times.
While Newton has all the talent to run every facet of Gailey's offense, the key deciding factor to drafting Newton is this: will Newton put in the time to learn the complexities of the vertical and horizontal timing offenses?