Sunday, September 12, 2010

Unicorns we have; it's Horses that we need

Miami Dolphins 15
Buffalo Bills 10

Bills QB Trent Edwards about to get a giant hug from Miami's Karlos Dansby

The Offensive Tackles or the Quarterback?

So, apparently, the Buffalo Bills do not have NFL caliber offensive tackles on their roster. Raise your hand if you were aware of this prior to today's game: OK, it looks like everyone, including Buddy Nix, just raised their hand. That's right, Bills' GM Buddy Nix was well aware of the paucity of bookend blockers on the depth chart before the draft... at least if you are to take his own words at face value.

Buddy Nix from a recent Buffalo News article:

"We felt like we needed to upgrade our offensive line," Nix said of the assessment after he was hired. "We started out looking for that. That was our main emphasis going into the draft. But by the time we got through doing our work, there was one or two guys we felt really strongly about coming in and helping us. And neither one of them were there."

Offensive tackles Russell Okung and Trent Williams were taken in the first six picks.

"So do we take a guy that everybody thinks we ought to take, a tackle, no matter whether he can play or not?" Nix said. "You can't let that bother you."

Although I completely agree with the "Best Player Available" logic behind the CJ Spiller pick I have to wonder why the team did not make a significant move following the draft to upgrade the OT position, either via trade or free agency? Clearly, they did not feel entirely comfortable again entrusting the left tackle spot to Demetrius Bell, regardless of the near mythic tremendous athletic potential heaped on him by 2 separate coaching staffs. There were several high quality LTs made available in the trade market: Baltimore's (currently injured) Jared Gaither, New Orleans Jamaal Brown (since traded to Washington and starting for them at RT), and San Diego's Pro Bowl holdout Marcus McNeil (and there is tenuous speculation that Nix had at least talked to Ozzie Newsome regarding Gaither) as well as more than a few aging options in free agency such as Levi Jones and Flozell Adams that could have served as stopgaps.

Is the talented but unproven Demetrius Bell the answer at LT? GOD I HOPE SO!

If the team's brain trust was not comfortable prior to the draft then there is every reason to believe they should not have been comfortable heading into the regular season with essentially the same group. Sure, maybe Demetrius Bell is the 2nd coming of the pre-holdout Jason Peters, but right now he's still recovering from a serious injury and does not yet seem capable of either performing at the high level required of him or even, at times, simply communicating with his linemates. It's also vaguely possible Ed Wang and his Olympic genetics could one day catapult him into a genuine international superstar status, even; but this is all wishful thinking for the long term, not a foundation upon which to rest your season heading into Week 1. We need horses not unicorns.

Well, as The Buffalo News article stated, "Nix is a football man with a plan." It's likely the right deal (or the right player fit) was simply not there. If the Bills are serious about building for the future then it's understandable, to a degree, that they stood pat. After all, trading away draft picks at the expense of mortgaging the future has led to several disastrous front office moves over the course of the '00s (Drew Bledsoe, or trading up for JP Losman, John McCargo, and yes probably even the oft injured Paul Posluzsny), not to mention the distressing habit of allowing so much established talent to depart as free agents or in trades for virtually nothing (Pat Williams, Antoine Winfield, Nate Clements, Jonas Jennings, Jabari Greer, Travis Henry, Willis McGahee, Peerless Price, Eric Moulds) only to then waste further draft picks on their replacements. That's not to say players such as McGahee or Clements or Jennings should (or even could) have been retained, but the franchise has played a perpetual game of musical chairs with it's roster causing endless stagnation with it's talent and restlessness with the fan base. The decision to acquire players should not come at the expense at the construction of the team, both physically and philosophically.

Of course, the offensive line is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, everything begins with the trenches, but NFL quarterbacks are still required to step up into the ferocious onslaught of 275 lb. blitzing linebackers and attempt to make a play. As evidenced by Miami Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan's game plan earlier today there is no proof that Trent Edwards is capable of doing that. So, why not stack the box, plug up the running lanes, and dare Captain Checkdown to beat them with his arm? It's worked for many teams in the past. The offensive line may be in bad shape but those issues are exacerbated by the common knowledge of Edwards' lack of willingness to deliver the ball downfield in the face of a legitimate pass rush. By completely disregarding it teams can disrupt the backfield with reckless abandon.

An excited Koa Misi after asking Trent to drop & give him 30 pushups.

And, I say willingness--- not ability--- because given time in the pocket Trent Edwards has, in my estimation, demonstrated that he is indeed an accurate passer with a quick release and strong enough arm to make all the throws. He's smart, too, which are all reasons he looks so good in practice. In what seems like a lifetime ago, the preseason Edwards looked like a world beater, at least in games 2-4. That may be attributed to a combination of actual professional playcalling by Chan Gailey (something the Bills have not had since... well, I don't know, the K-Gun combo of Ted Marchibroda/Jim Kelly?), and the lack of any real kind of gameplanning by opposing defenses.

So, whatever. Practice and preseason don't matter one lick when it doesn't bleed over into the regular season where things are much faster and much more intense. If Trent makes just 1 or 2 plays to back off the defense then the pass rush will slow down. Suddenly, the OTs don't look as bad. CJ Spiller will have room to operate and enough time to get into the flow of the game. The abundantly talented backfield trio of Spiller, Fred Jackson and "BeastMode" Lynch will flourish and open up passing lanes to hit targets like Lee Evans streaking toward the endzone, Roscoe Parrish cutting through the middle out of the slot, and perhaps even Shawn Nelson down the seam once he gets out of detention.

In other words, the offensive tackles kind of suck. But they may perform adequately enough with a quarterback willing and able to sling it under duress. It's believable that the current crop of young offensive tackles could develop into very good players--- we've seen it happen relatively recently right here with this franchise and the previously referenced Jason Peters--- but I'm sure #5 is anything more than damaged goods at this point. Was it possible at one time that Trent Edwards could have grown into the quarterback Bill Walsh believed him to be? Sure, he looked as though he was well stocked with the necessary tangibles AND intangibles. Is it likely that his football psyche was severely hurt after too many years of rudderless offensive coaching and a constant barrage of blindsided concussive hits in his formative years during the Jauron era? Without a doubt. Can these serious missteps be corrected under Gailey's tutelage? Meh...

1st year Bills head coach Chan Gailey, just as he realized what he's gotten himself into.

After years of Rob Johnson and JP Losman (and arguably Drew Bledsoe) I no longer have the confidence that any reclamation project is worth taking on at the most crucial position on the field. Honestly, the one roster spot on any football team that absolutely must be filled by a player with confidence and guts is the starting quarterback. If you could infuse Ryan Fitzpatrick's guts, toughness, and cocksure attitude with Edwards' accuracy, well, then, you might have something. As it is, I'm already wondering how Brian Brohm would look with the first string. 2010 is beginning to sound a lot like 2009.

Pick your poison, Bills fans! I'm guessing we'll see Fitzpatrick sooner than later.

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