The Buffalo Bills have created a new position. Inventing a novel football role is natural during an era of stunning transformation. With so many changes, they may as well alter the job description of the guy behind center. In Orchard Park, the position traditionally titled quarterback should now be referred to as handoff specialist. The task requires little overhand work, and not just to save shoulder wear and tear on the ostensible thrower: this squad is being built to advance the ball by remaining earthbound. It will still be fun for the guy who transfers the ball from center to rusher to be part of the huddle. Interested applicants may apply during training camp.
The franchise’s determination to play poundball follows a challenging start for the club’s most recent young hope. EJ Manuel has been treated almost as roughly off the field as on it. While it’s hard to defend someone who spent most of his second season with the second string, it’s important to remember that we knew it would take some time to polish him to professional standards. A rough prospect playing out of necessity is a reflection of management more than the player. Regardless, both have to show improvement this year if they want to keep careers going.
Last year was a success for Manuel if depleting his confidence was the goal. Otherwise, it was challenging. We at least know he’s not going to be soft on account of never facing tough times. Throwing him behind a perforated line didn’t aid his development or poise, as pass rushers funneled through the interior and into his face. This offseason’s openings at guard reflect how many openings last year’s guards permitted. If he wins this year’s job and struggles despite improvements around him, we’d be certain that there’s no need to make excuses.
At the least, there’s a veteran to press the young man stuck on 14 starts. Fans have no illusions about Matt Cassel serving as the primary catalyst for an explosive playoff appearance. You have an idea of how his tenure would proceed when a LeSean McCoy jersey ad appears on his NFL profile page. He may not be driving, but he could ride along. The man who attempted 33 collegiate passes may throw slightly more this year than when he was backing up Heisman winners. But he’d likely have the stats of a Big 10 starting quarterback if he wins the job.
The competing handoff men can relax a little knowing they don’t have to also best a mystery draftee or cagey pro, at least for now. Inexperienced veteran Tyrod Taylor remains a largely unknown quantity until he gets his chance to show off skills. If nothing else, his status is unique.
Between the challenges of finding a starter in the second round or beyond and prying loose another team’s worthwhile veteran, it appears less likely that a significant immediate upgrade will stroll into the locker room. Of course, it seemed completely improbable that Kiko Alonso would fly to the Eagles. Whoever wins the job better not have his heart set on putting air under the game’s central object. The Bills have accepted that they’re best off when at least one person is touching the football.
Brace for a throwback season with a sweet ’70s vibe. This year’s starter may have to do extra curls to keep his chucking arm toned. Joe Ferguson throwing under a dozen times per game might be too low for a baseline, but it could be cited as an extreme precedent. This offense has too many devastating options for hauling in receptions to turn completely one-dimensional, especially in a league where the only ones who like passing more than TV executives are refs. But the Bills will nonetheless try to make handoffs the cool new exciting primitive football trend. It’s not a slight against this team’s quarterbacks but rather an acknowledgment of the roster’s other strengths.
It’s relatively easy to improve at 95.45 percent of positions. That last one is the hardest. Getting better at quarterback is dang tricky thanks to the challenge of being able to throw a ball a great distance accurately in a matter of seconds. Fans may have noticed there are not 32 active exceptional examples of them.
Legions of fired general managers will yap incessantly about how tough to find someone who’s swell at quarterback, as seen by frequently underwhelming performances on any random NFL game day. A star at the post is one of sport’s most valuable commodities. There are only so many people in the world who play the position, and, like Holophonor players, most of them aren’t very good. The inability to improve at this sole spot could sink ridiculously high expectations. In that case, the best option is to enhance everywhere else.
If you can’t improve at quarterback, improve around him. A reinforced line paired with rockets to puncture a defense’s redoubts are the best way to help the unnamed passer. Runners and blockers wearing down a defense make completing occasional throws that much easier. Bashed defenders will flinch reflexively.
All the Bills need to create is a good learning environment. Putting the quarterback in an advanced placement course instead of a remedial class with delinquents is the easiest path to graduation. They just need someone who can keep pace with the workload. Ask gifted classmates for tutoring help, as that’s why they’re there. If you don’t have a great quarterback, make the one you have look better by giving him less to do. Acknowledging a present weakness is the first step in emphasizing strengths. McCoy can take most of the next steps.