The 2009 season is shaping up to be the test of Trent Edwards.
After three straight 7-9 seasons, will the Buffalo Bills post their first winning record since 2004?
Depends on Edwards.
If the Bills don’t make the playoffs this season, it will mark ten years since the "Music City Miracle", their last playoff game. Will they break the streak just shy of a decade?
Up to Edwards.
So, will Buffalo’s Proposition Five (Edwards’ uniform number) pass by a landslide or be rejected?
Edwards has two years under his belt, and overall, he has shown both promise and development. The team has gone just 14-18 over that period, but Edwards has a winning record, starting all but two of the Bills’ wins over the two years.
After playing it safe in his rookie starts, Edwards showed his touch for the long ball more often in 2008. He had 35 passes of more than 20 yards last year and five that went for more than 40 yards.
He has shown poise, leading the Bills to fourth quarter comebacks in weeks two, three and four last season.
There are red flags, however. He seemed to struggle in poor weather games, which nullifies any Buffalo home field advantage for the stretch run and postseason.
Following his concussion during week five of last year, Edwards seemed to be a different quarterback.
He was more likely to cut and run at the first sign of pressure. After leaving the pocket on a run just seven times in his four games, Edwards had 33 runs in his final nine starts.
His questionable decision making also raised concerns about the lingering effects of his concussion. The Monday night game during week 11, where he threw three interceptions in his first six passes, was the low point of his season.
The team has made substantial changes that will simultaneously support Edwards and put him to the test in 2009.
The team has done their part. Edwards is surrounded by skilled position players.
Marshawn Lynch has the potential to be a top-tier running back, and he’s flanked by two versatile back-ups in Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes.
At Edwards’ request, the team added All-Pro Terrell Owens to a wide receiving corps that already included big play threat Lee Evans.
The Bills traded up on three picks in last month's draft and used them all on offense, adding two linemen (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) and a tight end (Shawn Nelson).
Four of their six veteran free agent acquisitions in the offseason also benefited the offensive side of the ball (Owens, Rhodes, lineman Geoff Hangartner, and back-up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick).
On the other hand, the team traded Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters in order to get two of those draft picks, and allowed two more starting linemen and tight end Robert Royal (a popular Edwards target) to leave.
What Could Go Right
Buffalo goes no-huddle for a large portion of their offensive possessions. The move masks their weaknesses in offensive line depth, and allows a still-developing quarterback and line to work with a slimmed down playbook while pressuring opposing defenses.
What Could Go Wrong
No-huddle would simplify things for Edwards, but it also will put the play calling responsibility on his shoulders. The team should find out quickly whether his shaky decision making was due to leftover clouds from the week five hit or a fatal flaw in his ability as a leader.
Terrell Owens clashed with veteran Jeff Garcia, star Donovan McNabb, and media darling Tony Romo. The next step in Edwards’ development is his ability to gain and keep the respect of his teammates.
Life with T.O. will give him a crash course.
An explosive offense and well-behaved Owens will make Buffalo’s reborn no-huddle this year’s Wildcat offense.
With Edwards, Owens and Evans providing names that start with vowels, acronym fans will be busy coming up with a new term to replace the K-Gun. EIEIO? EOE (assuming T.O. allows it to truly be equal opportunity)?
Buffalo’s undersized defensive line struggled to pressure the quarterback last year. The team hopes that Aaron Schobel emerges victorious in his year-long battle with injuries.
First rounder Aaron Maybin won’t help with the size problem, but the pass rushing force from Penn State will either prevent double teams on Schobel or benefit from them.
Marcus Stroud mans the middle of the line. He was joined by journeymen for much of last year, but John McCargo looked reborn in OTAs and may begin showing the ability that made him a first round pick four years ago.
Kawika Mitchell is a veteran linebacker capable of the big play. Paul Posluszny is already a big play threat and is still developing. Keith Ellison returns at the third ‘backer spot, and the position has good veteran depth for the first time in years.
Free agent pick-up Drayton Florence joins Terrence McGee at corner. Ashton Youboty is recovering from a foot injury, and Leodis McKelvin should show progress in his second year. At safety, Donte Whitner has developed into a leader on the defense, and it’s possible that rookie Jairus Byrd will join him as the starting safeties.
What Could Go Right
For the first time in recent years, the team might avoid being ravaged by injuries. If Maybin is as advertised, McCargo is for real, and Schobel and Youtoty are fully recovered, the defense could show significant improvement.
What Could Go Wrong
That’s an awful lot of “ifs.” The reason the team has seen so many defensive injuries is that they are undersized and get worn down over the season.
Stroud may find himself the only meat in the middle again. The ends will be exciting, but not top tier. A quick-strike offense will leave the D on the field too long.
Coaching and Special Teams
The team made the controversial decision to go with stability. Kicker Rian Lindell and punter Brian Moorman are solid, and the team has no shortage of return men.
Special Teams Coach Bobby April is the best in the business and will build a top notch coverage squad.
Head coach Dick Jauron is a calming force in the locker room, and Owens could provide the fire that the coaching staff lacks.
In a division where two teams have new starters at quarterback (although, to be fair, one of them is a returning Tom Brady), the Bills could go from zero wins to a contender in a hurry.
Ten wins is a reasonable goal. Nine is more likely. If all the experiments fall through and Proposition Five fails, five or six is not outside the realm of possibility.
Trent Edwards will be the answer to most of the questions associated with the Buffalo Bills in 2009.
After going through seven starting quarterbacks in nine years, will Edwards provide the team with stability at the position?
It’s all in Edwards’ hands.