This is the fourth installment of an analysis of the Buffalo Bills to have a good look at what the 2009 season will bring.
The Bills coaching staff will be the coordinating crew that will assemble all of the Bills' athletic talent to make a deep playoff run. The entire coaching staff will be put to the test, but the key individuals that will shape the Bills future will be under a microscope.
Here is my breakdown of who will be most crucial for the Bills success this year.
Dick Jauron finally has all of the pieces together and the stars are in alignment for him to show that he is a capable coach…wait, that was last season. The Patriots lost Brady early, the Dolphins were coming off a terrible season and the Jets had a 39-year old as their quarterback.
The Bills started out a sizzling 5-1 and looked to be the owners of the AFC East. Unfortunately for Jauron, the team’s immaturity killed their chances and he couldn’t rally them for a playoff berth.
Untimely penalties, injuries, dropped balls and substandard performance kept the Bills out of the playoffs last season. This year will be instrumental in determining Jauron’s future with the Bills.
Jauron was hailed as a coaching genius when he engineered a 13-3 season for the Chicago Bears, which marked the best single-season turnaround in their history, improving from a 5-11 mark the previous season. For his efforts, Jauron was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2001.
In the two years that followed in Chicago, Jauron was unable to have any further success with the Bears, despite having basically the same personnel. Jauron has a lot to prove to the Bills’ fans, himself, and the rest of the NFL.
Jauron is known to be a ‘player’s coach’ and served time under Mike Holmgren, Forrest Gregg, and Tom Coughlin. Jauron doesn’t exhibit the kind of fire that other coaches display openly when players fail to execute.
Because of his demeanor, many have blamed him for the off-field antics of some of the Bills—in particular the multiple players that are in trouble with law enforcement. Jauron will have his hands full with the King of Antics—Terrell Owens.
The way that Jauron and Owens public relationship develops will bleed over to the rest of the Bills.
It will be interesting to see if Owens ever publicly confronts Jauron and to see what the reaction will be. Regardless, this will be one of Jauron’s biggest challenges this year, aside of just winning games.
Jauron needs to show leadership and it needs to be a ‘public’ kind of leadership or the media will eat him alive. This may be a stretch for Jauron.
Jauron’s natural coaching strength is on the defensive side of the ball, earning success and accolades as a defensive backs coach, but Jauron is the kind of person that delegates authority well, so his coordinators and position coaches carry much of the load.
Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert played as a quarterback in the NFL and will be starting his fourth season as the offensive coordinator. Schonert began his coaching career as a quarterbacks coach and his offensive philosophy revolves around developing quarterback potential.
An interesting side note about the relationship between the Bills quarterback, Trent Edwards, and Schonert, is that they are both products of the Stanford football program.
With the addition of playmaker Terrell Owens, the Bills' red-zone offense got a whole lot better. One of the nagging criticisms that Schonert faced last season was the lack of red-zone offense.
Owens is one of the best red-zone receivers in the NFL and Schonert would be wise to include Owens as a major part of the red zone offense.
The Bills offense has ranked no better than 25th in the NFL for the past six seasons. Part of the reason for the lackluster offense is in the offensive play selection, in particular the lack of any consistent passing offense—the Bills didn’t have a 300-yard passing game last season.
Schonert must address this by looking at more short-yardage plays such as quick slants that will open up the deep pass possibilities as well as create more big-play, running opportunities. Short passing game success equals all around offensive improvement.
Josh Reed in the slot must become a vital part of this offense for the Bills to succeed and rookie tight end, Shawn Nelson, must be involved in the offense. This should improve on the Bills 39 percent third-down efficiency rating if the right plays are called.
Schonert’s biggest challenge this year will be to create a viable and consistent short passing attack to compliment Marshawn Lynch and create room for Lee Evans downfield. The short passing game needs to be more a part of the regular Bills offense, not just on third down.
Defensive coordinator, Perry Fewell, should push the Bills defense to new heights with a very talented and underrated defensive crew. Fewell is recognized as one of the better defensive coordinators in the league and much of the Bills defensive success stems from his leadership.
Fewell is a master at using situational players and he will have one of the best with Aaron Maybin. It will be interesting to see how Maybin is utilized in the Bills various schemes.
Fewell’s philosophy is to generate pressure with the front four to clog running lanes and hurry the quarterback. He likes to move his linebackers to be in position to make solid tackles, likes to move the safety into the box, and often relies on the cornerbacks to be in man coverage.
Along with Maybin delivering sack pressure, a healthy Aaron Schoebel will be a valuable tool at Fewell’s disposal this year.
With additional depth at cornerback, Donte Whitner should be freed up to perform full-time duty as safety instead of filling in at corner in package situations. Whitner’s full skill set and talent will be best utilized if left at safety and Fewell should look to do this.
Offensive line coach, Sean Kugler may have the toughest job this season with an offensive line that looks to be nearly all new.
Most football analysts agree that it takes some amount of time for an offensive line to play well together because of the dynamic nature of the O-line. On every play, the offensive line has to assess the defense in under one second and make adjustments to attack the defense, create running lanes and protect the quarterback.
Kugler will have the awesome task of replacing a Pro Bowl left tackle and underachieving left guard along with the possibility of four new faces along the O-line, to create a solid unit—a tough task for anyone.
Kugler has a couple of young prospects that he must develop quickly in Andy Levitre and Eric Wood for the line to make serious improvement.
Kugler has limited professional coaching experience, but will be tested to develop a unified line from a jumbled mixture of talent.
Assistant head coach and special teams coach, Bobby April, may be primed for a head coach slot after this season. Last season, April earned Special Teams Coach of the Year honors for the second time in his career.
Regardless of personnel changes and up or down seasons, April has managed to coach one of the leagues best special teams units year after year.
This type of notoriety will earn him the shot at a head coaching position—maybe the eventual successor of Dick Jauron? We will see when and if that ever happens...remember a guy named Marv Levy? Levy was a special teams coach also.
The Bills blew an opportunity last year to make it into the playoffs, but they have the chance to be back in the running again this year if the coaching staff can properly use the talent that they have.
For some of the Bills coaching staff, this will be a make or break season and for other members of the staff it may be the year that they head on to other opportunities.