It's Time For Turk Schonert's Offense In Buffalo

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It's Time For Turk Schonert's Offense In Buffalo
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Shortly after the Bills’ 2008 season came to an end, owner Ralph Wilson met with head coach Dick Jauron.

The two discussed many different topics, most of them directly associated with the immediate future of the Bills’ organization.

Wilson, not happy with the performance of the offense under first-year coordinator Turk Schonert, requested that Jauron fire Schonert, but the head coach refused.

Jauron had no choice but to stand by his beleaguered offensive coordinator. Despite promising a wide-open, no-huddle passing attack when he was first hired, Schonert’s offense instead was built more around flare passes and dump-offs to the running backs.

However, the Bills’ struggles on offense last season weren’t Schonert’s fault. The blame for the offensive’s ineptitude falls directly on the shoulders of Jauron.

He was the one who held back Schonert and restricted the Buffalo’s offense, so he had to stand up for him when Wilson asked for a change to be made.

Jauron is a defensive minded coach, so by nature he tends to be on the conservative side. In his defense, much of Jauron’s reasoning for scaling down the offense made sense early on in the 2008 season.

The Bills had a young quarterback in Trent Edwards, who was entering just his first year as a full-time starter in the NFL. Asking Edwards to do too much early on may have stunted his progression and ruined his confidence.

Buffalo really had just one gamebreaker at receiver in Lee Evans last year. No other Bills’ pass catcher struck fear into a defense, which is why Evans saw double and triple teams virtually every week.

It isn’t easy to open up the offense when you don’t have the weapons in place to do so.

Finally, Buffalo’s offensive line was being re-shuffled pretty much on a weekly basis and its play throughout the season was inconsistent, making it difficult to play a wide-open brand of offense.

Not checking down a lot on passing plays might have gotten Edwards killed.

So Jauron did have some very logical reasons for not letting Schonert go hog wild and turn the Bills into the old Houston Oilers of the Warren Moon "run ‘n shoot" days.

However, he also couldn’t let Schonert take the fall for the offense’s ineffectiveness in 2008 because, in all honesty, that really isn’t the offense Schonert wants to run.

To get an idea of what we can expect from Buffalo this season on offense, one just needs to look at Schonert’s pedigree. He learned offense under Jim Fassel and Sam Wyche.

Say what you will about those two as head coaches but no one can deny that Fassel and Wyche know a thing or two about offense; particularly the passing game.

The main thing Wyche and Fassel preach is tempo. They like their offenses to play and practice at a fast pace, which would be a complete turnaround from anything the Bills have done on that side of the ball in recent years.

What Schonert is doing is installing the no-huddle offense in Buffalo, and that is going to accomplish a number of different things. First and foremost, it’s finally going to make the Bills less predictable on offense.

I was talking to an AFC East scout. He doesn’t scout college players, rather opponents for the team that employs him. He told me that out of all the teams he evaluated last season the Bills threw the ball over 20 yards the fewest times.

Let’s face it; the Bills were very predictable on offense in 2008. Making Edwards and Co. more difficult to defend is the first thing Schonert needs to change, and he has the pieces in place to accomplish that goal.

Not just any team can run the no-huddle offense. Like any system, the no-huddle takes certain players in order for it to work. For instance, the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans probably wouldn’t be good fits for the no-huddle. They are better suited as power-based run teams.

The Bills, however, look like they have the tools to run Schonert’s offense very well.
It all starts with the quarterback, and for what Schonert and the no-huddle asks out of the position, Edwards appears to be a perfect fit.

The key to running a no-huddle offense isn’t arm strength or mobility, it’s intelligence.

Look at the quarterbacks who have been successful in the system, guys like Jim Kelly and Boomer Esiason. They were so good in the offense because of their ability to call plays and read defenses; a quality Edwards is believed to have as well.

As a matter of fact, when you talk to people around the NFL, they rave about how smart Edwards is, and how comfortable he is in the pocket. So while he is still a young pup in terms of NFL starts, Edwards seems to have all the tools needed to be a very productive leader in the no-huddle offense.

The next thing a no-huddle offense needs to be successful is weapons. It’s no use having a quarterback that can read defenses if no one is ever open.

Enter Terrell Owens.

If the Bills had the same set of receivers as they did a year ago, a switch to this kind of wide-open passing attack may not be as successful. However, with the addition of Owens on the outside, Buffalo now has a dangerous set of pass catchers with T.O. teaming up with Evans.

Owens isn’t just a great receiver in his own right, he will also finally open things up for the underrated Evans.

Evans has to be happier than anyone to see T.O. in Buffalo. No receiver on the planet has seen more double and triple teams over the last couple of seasons than him.

With Owens and Evans stretching defenses on the outside, Josh Reed and the emerging Steve Johnson will have room to work underneath.

Edwards will have plenty of options in the passing game this season, and with Buffalo pushing the tempo in the no-huddle, defenses will be scrambling to keep up. It will be a completely different looking Bills’ offense if Schonert gets his way.

There is no reason for Jauron to resort back to conservative ways this season. There are a lot of teams that would love to have the Bills’ depth at receiver, so Jauron needs to just sit back and let Schonert play with all of his toys.

When Schonert and Edwards call running plays out of the no-huddle, they will once again have a number of talented options to choose from.

The Bills have one of the most talented backfields in the league with Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and Dominic Rhodes leading the way.

The no-huddle is known as a passing system, but it’s actually a very balanced offense, and the Bills have enough depth at running back that even if Lynch should go down they won’t miss a beat.

Jackson proved last season that he’s one of the best backups in the NFL and could probably start for some teams in the league. He should really shine in this kind of system, thanks to his pass-catching skills, and ability to make defenders miss in space.

So Schonert has a check at virtually every offensive position for the no-huddle. Now comes the one question mark: the offensive line.

This unit will probably be the key to Buffalo’s entire 2009 season because even with all the good things mentioned above, none of it will mean a thing if the new-look line can’t block anyone.

No one knows what to expect from the Bills’ offensive front this season. Gone is Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters.

Taking his place is Langston Walker, who is moving over from the right side. Brad Butler is making the transition from guard to Walker’s old spot at right tackle.

The Bills also drafted guards Eric Wood in Round One and Andy Levitre in Round Two. Both are expected to push for starting jobs in training camp.

While the offensive line remains a mystery, one thing going in the Bills’ favor is that the no-huddle system calls for a lot of quick passes that, if run correctly, won’t require the linemen to hold their blocks for very long.

That’s just one more reason why the no-huddle offense and the Bills look like a good fit.

Buffalo’s offense needs a fresh new start, and Schonert is the kind of bright, young coordinator to give it to them. Now all he needs is for Jauron to take the training wheels off and let Schonert do his thing.

Jauron stuck his neck out for Schonert, so he might as well let him run the offense his own way.

This is a big year for both the Bills and Jauron. He signed a three-year contract extension, but that means nothing in the NFL. He could be fired if Buffalo gets blown out Week One at New England. Jauron needs to win and he needs to win now.

Buffalo hasn’t been to the playoffs in a decade, and with Wilson not getting any younger, you know he wants to see his beloved Bills in the postseason at least one more time.

Schonert has the pedigree and the players to change the culture of the Bills’ offense. For the first time in many years, Western, NY could once again be the site for exciting NFL football.

If that’s the case, Schonert may singlehandedly save Jauron’s job and grant Wilson’s wish of seeing the Bills back in the playoffs.

And to think this may all be accomplished simply by not huddling up on offense. It’s amazing how far a little innovation and creativity can go.

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