The K-Gun Reloaded: Buffalo Bills Shooting for Respectability with New Offense

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The K-Gun Reloaded: Buffalo Bills Shooting for Respectability with New Offense
(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

In 1989, after losing to the Cincinnati Bengals coached by Sam Wyche in the AFC Championship Game, the Buffalo Bills knew that they needed to make a change.

Led by third-year quarterback Jim Kelly—the 1984 USFL MVP—and equipped with versatile running back Thurman Thomas, wide receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton, along with speedy Don Beebe in the slot, and a sure-handed group of tight end's in Pete Metzelaars and Keith McKeller (who the K-Gun was named after), the Bills were ready to install a new offense under fourth-year head coach Marv Levy.

So was born the K-Gun—the no-huddle offense in Buffalo.

Four Super Bowl appearances and 20 years later, the 2009 Buffalo Bills are bringing back the K-Gun, or what some like to call the T-Gun, to resurrect a deceased offense.

The names are different, but the skills are comparable.

Like Levy, head coach Dick Jauron is heading into his fourth year.  

Third-year quarterback Trent Edwards is no Kelly yet, and the UFL is no USFL, but he has the intelligence and accuracy to employ what is to many a complicated offensive scheme.

Each one of the three running backs in blue and white are versatile, from Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch to Fred "Shake 'n' Bake" Jackson and championship-tested Dominic Rhodes.

The three receivers: Lee Evans, the sure-handed franchise receiver; Terrell Owens, the veteran who consistently performs on the field; and Roscoe Parrish, the speedy "break your ankles" receiver coming out of the slot.

The Bills have not determined who will be their go-to tight end, as they have four capable players in Derek Fine, Derek Schouman, Jonathon Stupar, and rookie Shawn Nelson out of Southern Miss.

Nelson is more of a hybrid WR/TE who performed well as a four-year starter in college with 157 receptions for 2,054 yards and 16 touchdowns.

"The no-huddle lends itself to guys that are big-play guys," said Wyche after it was reported in April, "because if you get a defense that's just a little fatigued, just a little off their first-step quickness, and you get the explosive guys, they can hit the home run.”

Throughout OTAs and training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, NY, the Bills put their planned no-huddle offense on full display. For the duration of practices entire weeks straight, they would not set up in a huddle even once.

Then the football world, or at least the 7.9 million viewers of the NFL Hall of Fame Game, got a glimpse of the T-Gun. 

"If we huddled up, I seriously wouldn't know where to stand," left tackle Langston Walker said before the game against Tennessee. "The only time I see us huddling is timeouts and change of possession. That's about it."

They didn’t huddle up one time in that game, and although the first drive ended in an interception, the first unit showed some promise in the system, converting a couple of third downs with throws to its newly acquired All-Pro receiver.

“Owens operating in no-huddle inspires fanciful notions in the minds of Buffalo fans,” said Buffalo News writer Jerry Sullivan.

“They remember how the K-Gun rolled up points and staggered NFL defenses during the Super Bowl years. The offense has been dull and ineffective for years. The no-huddle would give the offense an identity, and afford the fans much-needed hope.”

 

Strength at Offensive Line?

What helped the '90s K-Gun offense click was the fact that its offensive line had spent a season together, and other than right tackle Howard Ballard, the other four had created a bond for more than three years.

The 2009 Bills: three new offensive linemen, two rookies, all five in new positions.

Maybe this is a reason the Bills made the decision to revive the classic O.

With a no-huddle offense that keeps defenses on their toes and off guard, they can get the ball out of Edwards’ hands quickly, requiring less blocking time.

Sure-handed RBs and WRs will provide Edwards with some quick options once the ball is snapped.

With T.O. and Evans on the outside, teams will have to at least consider double-teaming one of the two, leaving speedy Parrish or sure-handed Josh Reed open in the middle. Edwards can dump the ball off to the backs and let them make a play.

"The people who love the no-huddle most are the offensive linemen," said the Bills’ offensive coordinator from the '90s, Ted Marchibroda, "because of the fact the no-huddle tires the defensive line out tremendously very quickly."

Second preseason game: The first stringers get more snaps, and Edwards goes 10-for-10, showing improvement and getting the ball out of his hands quickly in the no-huddle.

Jim Ritcher is a former left guard for the Bills who played on the '90s Super Bowl teams. He noted how the no-huddle can wear out an opposing team.

"Every 20 seconds we were getting off a play," Ritcher said. "It's not really difficult, but you have to be in good shape. Defense is so much tougher than offense anyways, when you're running all over the field like a defensive player has to do. It's much more tiring.”

 

Owens Gets Key to City, Give Edwards Key to Success

Another reason the no-huddle offense was so effective for Kelly and the '90s Bills was Kelly's freedom to call the plays. Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert for the '09 Bills has yet to relinquish those duties to Edwards.

After the Hall of Fame Game, the third year QB mentioned his reasoning for throwing an interception on the Bills’ first stringers' only drive.

Getting the play call in late didn’t help, and because of that, Edwards said that he probably should have checked down. If No. 5 called his own plays, they wouldn’t have that problem.

The T-Gun took a step back after a third preseason loss to the Packers, in which Edwards threw an interception and was sacked twice with a fumble in five series.

"You've watched the games just like I have,'' Edwards said after practice Monday.

"I don't know if you've seen any throws I could have made down the field. If you want to call the plays and throw the ball down the field, that's fine. I'm taking what the defense is giving me and continuing to go through my reads, and that's the way I'm coached.''

Fans who like the implementation of the Bills’ new offense are rallying for Edwards to get the freedom he needs.

Besides, if the Bills are going to trust the Stanford alum with such a scheme, why not give him the tools he needs to be successful?

In the end, it comes down to the performance on the field. Like the great Marv Levy said after a '96 win when asked if he was bringing back the no-huddle:

''A system did not win this game tonight,'' Levy said. ''People and execution win games.''

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