Rick Dennison, Buffalo’s offensive coordinator, was that quarterbacks coach, and he too is a person that sweats the details. Yes, the general job description of any NFL coach is to cover all your bases, but Dennison is known to be a man who is always thinking.
Possession a master’s degree in civil engineering, Dennison taught mathematics and coached football and basketball at a prep school in Connecticut after a nine-year NFL playing career before he returned to the league to coach in 1995.
The roots of his offensive system were developed from the scheme he learned as an assistant under Mike Shanahan. The principles of the famed zone blocking scheme of offensive line coach Alex Gibbs in Denver that helped Terrell Davis rush for 2,000 yards in a season are in his system here in Buffalo.
A lot of those same offensive principles were in Baltimore when Dennison coached Taylor three years ago. It’s provided Taylor with a valuable head start on the new scheme.
He didn’t get much of a chance to execute it with the Ravens, but things are different now. That’s why their second opportunity to work together is one each of them is looking forward to this fall.
“I’ve always liked his offense, his style of coaching,” said Taylor. “It’s very detailed in terms of what he expects from the quarterback position. Just continue to keep grinding away, using the time that we have available for us to meet to soak up that knowledge. He’s coached Peyton (Manning) in the last two years, so being around a guy like that, one of the greatest to play the game. Maybe he got some input from Peyton on his offense and watch some of the film when they were in Denver.”
“I was very impressed with his work habits and study habits (in Baltimore),” said Dennison of Taylor. “We’d quiz the quarterbacks every Saturday before a Sunday game and go through the whole game plan and he was always on task with that. He’d do everything we’d ask.
“Obviously he’s a very gifted athlete. Obviously he’s had some success here the last couple of years.”
The task now for Dennison is to accurately assess where Taylor has made the biggest strides in his game as a starter for the last two years and assimilate that into his offensive scheme making use of play calls that best suit his skill set.
“We’re still working through that,” Dennison said. “I think he’s done everything I expected when I worked with him in Baltimore. He knows what he’s doing. He knows where everybody is and he’s a good leader in the huddle and I think he’s doing a good job. His work habits are as great as they were then. He’s working his tail off. He’s watching film and even doing work outside the building.”
Dennison said when he and Taylor were together in Baltimore he could run any play call they had. Drop backs, keepers, play action pass, checks at the line were all executed effectively. He just couldn’t get on the field.
Now that he is Dennison believes Taylor presents problems for opposing defenses, and with a run game that’s been the most productive in football the last two years, opponents can’t solely key on him.
“He throws the ball well. He’s athletic so he can do some of the stuff we want to do when we move him out of the pocket,” Dennison said. “But they have to defend the run. With the guys we have up front and LeSean (McCoy) I think we can run the ball pretty doggone good. So they will have to defend a lot of the field.”
“I like it,” said Taylor of Buffalo’s new offensive scheme. “I think it gives everybody a good chance to go out there and make plays as far as us throwing the ball, spreading it around, great concepts, even getting the backs involved in the pass game. As far as the running game it’s similar to what we were doing. It allows Shady to get in space and the other backs that we have and it’ll use Pat (DiMarco) and (Mike) Tolbert out of the backfield as far as catching and allowing them to do what they do best which is (blocking). It’s good for us. We just have to continue to keep building each day.”
Dennison has been open to blending in some of the things that worked well for Buffalo’s offense the last couple of years believing they don’t vary too much from some of his own concepts. That can often win a lot of support in the room from players when they realize the play caller sees value in what they’ve accomplished before he walked through the door.
“(Offensive line coach) Juan (Castillo) and I have talked about some things that they did here that in the run game that they’ve done very well that we’ll try to carry over,” he said. “Whatever we think we need to do for the 2017 Buffalo Bills to move the ball, make first downs and win games.”
So although the Bills are going through another offseason with scheme changes, it’s a scheme their quarterback is wholly familiar with. Now that he’s entrusted with running it every day, Taylor is determined to show Dennison, and everyone else who’s watching, that he can raise his game another notch or two in year three as Buffalo’s starter.
“I definitely think I can take it to the next level,” Taylor said. “It’s something that I’ve focused on throughout this offseason, which is to continue to keep digesting the offense and trying to be better at it each day. Like I said, this offense allows us to spread the ball around, allows me to get on the edge with the keepers, and matching up with the run game that we’re doing.
“Just the reps that I’m getting here [are] definitely key to my success and I’m taking each one very seriously, even the ones that I’m not on the field, just trying to better myself as a whole, as a player, and being a better teammate and leader. Everything.”