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Kelly's Call: Communication key with new QB

Posted Oct 23, 2009

With Ryan Fitzpatrick coming in last week for an injured Trent Edwards there were some things I saw that I’ve written about in this column before. Seeing Fitzpatrick hit Lee Evans on that quick slant for a touchdown against the Jets reminded me of the importance of not putting quarterbacks in deep drops. Giving them opportunities to get the ball out quicker and give receivers like Evans and T.O. the chance to run after the catch can be very beneficial.

Andre Reed was so great at running after the catch. He may have been the best in NFL history. Putting guys in a situation where they’re always dropping back 10 yards can give an advantage to defensive linemen because they watch film. They understand when they’re putting their hand on the ground if they know the majority of the time your quarterback is at 10 yards depth, they’re going continue to rush at an angle that’s going to put a lot of pressure on your offensive tackles.

The key in those situations is for a quarterback to feel confident that he can step up in the pocket. So guys like Wood, Levitre and Hangartner have to make sure they can force a stalemate at the line of scrimmage to give their quarterback an opportunity to step up in the pocket and go through his progressions.

I didn’t see Trent with much of an opportunity to do that through a few of the games. He was dropping back and pretty much pre-reading what he was looking at on plays. Ryan Fitzpatrick looked a bit more comfortable in the pocket than him this past week with respect to that.

Hopefully in time Trent will get better with more reps under center and having a pass rush around him in practice and in game conditions. The good thing right now is the Bills are not facing teams that are in the upper echelon of the league defensively. The next few weeks they’ve got teams that they could beat and should beat.

So it’s good that they’re not going against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense or a Baltimore Ravens defense or a Minnesota Vikings defense where guys are bringing tons of pressure on the quarterback.

Last week we saw what a difference turnovers can make in a game. Yes, the defense gave up over 300 yards rushing, but the six turnovers trumped it and gave their offense enough chances to get points on the board to win that football game. They gave the offense some shorter fields and if they can continue to help the offense in that fashion they’ll have a better chance of scoring enough points to win games.

Listening to some of the players talk about Ryan Fitzpatrick this week, it’s very evident that he’s earned the trust of his teammates very quickly despite being new to the team. That’s huge. When you talk about leadership to get the respect of the players on your team is so crucial.

The key with a new quarterback coming into the lineup is communication. He has to communicate not only with the receivers, tight ends and backs, but with the offensive line. He needs to make sure that if there are any questions that he does have, if they’re not answered during the course of the week he has to make sure they’re communicated during the game or on the sideline. Confusion on the field will result in negative plays and ultimately losses.

That old cliché of everybody being on the same page is even more important for a quarterback that has not played a lot with the starting unit. He needs to communicate between series so when they take the field everyone is up to speed.

I’m sure some plays will be different this week on offense to cater to Fitzpatrick’s strengths and preferences. So those few wrinkles that Alex (Van Pelt) has planned for this week that Fitzpatrick likes should be somewhat beneficial, since Carolina hasn’t seen those plays on tape with the Bills personnel.

It’s important for the quarterback to tell his coordinator what plays he feels good about each and every week. I told Trent before the season started to make sure to look at some of the plays that he really likes and feels comfortable with and make sure Alex knows which ones they are.

I told him to tell Alex what four or five plays he likes on third and long, what plays he feels good about in the red zone. Again it’s about communication. It’s such a key to a quarterback-coach relationship in terms of game planning. Those two people have to be on the same wavelength because if they’re not and a play comes in and the quarterback doesn’t like it the odds of completing it are very low.

Finally, huddling up appeared to work well for the offense last week. The unit appeared to be more in sync and I’d expect that to continue moving forward. In a hurry up offense you put a lot on the offensive line. They have to know the play, how to block against specific defenses and remember the snap count as well. You’re asking a lot of young players in that situation.

So huddling up is an opportunity to hear the play and then walk up to the line and see what’s going on. Those few extra seconds could really be a help. And if the line is getting confused a bit again like they were a couple of weeks ago it’s up to the quarterback to not change the snap count all that much.

Obviously he’s got to change it up somewhat to keep the defensive line on their toes, but if you’re jumping offsides it’s not doing anything but hurting you. So if they run into that problem I’d expect Fitzpatrick to scale that back.

But with Fitzpatrick in the lineup communication will be the key between him and the starters he’s playing with on Sunday if the Bills are going to have more success offensively.

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