Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. With a new regime and practices at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and Sept. 12th.
It's been asked a countless number of times by fans and reporters. Even more have speculated about who it will be, but not even Chan Gailey has a lock, stock and barrel answer at this point as to who his starting quarterback will be come Week 1 when the Bills host the division rival Dolphins.
"We have three guys," said Gailey. "They got pretty much equal reps during OTAs and minicamps. We'll go to camp and we'll have a pecking order, but nothing is in concrete. That's the one thing I've got to keep impressing upon people because as soon as you go out there and somebody takes reps with the ones and somebody takes reps with the twos and the threes everybody is going to say that's locked in concrete and I don't want that to happen. I want to make sure first of all that our players don't think that and second of all that John Q. Public doesn't think that. Everybody still is going to have a chance to win the job. It's close."
Close because none of the three candidates convincingly separated themselves from the other two in the competition. Brian Brohm, Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick all had their fair share of opportunity through the course of the spring and were all new to Gailey's offensive scheme. The only signal caller who saw his reps cut back toward the end of the spring practices was rookie seventh-round pick Levi Brown, who is very much in the team's plans down the line.
But Gailey has left no room for excuses for any of his three quarterback candidates.
"I think he's done a fair job of being honest with us," said Edwards. "We split the reps evenly. I think they had it down to every single rep we got and everyone got the same amount. You can't say one guy got more than the other guy."
With Gailey expected to announce his so called "pecking order" at quarterback when training camp opens later this week the Bills head coach explained why the competition for the starting job is still a tight one as camp opens.
"I feel like they all have a grasp of what's going on," Gailey told Buffalobills.com. "It's easy to see they can all throw the ball. It's easy to see that they all understand the game. But do they understand the game in the context of what we're trying to do offensively? That takes work, and I think all of them have gotten to the point where they can understand that.
"They all have good enough arms. There might be one that has a stronger arm than another. They all have good enough size. There's not a size issue that makes a big difference. They are all okay running. (Ryan) Fitz(patrick) may run a little better than the other two, but the other two aren't stumble bums. They can move out of the pocket and make some yards too. It really has been good, but it creates a decision that has to be made somewhere down the line."
Gailey explained to Buffalobills.com that he does have a drop dead date for definitively declaring who his starting quarterback will be to open the season, but has chosen to keep that to himself.
In many cases where teams have a quarterback competition a starting signal caller is typically chosen by the end of the second preseason game to allow that quarterback to have a full tune-up with the starting offense in the third preseason contest.
Going into camp though Gailey has to give the majority of the reps to the player he believes gives them the best chance to win based on his evaluation through the spring, so he's at least getting one quarterback ready to run the team. If the reps were still kept even none of the team's quarterbacks would be properly prepared to lead the team during the season.
However, at the same time Gailey has left the door open for the other two candidates, who will not be getting snaps with the first unit, the opportunity to overtake the number one quarterback with superior performance, be it in the practice setting or the preseason.
"I think it's definitely a good idea," said Brohm. "I think the coaches have an idea of the order in which they want to see us go. I look at it more like a seeding of sorts, one, two, three, four, kind of seeded like a basketball tournament. But I think the guy that they think has the best shot of getting the job will get out there and get the most reps."
Most believe Edwards will be given the nod when training camp practices commence on Thursday. He has the most NFL experience in terms of starts and games played (30 starts, 32 appearances) and he appears to be the most physically gifted of the three quarterbacks.
The question is whether or not the mental side of his game has recovered from a 2009 season where his internal clock and decision making were compromised by inconsistent protection due to injury and a lack of continuity at the offensive coordinator position, which also had a painfully conservative approach at times.
"You guys know what happened last season and we had our bumps and bruises, but going into my fourth year the expectations are still high, just as much as my rookie year, just as much as my second and third year," said Edwards. "There's really no change for me. I need to grow and develop as a person, as a player and that's what I've changed for the better."
Edwards was a more outgoing leader in the spring practices, interacting with teammates more frequently and exercising more authority in the huddle. After three seasons in Buffalo he knows he has his share of critics, but is prepared to roll through it.
"The way I really look at it honestly is people have to care in order to criticize you," he said. "So if I wasn't getting criticized I think that people wouldn't care. Honestly that's the approach I'm taking right now. Do I want to hear criticism? No, but that's probably the way it's going to be at this position. I've accepted that."
For Fitzpatrick adapting to new offensive systems is old hat. He's been in several in his five-year career with three different NFL clubs.
"I've just become much more comfortable," said Fitzpatrick. "Sharper in terms of knowing where I'm going to go with the ball. Putting the ball downfield a little bit more. Just the confidence in the huddle with the play calling, I think that's a big thing, especially with the new offense. You need to be instilling confidence in everyone else just by the way that you are in the huddle. From the beginning of the huddle out to the play I just feel a lot sharper and more prepared than I was initially just because of the reps."
Fitzpatrick turned in some strong practice performances in the spring much like Edwards and appeared most comfortable during the two-minute drill segments.
Brohm got the benefit of participating in the rookie minicamp in early May affording him a jump start in Gailey's offense. By the end of the OTAs and minicamps the second-year quarterback showed respectable progress and excelled when it came to making touch passes.
"I think that's always been a strength of mine, those touch passes over the shoulder, those types of things, just placing it over the defender in man-to-man coverage," Brohm said. "Those are the things I was good at in college and definitely strengths that I've continued to work on and I feel really good about those throws."
In the end all three quarterbacks know that the one who begins camp with the starting unit will have a leg up because he will be afforded the most reps in the practice setting, but in no way will the other two candidates be throwing in the towel with a month of practices and four preseason games on the slate.
"No matter what the pecking order is you've got to block that out of your mind," said Brohm. "When we go into camp it's still going to be open. I don't think he's going to name a starter until he feels the time is necessary to name a starter.
"You still have to feel like you have a shot to go out and prove yourself. I think the practices in training camp will be important. I think obviously the preseason games will be very important. You just have to go out there and focus and do the best you can do with the opportunities that you're given."