Last offseason leading up to the 2008 campaign, the Bills often began practice in training camp with a no huddle series during 7-on-7 or team work. It was a component of Buffalo's offense that coordinator Turk Schonert wanted to make use of over the course of the season. It was sprinkled in during games from time to time, but never was it used to the degree the offensive staff desired.
Now set to enter training camp in less than a month, the staff has established a renewed focus on the no huddle approach as it was a major component of the spring workouts. With greater responsibility on the shoulders of Trent Edwards in making play call changes at the line of scrimmage the offense looks like it will get to make greater use of it in 2009.
But exactly how often will the no huddle be utilized? Will it be their main means of attack? Will they only use it when their offense needs a jump start? When they're behind on the scoreboard? Once in a while?
No one knows for sure, but head coach Dick Jauron made it clear it needs to be a bigger part of their offense than it was last season.
"We were disappointed in how little we've used it," said Jauron of their no huddle usage in 2008. "It was an emphasis for us in our offseason and our OTAs. The huddle is not complicated, and so we said we'll focus our attention on not huddling and then we'll work on it and we need to get better at it. We need to have more confidence in it."
Confidence that it will work in moving the ball and producing points on a consistent basis will need to convince Jauron as much as the players. Offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt both witnessed the no huddle approach work with great success in their playing careers. Schonert was Boomer Esiason's backup with the Cincinnati Bengals under Sam Wyche, who first made use of the no huddle as a primary offense.
Van Pelt then watched it used to perfection by the Jim Kelly-led Bills offenses of the early 90's as a reserve quarterback.
Jauron has more of a defensive background and is well versed in the ways to slow down or neutralize the no huddle attack. But knowing his team's offense has languished in the scoring column the past three seasons, Jauron appears committed to increase the frequency with which it's used.
There are however, several things that could compromise just how big a part of the offense it becomes. First, is the execution of the no huddle through the course of the preseason. Drilling the no huddle in the training camp setting is one thing, but executing it effectively against live competition is another.
The Bills will have the benefit of an extra preseason game this summer, which will hopefully help the offense improve the split-second reactions necessary for everyone to operate efficiently in the no huddle attack.
"That's always the hardest part," said Trent Edwards. "You have to figure out signals, you have to communicate some things with receivers. In OTAs, there was a route that I missed to Lee that wasn't communicated the right way and that's going to be the big issue for us offensively if we do go to that style of offense. We need to be able to signal out there and understand what route the receiver is going to run. It's part of the process. We're going to go through some growing pains with this, but I'm excited about where this is going."
"It has to be something that everybody knows and sees, especially us on the outside," said Lee Evans. "We see a coverage that we want to attack, I see it, (Trent) sees it, Terrell sees it, we know what's coming and we know what he's looking to call. That's just going to come down to film study throughout the season. That's one of the biggest changes and it's not easy to do. You really have to be on the same page with it. That's one of the biggest differences in last year and this year, so we just have to make it work."
If they can't, the no huddle can quickly turn into a very short rest for Buffalo's defense. In the no huddle attack, not being able to convert first downs can translate into a possession time of under a minute, in some cases, if the tempo of the no huddle is brisk. That can tire out a defense in a hurry if offensive drives cannot be sustained.
Buffalo's defenses of the early 90's were littered with playmakers and had solid depth. They could endure long days on the field when Kelly and the offense were not clicking for a half or sometimes longer.
Whether the Bills defense of today can do the same is another question mark that may only be answered through trial and error come the regular season.
Still another factor that is sure to play a role in how much Buffalo uses the no huddle is their opponent. In the season opener against the Patriots, utilizing the no huddle extensively against New England could potentially prove fatal knowing how quickly Bill Belichick's offense can score points of their own.
Time of possession might prove too valuable to run a hurry-up attack against a team like New England, or a few other proven high-powered offenses on Buffalo's schedule this season like New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta and Indianapolis.
In all likelihood the degree to which Buffalo's no huddle will be used in 2009 will be assessed on a week-to-week basis by the coaching staff. What is certain however, is Jauron and his staff believe it is a tool that can help their team.
So in this particular case for the Bills, more would be better.
"Hopefully we'll use it more," said Jauron. "That's kind of where we are. We think it's a valuable weapon."