There was really nowhere to go but up. When the 2018 NFL season ended, the Buffalo Bills had compiled one of their most futile offensive seasons in franchise history. The Bills averaged 17 points per game – only two teams scored less. The Bills were the 30th ranked offense overall; 31st in passing offense
The 2019 offseason task—rebuild the offensive attack. The Bills did it in free agency, in the draft, and on the coaching staff – with new hires at the quarterback, wide receiver and offensive line positions.
So now, with training camp six weeks away, it's time to assess how all those changes might work. Here are five ways the Bills offense made progress this offseason:
1. SECOND YEAR IMPROVEMENT FROM JOSH ALLEN
Allen had a good run in the spring workouts, impressing observers with his athleticism and strong arm. But that was the case last year also.
The difference this spring — Allen's poise, intelligence, and command of the offense.
Former NFL quarterback Ken Dorsey, Allen's new position coach, has plenty of praise for Allen's mental approach.
"Josh has been great," Dorsey said in an appearance on One Bills Live. "Obviously, he's got all of those physical tools that everybody talks about. But the thing I've been really impressed with is just the intelligence — how smart he is. Very intelligent-hard worker, studies the game, puts in a lot of time. And a great leader."
Allen's intelligence should manifest itself in his decision making, according to NFL Analyst Andy Benoit of SI.com.
"Decision making is where the jump is," Benoit says. "I don't want to say it's the easiest to make but he certainly has room to grow there. That's the most adjustable part of a players' game."
For his part, Allen says he saw evidence of better decision making on his part during the OTA and minicamp practices.
"On the field, making the right decisions," he says, "putting the ball where it needs to be on time and accurately, letting our guys catch the ball and make plays. Off the field is developing those relationships with our guys. Making sure we are on the same page and we all have one mindset towards the same goal, and that's to win football games."
2. REBUILT OFFENSIVE LINE
There are 17 offensive linemen on the Bills roster heading into training camp, and eight of them were not here last year. Drafting and signing offensive line prospects was a clear priority for the team this offseason, and now figuring out how they line up has become the focus.
Nagging injuries to some top candidates this spring (Mitch Morse, Ty Nsekhe, and others) prevented the team from settling on a starting lineup up front.
But new offensive line coach Bobby Johnson isn't worried.
"It's not like we have zero idea of who we have," he says. "A lot of these guys have a body of work. They have something that you can go back and look at say this is how this guy plays. Now, how they fit together is what we're trying to figure out. And what is the best combination. Sometimes the five most talented guys might not be your best line, it's the best five that work together, that work as one."
Johnson says evaluation of offensive line play has much more meaning once the players start wearing pads, and that won't happen until training camp. And the new line coach says the fact that some of his charges missed snaps in the spring, due to injury, might mean a sharper level of focus at training camp.
"To be honest with you, I'm kind of excited because now, maybe the urgency level is going to be cranked up when we get to training camp," Johnson said. "The guy might think, 'Man, I missed this time so now I gotta ratchet it up a little bit.' I kinda like that."
3. DEEPER CAST OF RECEIVING OPTIONS
Adding firepower to the passing game weaponry was a big part of Buffalo's plan. And they've had almost two months of evaluation time to look at their new additions at receiver. Of the Bills 13 wideouts on the roster, four are free agents signed this spring, two others are undrafted rookies.
First year wide receivers coach Chad Hall told One Bills Live he's still evaluating the talent in his position room, but he knows the Bills signed some leaders.
"The best thing is I have a great group of leaders," Hall said. "They're willing to do whatever it takes. They work their tails off. I got Cole Beasley, Andre Roberts and John Brown and whenever anything's going on in the room, they hold everyone accountable. So, it makes it easy on me."
Hall and the receiving group had to deal with nagging injuries during the spring workouts also, curtailing practice snaps for Zay Jones, Cole Beasley and others. But he saw tangible improvement from his receiving group over the last month of practice.
"I just think the offseason is about continuous improvement, which our guys did," Hall says. "From the start, where there's no defense and we're working just on technique; getting these guys to be better route runners and doing whatever it takes to get open. Then, going against the defense and against the different coverages they play. We do it all in that meeting room and the only hard part is when people get dinged up."
4. SORTING THROUGH RUNNING BACK TALENT
Thanks to the third round pick of Devin Singletary and the free agent acquisitions of Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon, the Bills may have the deepest running back unit in the league.
Now, what do they do with them?
NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson, who played fullback in the NFL for eight years, thinks returning veteran LeSean McCoy will have a big bounce-back year.
"I think Shady will have a resurgence this year simply because he has Frank Gore behind him," Robinson said in an appearance on One Bills Live. "He has a veteran presence in that running back room, who's going to say, 'Hey, Shady, relax man, just run a little harder, you all good.' I think we're going to see Shady at his best this year."
Robinson, a former teammate of Gore, says the 36-year old running back may have his biggest influence on the Bills in terms of leadership.
"He is a culture changer," Robinson said. "He's a guy that when he steps into the locker room and speaks, guys shut up and listen. That's very valuable to have a guy who has won in this league; who has street credibility in this league. And defenses know that he still has juice in his legs and know that he still can play this game."
5. YEAR TWO IN THE OFFENSE
It's difficult to measure, but it's tangible. Josh Allen and the Bills returning from last year do not start from scratch when it comes to Brian Daboll's offense. It's year two, with some new wrinkles and new talent. But it's year two, with a full year of familiarity and experience in the bank.
"Being in the same system for a year, the same terminology, having such a good rapport with [Brian Daboll] Dabs, knowing the reps that I'm going to get, that's all been super advantageous for me and I'm super excited that I've been able to do that," Josh Allen said this week. "I'm really trusting what's around me. Like I said, the coaches that we've got in our room right now are fantastic. I'm excited to get back to work here come training camp."