Every summer leading up to training camp buffalobills.com examines 25 of the more pertinent issues facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. This year we wanted to focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field in addition to what takes place on the field. From now until report day at training camp we'll address these subjects one at a time. Here now is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 18 and the Sept. 7 opener at Chicago.
An offense operating at a breakneck pace was the plan heading into the first regular season under head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. It was an approach that worked with great success when the two worked together at Syracuse. At the NFL level where the talent across the board was even better it was expected to work as good if not better. Injuries at key skill positions like quarterback, running back and wide receiver derailed those plans before the midway point of the season.
Entering the 2014 season the plan to go as fast as possible on offense is still very much alive. Here's why Buffalo's attack should be far better equipped to wear opposing defenses out with play calling that might be better suited for a highway than a football field.
When you intend to run an offense at the speed Hackett has in mind there is no time for substituting and changing personnel on a drive. So the players who are on the field need to be in peak condition to execute under what would normally be exhausting circumstances. The Bills were properly conditioned last year for the pace of the offense, but injuries diluted the caliber of talent in the lineup and forced Hackett to slow things down.
It was done primarily to reduce the chance for miscues for the young and inexperienced quarterbacks who were suddenly thrust into the starting lineup after EJ Manuel's first knee injury. Not having C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson fully healthy for the final three quarters of the season didn't help either. Buffalo also lost Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin for parts of the season as well.
This season Buffalo's depth of talent is vastly improved. There are two capable backs behind Jackson and Spiller in Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown. The receiving corps is also deeper with the additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams.
"You want to put the best guys out on that field as much as you can," said Hackett. "At the same time you want to have that depth and if somebody gets banged up still be an efficient team through a 16 game season. Having depth at the positions says, 'Wow, there are definitely some fun things that you can do.' There are a lot of ideas that I think we have with where the offense can go and how we can improve it because we don't just want to be the same thing. We definitely want to be unique."
As much as the depth may allow Hackett and his offensive assistants to vary their play calling the most important part of the increase in capable talent is it will help the offense to operate at the speed they want for the entire regular season.
"I think we're deeper at every position on offense," said Manuel. "I think our offensive line is working very hard to keep me healthy and I have to do my part too to stay healthy, but we're deep at all the positions, especially the skill positions."
In 2013 the offense was new to everyone on the roster. What made things more challenging was the time EJ Manuel missed on the practice field at training camp and leading up to the regular season after his knee injury against Minnesota. When Thad Lewis was thrust into the starting lineup to replace him in Week 6 he had all of a month and a half in the offensive system following a trade with Detroit at the end of August. Jeff Tuel was in a similar boat in his Week 9 start against Kansas City.
All three quarterbacks are back in the fold and the offensive system is exponentially more familiar to every one of them.
"It's kind of an all for one and one for all mentality," said Tuel of the quarterbacks. "We've got EJ's back right now, but we'll push each other as hard as we can. We've learned together and learned through all our mistakes, so we've really kind of fed off each other and we've grown as a QB group as a whole."
In similar fashion the rest of the players on offense are also more familiar with Manuel and his on field mannerisms.
"We're all used to each other now," Manuel said. "The O-line is used to hearing my voice, they're used to how I make a call, how I call cadence. How I get in and out of plays as far as checking into different plays. I think our rapport overall as an offense has gotten a lot better. We're a year older together. It's good to have the same offensive coordinator, the same head coach. All that stuff. With everybody having that rapport, it's easier to hold each other accountable. If somebody's not doing the right thing, they're not going to take it the wrong way if you point them out and let them know."
"The more understanding we have of the offense and the better we get, the faster we can go," said Hackett.