Even in this most unusual of NFL offseasons, the general consensus on the Bills has been positive in predicting where the team is headed. In the next breath most prognosticators tie those positive forecasts for Buffalo directly to their quarterback. Year three for Josh Allen is seen by many as the key component for the Bills to take the next step from playoff team to AFC title contender.
So just what should be expected from Allen in his third NFL season?
Comfortable as a leader
If there is one area of Allen's game that has come naturally to him it's the leadership role. From quickly building relationships in the locker room with teammates on both sides of the ball, to taking the initiative to gather his teammates in South Florida to get on-field work in during the pandemic, Allen has effortlessly embraced his leadership responsibilities as the starting quarterback.
"Josh has innate leadership qualities that guys gravitate towards, and he understands his role on the team," said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. "Not making it more than it is, being one of the guys, being there for the players around him, helping them with the system, getting them together so that you can build that team chemistry. Not all about football. You'd have to ask his teammates, but he's been a fantastic leader for us, and it doesn't surprise me."
Seeing his starting quarterback, along with Matt Barkley and Davis Webb, organize a two-day minicamp on their own while also handling accommodations and arranging meal outings left head coach Sean McDermott impressed.
"Very encouraged, very encouraged and it's a critical step that he took it upon himself and his own initiative to put this together," McDermott said. "This will be a feather in Josh's cap that he was able to do what he did. You saw the response just in sheer numbers. And so that alone tells you what type of respect his teammates have for him and what type of respect Josh has for his teammates. I'm extremely proud of the guys for what they did and how they did it."
As much as Allen understands the leadership responsibilities of his position, he isn't concerned about the spotlight being on him. His focus is executing those responsibilities to maximize the talents of the players around him.
"I really don't care about leading the show," he said. "I just want to be able to make sure that the ball gets into our playmakers hands when it needs to and it allows our team to win football games. If we throw 40 times a game or we throw four times a game, as long as at the end of the day the results are a 'W.' I'm super happy for that."
Improving on deficiencies
By now most everyone is aware of the areas of Allen's game that he is working to improve and master. Last season, Allen significantly improved his intermediate passing game. At the top of the list this season is his deep ball accuracy. With just a 25 percent completion percentage in that category a year ago, Allen has worked tirelessly on tightening up his throwing motion to facilitate greater accuracy on his deep passing.
"In Miami (at the player organized workouts), I feel like it's the best I've ever thrown," Allen said. "Just kind of keeping my head more still, keeping my left arm tighter and kind of rotating my body around an axis and it's been paying off. I think in continuing to work on that obviously there are going to be ups and downs and trying to change arm slots. Within the flow of the game and guys rushing at you and that's kind of hard to emulate in the offseason, but I feel good where I'm at right now and I'm still going to continue to work on it and try to try to continue to get better."
Allen described the difference in how he's throwing now to some of his play on film that he studied from last season as "night and day."
"Going back to last year just seeing some of the bad habits that would show up and the mistakes that I'm just like, 'Man, why am I doing this?'" he said. "I'm slowing some things down trying to let my hip go first, trying to correct some things at the top of my release and trying to stay kind of on the same plane here and it's been paying dividends and we're going to continue to work on it."
Coach McDermott, who noticed a decided difference in Allen's game when he arrived at training camp last summer, is anticipating a similar improvement this coming week.
"It's a quarterback driven league and you got to have a guy that is in tip top shape and ready to go and is developing and that's what I experienced last year by watching Josh in the early days when he came back," McDermott said. "You saw how he had worked on his game and we don't expect this year to be any different. He went home with a menu of things he wanted to improve on, just like every other player on our roster. And then let's see how it looks on the field. That's why the early days of camp are so exciting to see where players are and how they've grown and developed."
A captain for the first time in 2019, Josh Allen led the Bills to the playoffs in just his second season while going 10-5 in his regular season starts. As Allen gets ready to improve yet again in his third season, scroll through to view some of his top moments from a memorable 2019 season.
Knows how to find answers
Allen made a point of seeking wisdom and knowledge about playing the position from those that have done it before. He asked questions of Peyton Manning and Brett Favre when they were part of Bills quarterback meeting Zoom calls courtesy of Daboll.
He also bent Tony Romo's ear at the Super Bowl this past February.
"I've talked to a few guys of that caliber and had a few long talks with guys that played the position for a long time they say year three is when things start to click and things start to happen," Allen said. "I'm super excited for that aspect and being in the same system for the third year now and being under the same coaches for a third year now."
One of Allen's biggest takeaways in his conversations with Romo was not trying to figure out pre-snap what an opposing defense will do, but rather rule out what they can't do based on alignment and personnel grouping.
ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky believes Allen took a step last season in getting to his answers quicker after the snap. He also believes with a more well-rounded contingent of skill position players, Allen will have answers that yield better results.
"I reference it to looking at a restaurant menu. I don't want this, so let me order this," said Orlovsky. "It's single-high zone, who is my best single-high zone guy to find somewhere between the numbers? Okay it's Beasley. Okay they're going to play me in man coverage and that safety is going to lean to my left, so I've got Stefon Diggs and I'm confident he can beat good corners in man. There are so many different options and that's when quarterbacks are most at peace. So no matter the defense he'll always have a good option."
"Continuity plays a part in that, where he knows who to trust, when to trust them, based on the defensive look, that's all part of just playing the game," said McDermott. "Whether you're 10-years old or with Josh going into his third year here, he's got to play the game and get more and more experience and see the value of taking what the defense gives you.
"If they're going to give you the check down and they're going to take away everything deep and the check down is there, you take it. If they're taking away the shallow stuff and we can get over the top then we'll go there. So I think you've got to be flexible and adaptable and he will. He's got to know where his options are and how quickly he needs to go there."
McDermott believes Allen will be able to more effectively open up a defense with weapons like Stefon Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley on the field the majority of the time.
For some that might be seen as added pressure for Allen, but the emerging quarterback believes all the talent around him will make his job easier.
"The guys that we have in place, and what they can do with the ball in their hands… I'm not going to try to force things and I'm not going to be 'Captain Checkdown' either," Allen said. "I'm going to continue to try to play the game the way that I love it, and the way that I have fun, but ultimately, the way that this team needs me to play it and that's to win the game.
"If it's trying to run for an extra three yards to get a first down in a needed situation or if it's to throw for 50 times a game and try to get it to our playmakers. Again, we need to see results. So, I understand how big of a year it is. All I really want is to win football games so whatever is called upon me in that situation is what I'm going to try to execute."
Camp Countdown, presented by Connors & Ferris, will examine some of the more pressing questions facing the team on the field, and players who could make a difference as the team makes its final preparations for the 2020 regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We'll examine these issues one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully seek some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 29th and the opener on Sept. 13th.