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Camp Countdown

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Camp Countdown: No. 1 - Who will be the starting QB?


In what has become a two-decade long search for a long-term answer at quarterback, Buffalo fans have truly seen it all.

They've seen trades made for proven veterans (Drew Bledsoe). They've witnessed trades up in the draft to try and find a franchise QB (J.P. Losman) and trades down (EJ Manuel). They've watched two-man quarterback competitions in training camp. Even a three-man quarterback competition, like the one taking place this summer, has happened before (2015).

At this point Bills fans don't care how a long-term answer at the position is found. They just want the answer.

So as A.J. McCarron, Nathan Peterman and rookie Josh Allen resume their competition at the St. John Fisher campus this week, we try to ascertain who will emerge as the starter come Week 1.

Experience counts

Head coach Sean McDermott has made it clear that veteran A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman will be the signal callers seeing the bulk of the first team reps in the early going this summer.

"As I've said before, Nate and A.J. are working with the ones and twos, and Josh is working with the threes," said McDermott. "Josh did work some with the ones throughout minicamp. We will continue to do that periodically through training camp, and we're just going to stick with the plan and adjust it when and where need be. I've been pleased with the work they've put in to this point."

That doesn't mean that Allen doesn't have the ability to close the gap with his play, but McCarron has the advantage of taking reps in an NFL setting for the better part of the last four seasons.

"When it comes to defense I've seen every defense," McCarron said. "I can recognize every defense. I can see blitzes coming. I have no problem with that."

"One of the things that goes a little bit under the radar is understanding the defense well," said McDermott of quarterback development. "Before you walk, you've got to crawl and a bit part of the learning curve for quarterbacks is understanding the opponent and the defense and the way defenses work in this case."

Peterman obviously, doesn't have the same level of experience as McCarron, but he has the most familiarity with Buffalo's receiving targets being the only quarterback who was on the roster in 2017.

"A lot more comfortable just knowing our guys, knowing everybody's names out there, [and] having a pretty good feel," Peterman said. "There are a lot of new faces, obviously, but I have a pretty good feel for just who's here, especially after going through (the spring). That's something you don't get as a rookie."

Allen has proven to be a quick study, which will help his cause is his quest to compete for the starting job.

Either way it's evident that the job the coaching staff has in developing Allen has a defined timeline, though it could be altered if he makes dramatic progress.

"We've got a plan in place for all of our players, [and] for this case, Josh, in terms of bringing them along at the right pace, creating a great base, a great foundation, so that, as they move forward in their career, we don't get into a situation where you can't go back and reestablish that base two, three years from now," McDermott said. "We've got to do it now. That not only speaks to what happens on the field, but off the field as well."

“All three young men have worked extremely hard,” said McDermott of the quarterbacks. “They’re active learners and they’re really excited to grow, and they love to take coaching. They’re leaders in their own respective ways.” Bills head coach Sean McDermott

Leadership looks pretty even

At the quarterback position leadership is a necessity. The guy taking the snap must exude leadership, but it has to be natural. If it's forced, teammates will sniff it out quickly.

It's evident that Allen, McCarron and Peterman all lead in their own way, after observing them in the spring practices and that's fine by Buffalo's sideline boss.

"All three young men have worked extremely hard," said McDermott of the quarterbacks. "They're active learners and they're really excited to grow, and they love to take coaching. They're leaders in their own respective ways."

Peterman took some receivers out on his own in the spring to throw with them at St. Francis high school. All three quarterbacks were scheduled to hold some throwing sessions together with offensive teammates in mid-July in Dallas.

"Some guys when they compete will single themselves out," said receiver Jeremy Kerley. "They only think about themselves. These quarterbacks know the situation and they're competing and they're all having fun doing it. And it seems like they're still keeping a relationship during it. That's not common everywhere. That makes it fun working not with just one quarterback, but all of them to help them improve anywhere I can."

McDermott and his offensive staff could very well deem one leadership style to be superior to one of the others knowing the contrasts that exist. In a tight competition it could tip the balance for who earns the starting role.

Calculating consistency

While Allen and McCarron certainly had their share of positive plays during the team portions of spring practices in May and June, Peterman was the most consistent thrower of the three.

Consistency is a crucial asset to have at quarterback. It's what keeps your offense on the field and puts you in a position to score points.

That should put him at the front of the line in the early going though McCarron is expected to split reps with Peterman right down the middle between the first and second offensive units.

"You've got to earn your way onto the field and then you've got to really pay attention to detail," said McDermott. "You're the leader when you're out there and, certainly what happens before the snap is just as important or sets you up for what happens after the ball is snapped. From there, it's down in and down out, how are you going to handle yourself and how consistent can you remain through the course of an entire game?"

Allen is still trying to capture that in his game, but at the close of the spring he appeared to be trending up.

"I'm looking to get better every day, with whatever reps I'm getting with whomever I'm out there with," Allen said. "I'm here to learn from Nate and AJ, and from Coach (Brian) Daboll, and from experiences on the practice field – balls that I can throw at the professional level and balls that I can't. Being out there with the guys we have out there, it's definitely a quicker learning curve just because the guys we've got are extremely good. The process has been fun, and all you've got to do is trust it."

Preseason performance

Ultimately, a decision on the starting quarterback likely won't come until after two or three preseason games. That should afford the offensive staff enough practice and game film to dissect and evaluate to make the decision they feel is best for the offense and the team going forward.

The two quarterbacks not named Allen know why the Wyoming product was drafted. So, McCarron and Peterman fully realize their time to impress and land the starting job is down to about a month. As soon as Allen demonstrates consistency in his game and a readiness when it comes to reading defenses, he could leapfrog either one of them.

"Part of it is [the fact that] he is the 7th overall pick, so I think he would (get first team reps) at some point," McCarron said. "I just go play my game; I don't worry about it."

Peterman looks at the whole competition a different way. He maintains that each of them is competing with one another rather than against one another.

"That's what you want in a quarterback room," said Peterman. "I think it's really important, just to have that good atmosphere for whoever it is. We're trying to win as a team. All of us have got to do our job to get that done."

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