The idea of walk-through practice sessions is often lost on fans. The idea of players walking out their assignments on the field to get a better feel and picture for their assignment or read on a play might seem less than effective, but for Buffalo's receiving corps it's serving a purpose. Buffalo's starting quarterback and his wideouts are making the walk-through their communication time all in the name of making the team's passing attack the most cohesive in the league.
Newly added to the team's practice regimen this summer, Ryan Fitzpatrick during the first 20 minutes of scheduled walk-through sessions gets with the entire receiving corps as well as quarterbacks coach David Lee and receivers coach Bob Bicknell and lays out any and all specifics with respect to the passing game.
"I think the biggest thing is being on the same page with the receivers doing what I expect them to do and me making sure that they know what my expectations are," said Fitzpatrick. "We get very specific on routes and there's just so much that goes into it against every different coverage."
"That walk-through is an important thing for us," said Bicknell. "We really weren't able to have it (before) and we've just really made it an emphasis. Fitz does a good job and I've talked to Fitz and he's a leader of our group too and that's important. He's really supportive of his receivers and he's done a great job of talking to that group and having communication and making sure we all know what he's thinking."
During these 20 minute sessions it can be broken down to the finest of details. At times Fitzpatrick will even walk out a specific route to demonstrate how he wants the receiver in that spot on that play to turn his shoulders or hesitate for a half second, so both he and the receiver are thinking alike.
"The main thing with us is everybody knows we run a lot of three and four wides so our offense really runs a lot through the receivers. So we have to be on the same page with Fitz and he has to know what we're doing," said Donald Jones. "The coaches like to take us off with him and just make sure we're in sync."
"This is the NFL so we cut it as fine as you can," said Bicknell. "He's able to do that and it really helps us in the way that people defend us. Teams defend different people different ways and defend us at different times. So he can kind of know where we're going to be before we're quite there. So we can get there where he wants us to be."
Fitzpatrick says the big difference this year stems from the move of Bicknell from tight ends to receivers coach. Last year Buffalo's signal caller had to spend individual time on his own with his primary wideouts to gain a common understanding of how they wanted to execute plays.
"Last year I spent a lot of time with Stevie (Johnson), either on the practice field talking or in the film room," said Fitzpatrick. "Same thing with David Nelson and Donald (Jones). When those guys go down or are hobbled or are hurt those other guys were not on the same page as much.
"Now with Bob being able to reiterate all of that to the receivers and be able to teach everybody and be able to get on guys for doing something that I know they don't like to do a certain way it just makes it that much easier."
The result is the entire receiving corps from top to bottom knows what is being asked from each receiver position on each play.
"He might tell a certain guy, 'When you run this route I want you to run it this way,'" said Jones. "But he has to talk to everybody through that one person. The difference now is we're all there to hear it."
Bicknell believes teaching the entire concept of a play to his receivers instead of just their assignment leads to more effective results on the field.
"I think it does make things click faster and we're in a concept offense," Bicknell said. "So if you don't learn it that way and I'm the 'Z' and the number three receiver, then we change formation and suddenly I'm the number two guy. If they don't learn it that way they're going to struggle. That's the beauty of our offense everybody plays every position. So it just depends on the formation."
"Bick understands the offense as a whole," said Fitzpatrick. "He understands the big picture. When you've got a guy that knows a quarterback's timing and the time clock in his head, he can present that in a way that the receivers can understand and that's going to put us in such a much better position offensively."
Fitzpatrick says the dialogue between himself, Coach Lee and Coach Bicknell has been very productive and believes it is unifying their passing game.
"Communication is one of my strong points, and that's been something we've really done a good job with since last season," he said. "The biggest thing is the understanding. The receivers all know what I'm thinking and that's been nice so far to be on the same page right out of the gate. It's not one or two guys, it's everybody out there that we're able to put in different spots. I'm throwing the ball expecting them to be somewhere and I think everyone has a good understanding of it out there."
"The work we do on the field with him individually in walk-through along with the work in the film room with us being in the third year of this offense should lead to better consistency for us all throughout the year."