Nobody said going from the spread formation to a pro-style offense was going to be easy. With the complexities of an offense far more numerous at the NFL level than college, rookie tight end Shawn Nelson saw first-hand just how challenging it can be.
"As far as playing it's not really a big difference, but everything does come fast because there's so much you've got to know and so much you have to read and the audibles come into play and the snap count so you have to read a lot and know a lot at the same time," said Nelson. "So that's the biggest thing for me right now."
Nelson admitted his head was spinning a little bit out on the field the first couple of weeks in OTAs. Still absorbing the intricacies of the playbook, while also trying to adjust and execute properly in the snap of a finger has proven difficult at times.
"There's a whole lot more than college," said Nelson. "It's fun though, learning. (Tight ends) coach (Charlie) Coiner gets on you, but everybody out here is here to help everybody. I can take constructive criticism."
Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert wasn't surprised to see Nelson experience some growing pains with his system this spring having come from the spread offense in college.
"A lot of these tight ends you look at in college, they don't even line up next to the tackle," said Schonert. "They're all spread out and like a wide receiver."
That was primarily the way in which Nelson was used at Southern Mississippi as his coaching staff tried to take advantage of his athleticism in the passing game to make big plays. In college the spread works so well for some programs because they have better athletes.
As a result the playbook can stay relatively simple and the superior athleticism takes care of the rest. But in the NFL where every team has top flight athletes more scheming and adjustments on the fly are a necessity.
Things like option routes where a receiver or tight end must adjust their route based on the coverage he's getting as the play unfolds. Recognizing when they have to "break hot" because they see a blitz call coming from the defense. Even being polished with all of the routes a receiver runs can be an issue as the spread attack rarely uses more than three or four.
"You can see a guy is athletic, a guy is fast, a guy has good hands, but as far as technique goes and receivers running the route tree, sometimes they're very limited in the routes that they run," said Schonert. "Some have a hard time adjusting to it and some don't. It's gotten more difficult."
That's why Buffalo's coaching staff made a point of having Nelson spend time with the wide receivers during some of the OTA workouts. They likely figure that Nelson should be able to help them sooner in the passing game from the tight end position than as a blocker, so they're choosing to have him focus on his receiving a bit more through the course of the offseason.
"Basically they've got me learning the 'F' position and later on, maybe early next year I'll learn the 'Y' and the 'F,'" said Nelson. "Basically my role is to come in and help this team in the passing game. That's why I'm working with the receivers while the other tight ends are working on their pass protection and their different formations. We decided I would work with receivers and work on stems and plants and stuff like that and learn some routes."
Sharpening up the blocking assignments will likely come when the pads go on in late July. For now Nelson is focused on adjusting to all that an NFL offense requires of him as a receiving option and moving forward from there.
"I know my coaches only want me to get better and I want to get better too," said Nelson. "So we're on the same page either way it goes, so it's fine for me."